Madonna advocata

11th century

tempera on wood

107 x 57.5 cm

Palazzo Barberini

Inv: 4212

The panel dates from the 11th century and is the earliest painting in the collection. The Madonna is represented in a half-length portrait, with her face in three-quarter profile. She exercises the function of Advocata (protector), receiving the prayers of the faithful and interceding with Jesus. Her face is indulgent, but it is above all her hands that embody the power of intercession: one rests on her breast while the other is raised with palm facing outward. Christ, whose presence is unusual in the traditional iconography, raises one hand and places the other on his mother’s halo in sign of blessing. The strongly two-dimensional style of the figures, the broad fields of color surrounded by clear outlines, and the fixity of the features of the figures are all drawn from Byzantine art.
The frame is decorated with palmettes and the inscription on the lower edge reads “S(AN)C(T)A VIRGOVIRGINUM”, meaning “Holy Virgin of Virgins,” a formula which would later become part of the litanies recited at the end of the rosary. The work of art was acquired by the Italian state in 1987.