Positive, negative and ‘screen’ image…manifested in the Renaissance

The Chellini Madonna

The Virgin and Child with Four Angels (The Chellini Madonna) Donatello (about 1386-1466) Bronze with gilded decoration Florence, Italy About 1450 Victoria and Albert Museum, London, no. A.1-1976

I just read Amy R Bloch‘s essay ‘Donatello’s Chellini Madonna, light and vision’ in Renaissance Theories of Vision. Not being a Renaissance scholar I was attracted to this title Renaissance Theories of Vision for my own interest.


The Virgin and Child with Four Angels (The Chellini Madonna) (obverse) Donatello (about 1386-1466) Bronze with gilded decoration Florence, Italy About 1450. Coll. Victoria and Albert Museum no. A.1-1976

A Chellini record explains why the reverse of the cast bronze Chellini tondo was so carefully chased and finished; unique amongst Renaissance bronze plaques, it was used as a matrix for molten glass for the production of multiple copies in a translucent material. This is a revelation, to any photographer, of other readings of positive and negative, of transmitted light and of transmutation.


Glass mould of The Virgin and Child with Four Angels, before 1456, Donatello V&A Museum no. A.1-1976 Source: http://images.vam.ac.uk/indexplus/page/Home.html

Bloch’s writing impressed me as lucidly framed and illuminating, especially of the metaphorical potential of optics and optical effects. Reading the paper was like entering the artist’s studio and foundry to participate in the alchemical processes of Donatello’s multimedia invention. The structure of the essay, grounded in the practice of the artist, was inset with understandings of the contemporary symbolic connotations of his materials; clay, plaster, glaze, bronze and glass.

In reply to an email Amy says most of her work is on Ghiberti‘s Gates of Paradise, so she spends a lot of time thinking about the bronze casting process – and that this understanding comes also from her discussions with sculptors. These perspectives inform her interpretation of the Chellini roundel. Interestingly, she teaches in a combined art/art history department; she says “my approach to objects is very much informed by conversations I have had, and continue to have, with sculptors in my department and by the many times I have gone to watch bronzes being modeled and cast in the foundry we have on campus”.

Dr Bloch is informed that the Chellini Madonna will be included in an exhibition to be held next year in Florence (and then Paris) on Florentine art from 1400-1460. Here’s the website for the Florence venue:


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