Works from the National Gallery of Art

Moroni - Madonna and Child

A man to our right stands with hands together in prayer facing a woman holding a baby to our left in this vertical painting.
"A Gentleman in Adoration before the Madonna," c. 1560, by Giovanni Battista Moroni, oil on canvas,
Samuel H. Kress Collection, National Gallery of Art
Refer to caption
1987 Christmas stamp issued October 23rd in Washington, DC (Scott 2367)

What may be the most intriguing aspect of the painting shown here was excluded from the traditional stamp image for Christmas 1987, probably due to designer Bradbury Thompson’s concern for clarity. There may, however, have been other considerations in the exclusion of the gentleman. The majority of the traditional U.S. Christmas stamps depict only the mother and child, a nod to the holiday commemorating the birth of Jesus. Or, perhaps in reproducing so many images of the Madonna and Child on traditional Christmas stamps, the USPS was responding to the many letters it received urging the postal service to “keep Christ in Christmas” when it came to stamp design. Conversely, the contemporary Christmas stamps issued along with the traditional stamps nearly every year since 1970, (when the USPS replaced the Post Office Department) tended to exclude explicit religious references.

The size relationship between the gentleman, for whom the painting was probably commissioned, and his objects of devotion, is conventional for the time the painting was done. Earlier religious art typically represented donors in a smaller size than the holy figures. Moroni, however, tended to paint people of various social classes together, and perhaps this equalizing gesture carried over into this painting. The man’s collar and cuffs are more elaborate than Mary’s clothing, though she is set apart by her golden halo. Overall, the gentleman patron takes on nearly equal significance to Mary and her child, set in the corner of an unadorned room (Shapley 1979).