Works from the National Gallery of Art

Antonello - Madonna and Child

Oil and tempera painting of the Madonna holding a child
“Madonna and Child“ c. 1475 by Antonello da Messina, oil and tempera on wood,
Andrew W. Mellon Collection, National Gallery of Art
Postage stamp featuring an oil and tempera painting of the Madonna holding a child
1990 Christmas stamp issued October 18th in Washington, DC (Scott 2514)

The image of mother and child is the most frequent theme for USPS Christmas stamps. Bradbury Thompson derived the design for the intaglio prints of this 1990 Christmas stamp from a painting by the southern Italian Renaissance artist Antonello da Messina. Antonello is often recognized for bringing northern oil painting to Italy (Luciano 2003). There has been some debate as to whether Antonello or another artist painted the work, and thus about when exactly it was painted. However, the painting can be compared to others by Antonello and is ascertained with some certainty to be part of his body of work. Some of the paint from the original has been lost, and the background and pillow in the painting (not seen in the stamp) were at one point repainted (Brown 2003). A gauzy veil originally painted over Mary’s forehead is now almost invisible. However, the “geometric abstraction of form,” in the eyes and eyebrows in the painting, for example, is still a prominent feature on the stamp (Brown 2003). Mary and the baby Jesus’ faces touch, and in a realistic manner, the baby indicates that he wants to nurse, lending the portrait a very human aspect.