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Madonna Dolorosa and the Doctors of the Church

Vatican Grottoes



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The image is a copy of the Madonna Dolorosa - a fresco by Lippo Memmi, 1486



 

At the beginning of the corridor, on the front wall facing the main area of the grottoes, is the copy of the fresco of the Madonna (the original is in the Fabbrica di San Pietro). It is inserted in a Renaissance marble tabernacle, which on either side are marble panels with the Doctors of the Church.

The Madonna with her delicate hands, seems to indicate the crucified Son who may hve been present in the original wider composition. Her head is graciously inclined while her painful loo meets that of the spectator. She may be the representation of the Madonna "Dolorosa". The image comes from the original basilica and was generally attributed to Lippo Memi, but modern critics attribute it to an anonymous Roman artist of the end of the 13th century. Cardinal Antoniotto Gentile Pallaviciono was extremely devoted to this image and dediced to decorate it with the marble tabernacle. The inscription below commemorates that event.

The harmonious structure o the tabernacle is made of 2 pillars with shelves and fine candelabra holding an arch and an architrave with an elegantly sculpted frieze and the dove of the Holy Spirit in the tympanum.

To the sides are two marble panels with the Doctors of the Church, that originally were not part of the tabernacle. Starting from the left are the figures of St Ambrose, St Gregory the Great, St Jerome and St Augustine. The figures are refined but still and rigid. They alternate with 4 candelabra, each one different, where the skill of the the anonymous Roman artist of the middle of the 15th century is evident.

These two panels, together with a third element, probably come from an altarpiece from the old basilica. Affixed above are two small marble coats-of-arms of the Pallavicini family.

Source: Roma Sacra The Vatican Grottoes, Fabbrica of St. Peter's, June 2003

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