A 14th-century rock crystal, copper and ivory cross opens this impressive survey of small-format works of art. The earliest paintings are predella panels on the lives of saints and the Virgin, including scenes of Saint Eligius by the Master of the Madonna della Misericordia and others from Fra Angelico’s innovative Annunciation with its Euclidian perspective. Devotional painting is represented by small works that could function as portable altarpieces with a donor fi gure, including the early 15th-century French panel in which Louis I d’Orléans prays before the Agony in the Garden in an early, exquisitely detailed landscape. Another example is The Betrothal of the Virgin by the Master of the Legend of Saint Catherine, with a man in front of a typical northern European street. Single portraits principally depict monarchs and leading nobles. The saints and the Virgin are set against gold backgrounds or in graceful Gothic and Renaissance architectural settings in works by Campin, Petrus Christus, Memling and Mantegna that make use of this rational order or natural landscape settings, as in the painting by the Master of Hoogstraten, to convey the divine mystery. The classical world is refl ected in the gods and heroes depicted at an early date in Italian art with all the beauty of human proportions, in the presence of the architectural orders and in the admiration for antique clothing and objects evident, for example, in Mantegna’s serene Apostles and in the handsome youths depicted by the Aspertinis on the front of marriage chests made for nuptial chambers; intimate spaces accessed here through an opening in the wall that focuses our gaze on their moralising scenes.

 
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