Enthroned Virgin and Child with Personifications of the Virtues of Prudence, Temperance, Justice, and Fortitude
Bernat Martorell, Spanish, first documented 1427, died 1452
A masterpiece by Bernat Martorell, Barcelona’s leading painter in the early fifteenth century, this picture formed the topmost central section of a large retablo, or altarpiece, that covered an entire wall. Martorell created the retablo for the chapel of the Palau de la Generalitat in Barcelona, which housed the law courts presiding over the kingdom of Catalonia. The iconography seen here relates to the legislative functions of the Generalitat: the Virgin and Child wear royal robes, Christ reads from a scroll like those on which legal documents were written, and the two holy figures are surrounded by personifications of the four Cardinal Virtues, thought to be essential characteristics of a good ruler. Clockwise from the top left, the virtues are: Temperance, Fortitude, Justice, and Prudence. Retablos of this type showcased not only magnificent painting but also carpentry of the highest quality; this example originally had an elaborate carved and gilded baldachin (canopy) that is now lost. The baldachin seen here was recently made by the Museum as a replacement. The other sections of the altarpiece—today in the Art Institute of Chicago and the Musée du Louvre, Paris—depict events from the legend of Saint George, the patron saint of Catalonia.