Antonio Badile II (1424-1507 c.), Madonna and Child with Santa Maria Consolatrice and St. Catherine of Alexandria

Castelvecchio Museum, Verona, Italy
Provenance: Church of Santa Maria Consolatrice, Verona

The portrait of the child differs strikingly from other 15th-century Madonna and Child images. He is not naked, and he blesses the viewers while engaging their gaze. Otherwise the image is traditional: Mary sits enthroned, wearing a blue mantle over a red robe.

The person on the left is St. Mary the Consoler. Her story is narrated in several texts collected in the Acta Sanctorum (August vol. 1, 81-83). It may be summarized as follows:

In the second half of the 8th century, Verona suffered seven years of drought and consequent famine. One night, Bishop Anno and his sister Mary both had a dream in which an angel revealed that the famine would not end until the bodies of St. Firmus, St. Rusticus, and four other men martyred in Verona were returned to the city and given proper honors. A group of men appointed by the city learned that the bodies were in Istria Capris (modern Koper, on the Slovenian coast) but that the people there would relinquish them only if Verona gave them the bodies' weight in gold and silver. For this purpose the people of the city donated a large quantity of treasure, most of it jewelry donated by the women, and Mary sailed with it to Istria Capris. But when the exchange was to take place the bodies miraculously became so light that only a modest amount of jewelry was necessary. Mary then set sail for Verona with the bodies and most of the jewelry. Outraged citizens of Istria Capris pursued her, but by another miracle her ship outran theirs handily and returned to Verona, where the bishop and a grateful clergy and people welcomed her joyously. After they venerated the bodies the rains came and the drought was ended. In consequence Mary was known thereafter as St. Mary the Consoler.

In the portrait St. Mary's attribute is the scales that she used in Istria Capris. It has the martyrs' bodies on one tray and a single ring on the other. In the predella (see below) the left panel shows the bishop consigning the ring to Mary; the women of the city stand behind with the treasures they have brought. The middle panel pictures the weighing, with the unhappy Istrians on the left and the Veronese women on the right. And the panel on the right shows the Veronese clergy reverencing the bodies.

St. Mary the Consoler is not listed in the Roman Martyrology, but she appears in the ancient martyrology and lectionary of Verona's Cathedral for August 1, the day she died.

Here are the three panels of the predella:

View this image in full resolution.
Read more about the Madonna and Child.

Photographed at the museum by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.