I love walking around the Vatican Museum. It’s great to see the treasures that were accumulated while the majority of the population lived in grinding poverty.
A particular favourite of mine is this portrait by Francesco di Gentile. It’s called La Vergine col Bambino, or The Virgin with the Child but is better known as Madonna della Farfalla, or Madonna of the butterfly.
I adore the Madonna’s heavy-lidded, almond-shaped eyes, sorrowful expression and exceptionally long, thin nose. I think the sculptural quality of her hand is marvellous too. The baby Jesus looks as if the model was a little tired of keeping still for the painter.
It’s in amazing condition considering it’s so ancient. It must have been painted before 1500. Below the clouds, which look like surf on the sea, is a butterfly I recognise.
It’s a Scarce Swallowtail, Iphiclides podalirius. 500 years later and they’re still flying.
I wonder what the significance was of painting this butterfly in the portrait?
Maybe it was interested in the solitary fig, if that’s what it is, in the bottom left of the image. I would be.
Nothing is known about the painter except for his works.