This marble bas-relief depicts the Virgin and Child, accompanied by the Agnus Dei. This subject is quite rare, as it combines the Virgin, Child and Lamb on a cloud, all on a bas-relief that is quite thick. This allows the artist to open up certain parts, so we can define this work as being in high relief.
This sculpture comes from the Jean Moreaux collection. A surgeon with a passion for travel, he rubbed shoulders with collectors and antique dealers alike, developing an extensive artistic culture. He set about building up an extensive “Haute Époque” collection, including Italian and Spanish ceramics, liturgical objects and Flemish tapestries. He later expanded his Christian collection outside Europe, bringing back a blessing cross made in Ethiopia.
We can relate our work to the relief showing the Virgin Mary, the Child and a devotee, preserved in the Villa Borroméo. The child is sculpted in profile, with a rounded shape, as in our work. In this sculpture, the child is standing on a marble overhang that serves as a floor. To create our bas-relief, the artist used the same technique, but this time with the Virgin standing on an overhang.
We can attribute our work to Lombardy sculptor and architect Briosco Benedetto. He was born in 1460 and died in 1517. For example, he designed the portal of the Charterhouse of Pavia. This artist specialized in bas-reliefs, and produced an impressive number, one of which can be seen in the S.Bardini collection in Florence.
The bas-relief features the Virgin Mary, St Anne, Christ and St John the Baptist.
We can see certain similarities with our work. First of all, Mary’s veil is tied in folds that are turned and then tightened around her head, while the children’s bodies are fleshy. Finally, this artist’s particularity was to sculpt clouds in strategic places. In this work, there’s one on each side of the canopy, and we can perhaps guess the faces of the puttos on it.
In our case, it’s the Agnus Dei sitting on a cloud. Behind this animal, we can see a very fine cross that is also present on the work from the S.Bardini collection, except that this time, the cross is at the foot of the Virgin and the Agnus Dei is next to it.
In this work, we can see the Virgin trying to hold back her child, who is trying to escape from her arms. Her face is benevolent, she turns her gaze towards her son in a protective posture, her lips are thin and the tip of her nose is uneven. Her hair is held back under a veil tied around her head, but two strands escape to frame the top of her face.
His head is detached from the background of the bas-relief, creating an effect of depth, and the reinforcement is visible when we look at the work from the side.
She is dressed in a tunic, and over it she wears a cloak that reaches down to her feet. The many folds of her tunic and cloak recall the drapery seen on ancient goddess statuary. Mary is standing on an overhang made of marble, the tips of her shoe-clad feet visible as they protrude from her dress. One of his feet protrudes from this marble overhang.
Jesus is depicted as a child, naked and in the flesh. Her hair is visible despite the patina of time. He tries to use his legs to support himself on one of his mother’s arms to extricate himself. The artist took care to sculpt the child’s toe protruding between his mother’s fingers. The latter is intrigued by the lamb, sitting on its hind legs and floating on a cloud at his level. It can be recognized by its wool sculpted into little swirls and its fine muzzle.
This lamb, visible on the bas-relief, could be the incarnation of the divine on Earth, standing on a cloud to show that he comes from heaven and stretches out his paw towards the newborn child. We can see that he is on the same level as Jesus, showing that there is no hierarchy between the heavenly figure and God’s creation, Man.
When John the Baptist referred to Jesus as “the Lamb of God”, he was supporting the fact that he was the Messiah, and that his birth and death would reveal the true nature of God. Many of Jesus’ ancestors were shepherds (Isaac, Jacob or David), a rather prestigious profession in those days, symbolizing protection and authority, and often associated with royalty. The shepherd-king brings back the lost sheep.
Traces of the tools used to create this bas-relief can still be seen on the back of the sculpture.
This bas-relief is characterized by the figure of the “Agnus Dei” on a cloud, a rare and detailed representation that allows us to attribute it to the architect and sculptor Briosco Benedetto. On this work, we can see the important figures of the Bible: the Virgin Mary, Jesus her newborn child and finally God the Father personified in the form of a lamb.

Marble bas-relief of the Virgin and Child – 16th century Italy