Enthroned Virgin and Child with Personifications of the Virtues of Temperance, Fortitude, Justice, and Prudence

Bernat Martorell, Catalan (active Girona and Barcelona), first documented 1427, died 1452

Made in Barcelona, Spain, Europe

c. 1434-1437

Egg tempera and tooled gold on oak panel

60 3/4 × 42 1/4 inches (154.3 × 107.3 cm)

Curatorial Department:
European Painting

* Gallery 205, European Art 1100-1500, second floor

Accession Number:
Cat. 759

Credit Line:
John G. Johnson Collection, 1917

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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.

* Works in the collection are moved off view for many different reasons. Although gallery locations on the website are updated regularly, there is no guarantee that this object will be on display on the day of your visit.