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.
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