‘Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, hail, our life, our sweetness, and our hope. ’

For centuries, Catholics all over the world have clung on to the Blessed Mother through word and song, imploring her protection and desiring to be covered by her precious mantle of love and mercy. In the quattrocento, this tender expression of faith was charged by the colors of art and the conviction of the artists.

One such famous masterpiece is the ‘Polyptych of the Misericordia’ by Piero Della Francesca. He painted it for his hometown of Sansepolcro, a region of Tuscany, Italy. Commissioned in 1445 by the Compagnia Della Misericordia, today the painting is conserved in the Museo Civico di Sansepolcro. The gigantic size of the canvas indicates that the Polyptych was intended to be used as an altarpiece.

Piero was born in c 1415 to Benedetto de’ Franceschi, a tradesman. His father died before his birth and hence Piero was called ‘Della Francesca’ after his mother. Although a painter of the Early Renaissance, Piero was contemporarily known as a mathematician and geometer. Nevertheless, today Piero is primarily appreciated for his art characterized by monumentality, mathematical rigor, and naturalism.

As the name suggests, the Polyptych of the Misericordia is executed on multiple panels merged on hinging folds. The ‘Madonna Della Misericordia’ or the ‘Madonna of Mercy’ occupies the central part of the Polyptych and was the last image to be painted. The iconography of the Blessed Virgin sheltering the faithful under her mantle was extremely popular in medieval Italy. Its origins can be traced to the Byzantine tradition.

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