A beautiful version of the Mater Amabilis is the MADRE PIA, where the Virgin in her divine Infant acknowledges and adores the Godhead. We must be careful to distinguish this subject from the Nativity, for it is common, in the scene of the birth of the Saviour at Bethlehem, to represent the Virgin adoring her newborn Child. The presence of Joseph the ruined shed or manger the ox and ass these express the event. But in the MADRE PIA properly so called, the locality, and the accessories, if any, are purely ideal and poetical, and have no reference to time or place. The early Florentines, particularly Lorenzo di Credi, excelled in this charming subject.
There is an example [in the Pitti, Florence, attributed to Filippino Lippi] which appears to me eminently beautiful and poetical. Here the mystical garden is formed of a balustrade, beyond which is seen a hedge all in a blush with roses. The Virgin kneels in the midst, and adores her Infant, who has (in the original) his finger on his lip (Verbum sum !) ; an angel scatters rose-leaves over him, while the little St. John also kneels, and four angels, in attitudes of adoration, complete the group.
But a more perfect example is the Madonna by Francia in the Munich Gallery, where the divine Infant lies on the flowery turf, and the Mother, standing before him and looking down on him, seems on the point of sinking on her knees in a transport of tenderness and devotion. This, to my feeling, is one of the most perfect pictures in the world ; it leaves nothing to be desired. With all the simplicity of the treatment it is strictly devotional. The Mother and her Child are placed within the mystical garden inclosed in a treillage of roses, alone with each other, and apart from all earthly associations, all earthly communion.
The beautiful altar-piece by Perugino in our National Gallery is properly a Madre Pia ; the Child seated on a cushion is sustained by an angel ; the mother kneels before him.