Madonna del Parto. Piero della Francesca. ca. 1459. Museo della Madonna del Parto, Monterchi.
The Madonna del Parto [Madonna of childbirth] is a fresco painting by Piero della Francesca. One historical account reports that Francesca completed the piece in seven days while in Sansepolcro for his mother's death . The painting features a liberal amount of blu oltremare, also known as ultramarinum [beyond the sea], obtained from imported lapis lazuli. Popular with Italian painters in the fourteenth and fifteenth centures, blu oltermare was also very expensive, at times exceeding gold in cost. Artists were sparing in their use of it, reserving the color for the robes of the Virgin Mary and the Christ child.
The motif of Madonna del Parto is one found in Tuscan art beginning in the 14th C. In these paintings, the Madonna usually stands alone and holds a closed book over her belly, signifying her embodiment of the incarnate word. Here Francesca reveals her within a pavillon, with two angels opening its panels. This opening is then mirrored in the panels of the Virgin Mary's robes. One interpretation describes the pavillon as representing the orginal Ark of the Covenant. In this context, the pregnant mother of Christ then becomes the vessel for the new covenant.