The Gardner Museum’s Virgin and Child is an important work within the small body of paintings attributed to Pesellino, a celebrated, but little-studied fifteenth-century Florentine master whose paintings were collected by the Medici family. Made at a time when painted and sculpted half-length Virgin and Child images were becoming standard features in middle and upper class Florentine homes, Pesellino’s painting has much in common with the work of the most successful Madonna manufacturers of the day — Filippo Lippi, Donatello, and Luca della Robbia. There is tension between the sacred and profane within the picture. The holy protagonists are positioned close to the picture plane, creating a sense of intimacy and accessibility. The Christ Child — appealingly childlike — meets the eye of the beholder. In contrast, the Virgin refuses visual engagement: she asserts decorum and distance; her physical grace and beauty are designated sacred, not of this world.
Source: Megan Holmes, "Virgin and Child with a Swallow," in Eye of the Beholder, edited by Alan Chong et al. (Boston: ISGM and Beacon Press, 2003): 49.