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Italian Renaissance Learning Resources

In collaboration with the National Gallery of Art

Virgin and Child

A wax ex-voto for the Virgin of Santa Maria in Carceri

A wax ex-voto for the Virgin of Santa Maria in Carceri

In 1505 a lawyer named Giuliano di Francesco Buizzelmi compiled a collection of ninety-four miracles performed by the Virgin of Santa Maria Carceri in the Tuscan town of Prato. The image had begun performing miracles on July 6, 1484, when it came down from the wall of the prison where it was painted. With Medici patronage, Giuliano da Sangallo built a sanctuary to house it. In the account below, the sick child refers to the writer’s nephew.

Lactantio d’Andrea di Francesco Guizzelmi of Prato, a baby of about eight months, had for six months been tormented by that evil sickness called the male maestro or the falling [sleepless] sickness in such a way that night or day he could find little rest and often he could not suckle or even take the milk when the nurse expressed it into his mouth. Because we judged it impossible that he would survive, and desiring his health, in the year of our Lord 1487 in the month of March I vowed him to the Most Glorious Great Crucifix of the Pieve of Prato and then to the Most Glorious Madonna, Virgin Mary of the Carceri. I took a lead figure of the Most Glorious Madonna and had it touch Her Majesty and hung it around his neck, saying the Our Father and the Hail Mary whilst the illness took hold of him and vowed him to the said Most Glorious Virgin. And as soon as the lead figure touched his flesh the illness finished and left him and he returned to full health and the illness never returned. When I vowed to the Most Glorious Madonna I promised Her Majesty, if he remained healthy, to make him in wax, in swaddling clothes as he was and the size he was when I made the vow with ten pounds of new wax all covered in fine silver. Seeing him perfectly healthy I gave thanks to the omnipotent and eternal God and his most Glorious Mother and measured the baby in order to fulfill the vow. I and all mine judged this to be a great miracle…. And seeing the grace to continue, in order to fulfill what I had promised, in December 1488 I offered him to the Most Glorious Madonna in swaddling clothes, his size made out of a large weight of wax covered in silver as you can still see in her oratory in the presence of the Majesty of the said Most Holy Madonna.


Translation: Robert Maniura, “Persuading the Absent Saint: Image and Performance in Marian Devotion,” Critical Inquiry 35 (Spring 2009), pp. 629–30.

Original: Santa Maria delle Carceri a Prato, Miracoli e devozione in un santuario toscano del Rinascimento, ed. Anna Benevuti (Florence: Mandragora, 2005), pp. 150–51.