PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE COLLECTION
The design for the composition is derived from a lost work by Leonardo da Vinci, and is known through numerous copies and variants.1 The pose of the infants Saint John the Baptist and Christ repeats the drawing after Leonardo in the British Royal Collection, Windsor Castle. The motif was picked up by the North Italian followers of Leonardo, including Marco d’Oggiono, whose painting of the two infants kissing is in the Royal Collection at Hampton Court (see fig.1). D’Oggiono himself adapted the subject in his Madonna and Child with the Infant Saint John the Baptist (The Thuelin Madonna), sold New York, Sotheby’s, 28 January 2000, lot 16. John Hand, in his dissertation on the work of Joos van Cleve (see J. Hand, Joos van Cleve: the early and mature paintings, Princeton 1978), argues that most likely it is one of these many paintings after Leonardo that van Cleve had access to in Antwerp. Since the present work stylistically bears resemblance to van Cleve’s Christ Child and John the Baptist, dated by Hand to circa 1528-29 it seems likely that these Leonardesque models were made available in the city of Antwerp to Joos van Cleve and his studio sometime prior to 1530. In the recent exhibition Joos van Cleve: Leonardo Des Nordens, Peter van den Brink offered a dating of the present work to circa 1525-30. He further notes that the figures in the present painting are identical in proportion to those in the Hampton Court d'Oggiono, indicating that van Cleve may have had access to that painting directly. Van Cleve may have studied the d'Oggiono in Antwerp or possibly while in the collection of Margaret of Austria in Mechelen, who was most likely one of the prior owners.
The present version expertly displays van Cleve's ability to fuse Northern and Italian influences. Saint John the Baptist and Christ are placed underneath a highly refined and detailed archway. The shadows which highlight the forms of the infants are a clear reference to Leonardo's sfumato technique, which van Cleve incorporates into his own style quite successfully. The aerial perspective of the landscape and receding green and blue hills are classically Northern. The marble columns and archway, with their rich and elaborate carvings and ornamentation which frame the scene are found in other versions of the work, for instance in the Art Institute of Chicago version, and in another sold Zürich, Koller, 21 September 2012, lot 3016, for $1,143,331. The Chicago version features an elaborate cloth baldacchino, a variation on the present composition which is also found in other versions by van Cleve and his workshop.
We are grateful to Peter van den Brink and Micha Leeflang for independently supporting the attribution to Joos van Cleve, based on first hand inspection.
1. Dr. John Hand lists twelve variants or repetitions of the composition in his monograph on Joos van Cleve. See J. Hand, Joos van Cleve, New Haven 2004, pp. 96-9 and 165-6.
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