This hitherto unpublished, signed and dated panel is a rare addition to the catalogue of Mariotto Albertinelli, one of the protagonists of the High Renaissance in Florence. The painting is an autograph variant of his most celebrated work, the Visitation in the Uffizi, Florence (see fig. 1), which is dated 1503 but is not signed.1 The Uffizi altarpiece was conceived with three predella panels showing different episodes from the life of the Virgin and was painted in 1503 for the Florentine church of Santa Elisabetta (formerly known as San Michele), deconsecrated in 1785. The subject depicts the event narrated in the Gospel of Luke in which Elizabeth, Mary's cousin and pregnant with John the Baptist, visits Mary, who is also with child. Since it is the scriptural episode in which Elizabeth features most prominently, it is appropriate that it should have been the subject chosen for a church dedicated to her.
Just five years after executing the Uffizi prototype, which shows the undeniable influence of Perugino in its use of soft higlights and its inclusion of a classical arcade, the artist returned to the subject using the same cartoon but introduced some fundamental differences to the design: the architectural niche and the landscape have been removed and two additional figures have been introduced. While the central figures may wear robes different in color and detail from the prototype, they are very much faithful to the original in their harmonious pyramidal design which balances both movement and stasis. Interestingly, the face of Elizabeth in the present work is no longer in shadow as it is in the Uffizi version.
After training with Cosimo Rosselli in the late 1480s, Albertinelli set up a workshop with Fra Bartolommeo, who had also trained under Cosimo. The close working relationship between the two meant that for many years some doubts remained over who had painted certain works. For example, the Kress tondo now in the Columbia Museum of Art in South Carolina was repeatedly given to Fra Bartolommeo but is now thought to be the work of Albertinelli using the former's cartoon.2 In the case of the present design it seems that Albertinelli again made use of his friend's ideas: though drawings of the Visitation by Albertinelli do exist, an album of works in the Louvre, which are unmistakably by Bartolommeo's hand, show that the present composition was first conceived by the friar.3 Moreover, the same album contains drawings by Fra Bartolommeo which provided the basis for Albertinelli's triptych from 1500 today in the Museo Poldi Pezzoli in Milan.4
After inspecting the panel in the original, Professor Andrea De Marchi has endorsed the attribution to Albertinelli and tentatively proposed that the lateral figures may be the work of Giuliano Bugiardini. According to Vasari, Albertinelli included a portrait of Bugiardini in the fresco of the Last Judgement in San Marco, which he took over from Fra Bartolommeo when the latter stopped painting for four years upon entering the Dominican Order. Bugiardini is known to have rented quarters next to Albertinelli in 1503 and began assisting him shortly thereafter.
1. Oil on panel, 232 by 146 cm., (inventory number 1587); see Gli Uffizi, Catalogo Generale, Florence 1979, p. 117, cat. no. P20, reproduced.
2. See A.R. Blumenthal (ed.), Cosimo Rosselli, Painter of the Sistine Chapel, exhibition catalogue, Winter Park, Florida 2001, pp. 194–97, cat. no. 25, reproduced in colour.
3. For a further discussion see C. Fischer, Fra Bartolommeo et son atelier, exhibition catalogue, Paris 1994, pp. 60–66.
4. See M. Natale, Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Dipinti, Milan 1982, pp. 158–59, cat. no. 199, reproduced.
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