THE PROPERTY OF ROBERT M. EDSEL, DALLAS, TEXAS
Walsh Porter (d. 1809), by 1803;
Probably his sale, London, Christie's, 22-23 March 1803 (as by Leonardo, where unsold);
Probably his sale, London, Buchanan, 12 March 1810, lot 2 (as by Leonardo, where unsold);
Probably his sale, London, Christie's, 14 April 1810, lot 22 (as by Leonardo), to Barnett;
William Scrope, London;
His sale, London, Christie's, 10 June 1815, lot 91 (as by Leonardo, withdrawn from sale);
His sale, London, Christie's, 6 April 1816, lot 89 (as by Leonardo);
Marczell von Nemes, Budapest, by 1911;
Dr. Karl Lanz, Manheim, by 1913
Gisela Lanz, widow of the above, until 1973; [she died in 1973]
Anonymous sale, Cologne, Kunsthaus Lempertz, 7 June 1973, lot 69; [likely consigned by Gisela Lanz's heirs]
Otto Mehel, Munich (acquired at the above sale);
M.J.A. Bertini, New York;
With Rob Smeets Old Master Paintings, Milan;
From whom purchased by the present collector.
In a tantalizingly vague reference made towards the end of his first Milanese sojourn, Leonardo da Vinci lists amongst the garzoni and pupils in his studio a certain "gian petro."1 This is the first probable reference to an artist who would become Leonardo's most faithful and productive interpreter in Lombardy, Giovanni Pietro Rizzoli, nicknamed Giampietrino. This Virgin and Child, which over its long history has been given the descriptive sobriquet the Madonna of the Cherries, represents one of the artist's finest paintings, and certainly one of the best pictures by the artist left in private hands. As a piece of art, it is an essential work in the understanding not only of Giampietrino's career, but of his master Leonardo da Vinci's time in Milan, and how his presence there fundamentally transformed 16th Century Lombard painting.
In a somewhat unusual inversion of art history, the artistic personality of Giampietrino has been understood for much longer than has his historical profile. A cohesive body of work has been attributed and discussed by art historians for most of the 20th Century; Giampietrino's style is easily distinguished from the other Leonardeschi who worked in Sforza Milan. His paintings are distinctive, and share the same soft modelling, strong drawing, and interest in lush color. But secure facts about his life—even his family name—were unknown until relatively recently. In addition to the quick reference made by Leonardo himself, period sources mention artists which have sometimes been associated with Giampietrino, and which have somewhat confused the issue. The Milanese writer and painter Gianpaolo Lomazzo mentions in his famous Trattato a certain "Pietro Riccio milanese pittore, discepolo di Leonardo da Vinci....degn[o] d'essere celebrat[o] e propost[o] per esempio ed imitare."2 For many years, this was assumed to be the artist we know now as Giampietrino. This supposition, however, has since been proven false, and the artist "Riccio" or more properly "Rizzi" is now known to have been of an earlier generation, active in the 1480s and 1490s.3 Similarly, he had been in the past associated with an artist called Giovanni Pedrini, although that identification has also now been discounted, and we now know that the artist, who has always been known by his correct soprannome of Giampietrino, is in fact now securely identifiable as Giovanni Pietro Rizzoli.4
The genesis of the Madonna of the Cherries remains one of the more intriguing aspects of Giampietrino's art, and in fact can only be seen as it relates to his own close relationship with Leonardo. As with most of Giampetrino's oeuvre, it is reliant on the great master, and on the work from his second visit in Milan in particular (1508-1513); in fact, for much of this panel's known history, it was attributed to Leonardo himself. This is natural, as the young apprentice that Leonardo recorded in his list about a decade before (see note above) would have by this point developed into a young, but much more mature painter; it would have been natural for the two to have renewed their working relationship with Giampietrino now a much more useful assistant than he would have been before.
In this role, Giampetrino would have had unfettered access to Leonardo and all his materials, drawings and paintings from which to draw inspiration. It has long been assumed that the Madonna of the Cherries was derived from a Leonardo prototype, either a drawing or perhaps a painting, which is now lost. This is certainly the case with other pictures by Giampietrino; one of his most famous pictures of Leda is derived from Leonardo's design, and other examples adapted from drawings, paintings, and prototypes in the artist's corpus are numerous. One very likely candidate for the source is one of the two Madonnas that Leonardo had mentioned in drafts of his correspondence to Charles d'Amboise, the French governor of Milan; in what appears to be a blatant attempt to curry the favour of the new regime in a city to which he was returning, he describes "due quadri dove sono due Nostre Donne di varie grandezze... [per il] Cristianissimo Re o per chi a voi piacerà."5 Kenneth Clark had seen in this reference the likely source for the Madonna of the Cherries type, which of course he knew from the many northern copies of the composition (see note below).6 Not much more is heard of these pictures by Leonardo, and they seem to have been delivered to the client.
The question of Giampetrino and the critical fortune of the Madonna and Cherries only becomes more fascinating and compelling when examined through the lens of the popular success the composition enjoyed in the early decades of the 16th Century, not so much as in the painter's native Milan, but rather north of the Alps. The Antwerp painter Joos van Cleve so embraced the depiction of the Madonna of the Cherries that he almost wrested it away from Giampetrino. Some twenty three versions attributed to Joos' workshop have been identified, and by sheer dint of numbers his interpretation of the image is perhaps the most familiar today.7 Of course, Joos' interpretation of the image is quite different than Giampetrino's, as comparison with one of the best of the former's versions, now in a private New York collection, readily attests (see fig. 1). The main elements of the composition—the pose of the Madonna and Child, the vista onto a mountainous landscape to the left, the ledge upon which the Virgin rests her elbow—are all included. The whole mood of the picture, however, is entirely different. Joos has translated his Madonna into a fully northern idiom; gone are the warm, golden tonalities and soft, sfumato modulations of Giampetrino's Mother and Child. Instead, the sharp detail and alabaster tones of the Antwerp palette are used. Joos' Virgin is silver-skinned and strawberry blond, and he has overlaid the restrained backdrop of Giampetrino's prototype with a revetment of colored stone and architectural detail. The ledge at right and a pilaster behind the figures are intricately decorated with grotesque design (to be sure, in the Italian taste) and a shelf above their heads supports a gilt figure of a warrior and another object, perhaps a candlestick. All of this is meticulously painted in a tight and controlled manner, with exquisite attention to detail.
Nevertheless, despite these changes and ornamentations, Joos' Madonna of the Cherries derives from a prototype, and we may assume directly from the present painting itself, rather than from another parallel source. Various theories have been proposed as to how and when Joos would have seen and studied the image, all of which appear to have certain chronological difficulties. Dickerson (see op. cit. p. 114) outlines a few possibilities, but also notes the pitfalls. Although there is no documentary evidence and it thus must remain somewhat conjectural, it has been assumed that Joos van Cleve made a trip to Italy, either in the 1520s or—perhaps more likely—in the early 1530s. It would have been possible for him to see the Madonna there. This hypothesis, however, is problematic, as there is a version of the Madonna from the Joos workshop which is dated 1523, thus suggesting that the composition was known and in production in Joos' workshop by that date. That panel, which was formerly in the Schazmann collection, Geneva, also bears a false Durer monograph, and it could be that the date, too, is erroneous.8 Also possible is a trip by Joos to France. Presuming that the Leonardo Madonne were sent to France and entered the royal collection there, it could be that Joos made an undocumented voyage, much easier than the one to Italy, and saw the picture there.
Recently, however, a tracing was made of the Giampietrino composition, outlining the forms of the figures and the architectural elements. This was compared with a version of the Madonna of the Cherries attributed to Joos in the collection of the Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum, Aachen.9 The tracing was laid over the museum's panel and a comparison made. With the exception of a slight shift made by the artist in the relationship to the figures of the Virgin and Child, the images match almost exactly. The size, folds and volumes of the draperies, the elemental parts of the figures of the Virgin and Child—their arms, legs, hands—all are parallel. It seems fairly certain that Joos must have seen the Giampietrino picture, and had permission to make a tracing of it. From this "derived cartoon" as it were, he would go on to produce his own version of the Madonna of the Cherries, a composition that would in time become one of his most successful productions.
Similarly, recent examination of the present panel with infrared reflectography has revealed interesting aspects of its creation (see fig 2). Clear and significant differences are visible in the early stages of the painting and the final version. Some of these are rather incidental: the pendant at the Virgin's chest, for example, was larger, and slightly to the left; the collar of her chemise was higher. More telling changes, however, are also visible; the hair of the Madonna was originally tied back into a bun, for example, and there seems to be a suggestion of a veil. As has been noted, the most complex parts of the composition, such as the twisted figure of the Infant, have not been altered and the infrared suggests a great deal of certainty in the manner in which these parts were laid in. This suggests that Giampietrino might have made a tracing or some sort of cartoon derived from a Leonardo prototype, the master having worked out for his pupil the more difficult passages of the composition.10
Whatever form the origin of the composition might have been—a drawing by Leonardo or a painting— it is clear is that Giampietrino must have made the present painting when he was working alongside Leonardo himself. Indeed, this Madonna of the Cherries is unique, in that it is the only known Italian version of the composition. Unlike other Leonardesque inventions—the Leda, the Infants Christ and Baptist Embracing, the Christ on the Road to Calvary—there are no other interpretations of the image by his Milanese followers extant, and this very powerfully suggests that the present panel must have been made not only with Leonardo's permission, but likely with his cooperation. If the hypothesis that Giampietrino's Madonna of the Cherries is the sole surviving representation of a Madonna painted by Leonardo for the French king, and that panel left for France and was unavailable to anyone else—and this seems highly likely—then the present panel must be datable to around 1508-10, just after Leonardo's own return to Milan. As such, it remains the most compelling document of this important creation of Leonardo's later career in addition to being a beautiful example of Giampietrino's art.
1. Codex Atlanticus, fol.713r; ex fol. 264 r-b, Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan. See P. C. Marani, Leonardo e il Leonardeschi a Brera, Florence 1987, p. 12, who states that the reference must almost certainly be that to Giampietrino, and that the date of the reference should be dateable to circa 1497-1500.
2. Trans ["Pietro Riccio Milanese painter, pupil of Leonardo da Vinci.... worthy of praise and put foward as an example to be imitated"] G.Lomazzo, Trattato dell'arte della pittura, Milan 1584, pp. 695, 679.
3. The near-homonymous character of the name Rizzi and the artist's actual name Rizzoli have only served to create more confusion.
4. See J. Shell, D.A. Brown, P. Brambilla Barcilon, Giampietrino e una copia cinquecentesca dell'ultima cena di Leonardo, Milan 1988.
5. [Trans: " two paintings where there are two Our Ladies of differing sizes... (for the) Most Christian King or for whomever it pleases you]" Codex Atlanticus.
6. K. Clark, Leonardo da Vinci. An Account of His Development as an Artist, Cambridge 1952, pp. 142-3.
7. See J. Hand, Joos van Cleve, Singapore 2004, pp. 185-89, cat. no. 112-112.28. Hand regards all of the extant versions to be copies or by Joos' workshop.
8. A. Parronchi, op. cit., reproduced, figs. 1 and 3.
9. See E. Günther Grimme, Das Suermondt-Museum: Eine Auswahl, Aachen 1963, pp. 210-11, cat. No. 112. This project was undertaken in advance of the museum's planned exhibition of the works of Joos van Cleve, scheduled for early 2011; we are grateful to Dr. Alice Taatgen for making available her comments on the comparison of the tracing with the museum's panel.
10. C.D. Dickerson, op. cit. pp. 115-116.
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