This Adoration of the Christ Child, datable to 1510-1520, belongs to a group of works painted by Lorenzo di Credi during his maturity with the assistance of his workshop. A prolific painter and draftsman, Lorenzo led one of the most successful workshops of the Cinquecento, having inherited the thriving shop of his teacher Andrea del Verrocchio in 1488. Devotional works like this panel were met with great success among Lorenzo di Credi's clientele, and as such, many examples have come down to us today. While some were painted entirely by the artist alone, even more numerous in the first decades of the sixteenth century were those completed with the assistance of his workshop. These collaborative productions remained faithful to Lorenzo's distinct style, and his intervention and guidance are palpable. Such is the case in the present example, where his involvement is clear in the pictorial quality, the overall composition, and the selection of rich and vibrant colors.
The composition of this tondo is simple and balanced: the Virgin occupies most of the right half, while Saint Joseph appears on the left. They both kneel in prayer looking down upon the Christ Child, lain on a cloth and cushioned by straw. The Virgin’s figure, with her brightly colored robe, stands out against the neutral tones of a fragmentary architectural device behind her, which delineates the foreground from the background. In the distance on the right, a roof offers shelter to the donkey and the ox, while on the left, a larger space extends towards a landscape that belongs to Credi's distinct repertoire: meadows and grassy bumps that are reflected in an expanse of water, as well as a fortified village characterized by a robust wall, towers, and a bridge.
Lorenzo di Credi and his workshop often employed cartoons for the placement of individual figures in their devotional output. Though many of these works share strong visual affinities, there are rarely identical solutions, for adaptations were almost always made to poses, settings, and landscapes. The figures in the present tondo can be compared to those found in two other tondi by Lorenzo, one in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (fig. 1) and the other in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, both of which replace Saint Joseph at left with a young angel. The overall composition of the present tondo, however, comes closest that found in a square panel of the same subject in the Pinacoteca di Castiglion Fiorentino in Arezzo. The most significant differences between the two panels are the architectural conceits; in the Arezzo version they are more realistic and in the present they are more abstract. Furthermore, the Arezzo Adoration is more soberly rendered, lacking the brilliantly colored details so characteristic of Lorenzo’s works from the early sixteenth century.
As mentioned above, Lorenzo di Credi’s involvement in the present panel is visible in the details, in the choice of pigments, and in the delicate changes made to the drapery and landscape, as revealed through infrared photography (fig. 2). The browns of Saint Joseph’s robe contrast with the lively tones of the Virgin’s mantle and tunic, an illustration of Giorgio Vasari’s praise of Lorenzo being particularly attentive to the mixture and drafting of colors. In fact, the assignment of a more sober robe to St. Joseph, with his black tunic and a brown cloak reminiscent of the Franciscan habit, is not accidental. It emphasizes his greater age than that of the Virgin, who is little more than a child herself. She is given a stronger emphasis within the composition, a result of a combination of well-differentiated colors, from the dense red of her tunic to the blue of her cloak lined in yellow. Only in the succession of the planes that define the landscape is a certain rigidity visible.
We are grateful to Professor Gigetta Dalli Regoli for her assistance in the cataloguing of this lot and whose expertise forms the basis of this catalogue entry.