This intimate depiction of the Madonna Annunciate has only recently been rediscovered and was painted by Gaetano Gandolfi, the leading painter in the 18th century in his native city of Bologna. The lovely condition of the canvas is partly due to it being unlined. The composition was only known until now by a black-and-white photograph of a lost small preparatory work (figure 1) which Dottoressa Biagi Maino, to whom we are grateful for endorsing the attribution on the basis of photographs, lists as formerly in the Galleria Davia Bargellini in Bologna (inv. no. 315).1 The bozzetto used to hang with another small preparatory study (both with dimensions of 13.5 by 11 cm) depicting the Calling of Saint Matthew but both went missing during the Second World War. Biagi Maino dates the sketches to the 1770s - thereby presumably pointing to a date very shortly after for the present work - comparing them specifically to the bozzetto, today in the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore, for Gandolfi's enormous Marriage of Cana in the Pinacoteca in Bologna which is signed and dated 1775.2 The present work would presumably have hung at some point with its pendant, the Archangel Gabriel.
Gandolfi worked almost exclusively in Bologna but he is known to have made a visit to Venice in 1760 which was to be of great significance to his style. This is reflected by the rich primary colours of his paintings, such as the strong red of the Madonna's blouse set against the dark background, and by the confident brushwork. The handling of paint points to an artist at his peak: the higlights around the eyes are marked by quite thick but at the same time delicate red lines, reminding us of Gaetano's skill as a draughtsman; the precision of the carefully studied hands contrasts with the more flowing and loose blue mantle.
1. See D. Biagi Maino, Gaetano Gandolfi, Turin 1995, p. 371, cat. no. 103, reproduced fig. 115.
2. Idem, p. 369, cat. no. 97, reproduced fig. 111; and p. 370, cat. no 101, reproduced fig, 112 and in colour plate LXVIII.