Lot 29
  • 29

Giovanni Pietro Rizzoli, called Giampietrino

200,000 - 300,000 GBP
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • Giovanni Pietro Rizzoli, called Giampietrino
  • The Madonna suckling the infant Christ
  • oil on poplar panel
  • 25½in by 18¾in


John Howard, 15th Earl of Suffolk and 8th Earl of Berkshire (1738/39–1820), Charlton Park, Malmesbury, Wiltshire;

His son Thomas Howard, 16th Earl of Suffolk and 9th Earl of Berkshire (1776–1851);

His son Charles John Howard, 17th Earl of Suffolk and 10th Earl of Berkshire (1804–1876);

His son Henry Charles Howard, 18th Earl of Suffolk and 11th Earl of Berkshire (1833–1898);

His son Henry Molyneaux Paget Howard, 19th Earl of Suffolk and 12th Earl of Berkshire (1877–1917);

His son Charles Henry George Howard, 20th Earl of Suffolk and 13th Earl of Berkshire (1906–1941);

His wife Mimi Forde-Pigott, The Countess of Suffolk and Berkshire (d. 1966), Charlton Park, Malmesbury, Wiltshire;

With Thomas Agnew and Sons Ltd., London, by January 1955;

From whom acquired by the present owners.


London, British Institution, 1818, no. 3 (as Leonardo da Vinci);

London, British Institution, 1851, no. 2 (as Leonardo da Vinci);

London, British Institution, 1858, no. 11 (as Leonardo da Vinci);

London, Agnew's, Autumn exhibition of fine pictures by old masters, 24 October – 3 December 1955, no. 5 (as Giovanni Gianpietrino).


G. Scharf, Artistic and Descriptive Notes on the Most Remarkable Pictures in the British Institution Exhibition of the Ancient Masters, London 1858, p. 76, no. 11 (as the work of a distant follower of Da Vinci);

B. Berenson, North Italian Painters of the Renaissance, New York–London 1907, p. 233 (as Gianpietrino);

A. Graves, A Century of Loan Exhibitions, 1813–1912, vol. IV, London 1914, p. 1583 (under Leonardo da Vinci);

B. Berenson, Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Central Italian and North Italian Schools, London 1968, vol. I, p. 168 (as Giampietrino);

The Burlington Magazine, July 1955, p. 237, where listed under 'Notable Works of Art now on the Market', reproduced as plate II (as Giovanni Gianpietrino);

C. Geddo, 'La Madonna di Castel Vitoni del Giampietrino', in Achademia Leonardi Vinci, edited by Carlo Pedretti, 1994, vol. VII, p. 62, reproduced fig. 28 (as Giampietrino).


The following condition report is provided by Hamish Dewar who is an external specialist and not an employee of Sotheby's: Structural Condition The artist's panel has two inserted horizontal cross batons and the four corners have bevelled squares on the reverse. The panel itself is even and secure and appears to be structurally stable. Paint Surface The paint surface has a rather uneven and certainly discoloured varnish layer and should respond very well to cleaning. There are a number of surface abrasions and small flecks of paint loss. There is a pattern of fine lines of entirely stable drying craquelure which is most evident on the blue draperies. Inspection under ultra-violet light shows the varnish layers to be very discoloured and opaque. The only retouchings that are identifiable under ultra-violet are a number of very small scattered spots on the flesh tones, a larger retouching measuring approximately 2 x 0.5 cm on the right arm of the Christ Child, and a line of retouching running across the Child's nose and onto the Virgin's breast. There are other very small scattered spots of inpainting which are visible under ultra-violet light. As the varnish layers are so opaque under ultra-violet light there may be other retouchings which are not visible under ultra-violet light but it is encouraging to note that the fine detail of the painting appear to be well preserved. Summary The painting would therefore appear to be in very good and stable condition and I am sure would respond very well to cleaning, restoration and revarnishing.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

This beautiful, well preserved panel is an autograph painting by Giampietrino, one of the most talented of Leonardo’s followers in Milan. The composition is the only known version by the artist, who often made autograph replicas of his own works, although the design is known from a number of copies, which all derive from this painting.1 Formerly in the collection of the Earls of Suffolk and Berkshire, The Madonna suckling the Christ Child has the distinction of having been in the same collection as Leonardo’s Virgin of the Rocks (National Gallery, London). It is one of Giampietrino’s best pictures left in private hands.

In this work Giampietrino has transformed the Virgin and Child into a composition that expresses his own personal language while still paying homage to Leonardo. The highly refined technique, seen for instance in the very delicate transitions from light to shade in Mary and the Christ Child’s skin tones, emulates the sfumato that was the hallmark of Leonardo’s work. Indeed the painting was even attributed to Leonardo himself during its exhibition history in the nineteenth century.

Giampietrino’s authorship is evident in his application of delicate glazes and in the finesse of details such as the Virgin’s hair and the golden elliptical thread of her halo. The curling strands of hair that emerge from areas of shadow are softly lit, each curl rendered with great care and picked out with the tip of a brush; the painter even dwelt on one or two curls that escaped across the vivid red of the Virgin’s bodice. The facial types evoke Leonardesque models. The Virgin’s high forehead, heavy-lidded eyes and long nose, as well as the Christ Child’s curly hair and the structure of his face find their counterparts in, for instance, Leonardo’s painted Virgin and Child with St Anne, now in the Musée du Louvre, Paris, which the artist elaborated in Milan.2 Several pentimenti can be detected by the naked eye, notably in the area of the Virgin’s hands and around the Child’s feet. The positioning of fingers also shows signs of having been adjusted during the painting process.

In a colour scheme entirely characteristic of the painter, the Virgin wears a dress of vivid red and over it a blue cloak lined with dazzling orange that frames her face and introduces a flash of colour to the lower right-hand area of the picture around her sleeve. The concentration on the play of folds is reminiscent of Leonardo’s early drapery studies in tempera on linen. The vibrant colours adopted here contrast with the dark background, which repays close attention for its rich inventiveness. In this picture, rather than a rocky backdrop or a distant landscape in the manner of Leonardo, Giampietrino has created a highly original framework consisting of a trellis woven with dense foliage. A tapestry of green, which has darkened over time, serves as the setting for this intimate scene. Drawn from the Old Testament’s Song of Songs (IV, 12), it evokes the hortus conclusus, the enclosed garden that is emblematic of Mary’s virginity. The absence of roses commonly found in such scenes – for instance Bernardino Luini’s Madonna of the Rose Garden (Madonna del Roseto),3 – introduces a sombre note that is echoed in the Virgin’s expression. Her mood is pensive, her eyes downcast, as she subtly averts her head from the Christ Child, mindful of his future sacrifice.

This painting also adopts one of the oldest iconographic images of the Virgin, the Virgo lactans, or nursing Madonna. Leonardo developed the motif in richly inventive drawings, as well as paintings, foremost among them the Madonna Litta at the Hermitage, St Petersburg, a work of disputed attribution that nevertheless relies on an autograph design. Giampietrino too was drawn to the theme of the child suckling at his mother’s breast and it inspired him to paint it on more than one occasion at different moments in his career.4

Giampietrino’s Madonna del latte at the Galleria Borghese, Rome, a work of comparable size and subject, shares with this panel a similar facial type for the Virgin and an interest in animating the pose of the baby.5 In Cristina Geddo’s opinion it predates this painting and is stylistically very close to the central panel of an altarpiece at Ospedaletto Lodigiano, which Geddo dates to about 1515.6 Another interpretation by Giampietrino of the breastfeeding Madonna, considered by Geddo to date from considerably later – the 1530s or ’40s – is a panel at Castel Vitoni of the Madonna suckling the Christ Child with St Joseph.7 The absence of any dates on the pictures themselves, except in the case of one, the altarpiece of 1521 for the church of San Marino, Pavia,8 necessitates a reliance on stylistic comparisons for their dating. This painting reflects a more individual and fully mature style of the 1520s.

Secure facts about Giampietrino’s life – even his family name – were unknown until relatively recently.9 In his youth he may have trained in the workshop of Leonardo as early as the mid-1490s. He may be identifiable with the ‘Gianpetro’ listed with other names annotated by Leonardo on a sheet in his celebrated treatise on painting, the Codex Atlanticus.10 Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo in his treatise on painting published in 1584 cites a certain ‘Pietro Rizzo milanese’ among Leonardo’s more famous pupils.11 As the young apprentice developed into a more mature painter, it would have been natural for them to renew their working relationship a decade or so later when Leonardo returned to Milan for a second time between 1508 and 1513. That Giampietrino had access to Leonardo and his materials, designs and paintings from which to draw inspiration is attested by the works themselves.

One of few drawings securely attributable to Giampietrino, a cartoon in the Morgan Library, New York, relates in part to this painting.12 His attempt at compositional unity suggests he was emulating works such as Leonardo’s Burlington House Cartoon. Executed in black chalk and heightened with white chalk, on two sheets of paper joined together, and pricked for transfer, Giampietrino’s cartoon depicts the Holy Family. The figure of the Christ Child is of particular relevance to this panel. Although the body is posed differently, the angle of the head and its proportions bear a strong resemblance to the Child in the painting, where it is adjusted to press against the Virgin’s breast. Without tracing the outlines it is difficult to determine whether the figures correspond exactly but the type is the same with high forehead and rounded cheeks. The design of the present painting might well have evolved from the latter.

This picture comes from the collection of the Earl of Suffolk and was probably acquired by the 15th Earl, who also owned Leonardo’s London Virgin of the Rocks. The Virgin suckling the infant Christ is listed by Berenson as being at Charlton Park, Malmesbury, Wiltshire, though the family also had a London house at 71 Harley Street. The Picture of London for 1802 included the following recommendation to readers, ‘Lord Suffolk [...] Has some fine pictures, principally by the Dutch masters; and one by Leonardi de Vinci, which he takes great pleasure in shewing, at his house in Harley street’.13 This other ‘Leonardo’ was not mentioned.

When The Virgin suckling the infant Christ was exhibited in 1858 as a work by Leonardo, it seems that attribution was already in doubt. In a guide to the best and most interesting pictures exhibited at the British Institution that year, George Scharf (1820–1895), art critic, illustrator and director of the National Portrait Gallery, wrote that the picture had apparently been the subject of much discussion, ‘So many uniform opinions have already been given upon this picture through the medium of the public press, that it is hardly necessary for me to say more than to remark that I am not aware of any competent judge having yet pronounced it otherwise than the work of a distant follower of Da Vinci’. This assessment of Leonardo’s most faithful and productive interpreter gives an indication of how little understood the work of Giampietrino was in the mid-nineteenth century and to what extent the painter’s originality would go unrecognised for many decades to come.

We are grateful to Dr Cristina Geddo for endorsing the attribution to Giampietrino on the basis of photographs.14 The present painting will be included in her forthcoming monograph on the artist, Giovanni Pietro Rizzoli, il Giampietrino. L’opera completa.

1. For a list of the copies, three of which show the Christ Child clothed and two others depict him nude, see Geddo 1994, p. 62, note 29.

2. Oil on wood, 168 x 130 cm.

3. Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan; see P. C. Marani, Leonardo e i leonardeschi a Brera, Florence 1987, no. 21, p. 154, reproduced on p. 155.  

4. See Geddo 1994, pp. 57 ff.

5. Inv. no. 456; oil on panel, 78 x 60 cm. Reproduced in P. Della Pergola, Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, vol. I, Rome 1955, no. 137.

6. Madonna and Child with St Jerome and St John the Baptist, reproduced in colour in P. C. Marani, M. T. Fiorio, J. Shell, G. Bora et al., The Legacy of Leonardo, Painters in Lombardy 1490–1530, Milan 1998, p. 292, fig. 177.

7. Reproduced in Geddo 1994, as fig. 1.

8. Reproduced in Marani et al. 1998, p. 293, fig. 178.

9. He is now securely identifiable as Giovanni Pietro Rizzoli; see J. Shell and G. Sironi, ‘Some Documents for Giovanni Pietro Rizzoli: il Giampietrino?’ in Raccolta Vinciana, XXV, 1993, pp. 121–35; also J. Shell, D. A. Brown, P. Brambilla Barcilon, Giampietrino e una copia cinquecentesca dell’Ultima Cena di Leonardo, Milan 1988, pp. 14–16..

10. Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan, fol. 713r; ex. fol. 264 r–b.; see Marani 1987, p. 12, who states that the reference must almost certainly be to Giampietrino and that it is datable to between 1497 and 1500 or perhaps even slightly earlier; see also P. C. Marani in Marani et al. 1998, p. 275; reproduced in C. Pedretti, Leonardo da Vinci: Fragments at Windsor Castle from the Codex Atlanticus, London 1957, p. 34 and plate 17.

11. G. P. Lomazzo, Trattato dell’arte de la pittura, Milan 1584, p. 679, P.Ciardi (ed.), Florence 1973, vol. II, p. 588.

12. 886 x 655 mm.; no. 142283; reproduced in Geddo 1994, fig. 31.

13. J. Feltham, The Picture of London for 1802, p. 267.

14. Written communication, May 2016.