By whom sold ('Property from a South American Private Collection'), New York, Sotheby's, 29 January 2009, lot 55;
Where acquired by the present owner.
The Madonna clasps her hands protectively around the Christ Child as he stands on a stone ledge. The close-knit pair fills almost the entire surface of this small jewel-like painting. The figures of the young St John, holding the reed cross, and St Joseph, captured in profile, are pushed to the outer limits of the composition, the former caught just inside the frame staring outwards, the latter averting his gaze, oblivious to the viewer’s presence. The painting’s originality lies in the conception of these peripheral figures and the intense naturalism of the Child caught as he turns in a gesture of striking immediacy.
At the centre of the painting is the Christ Child’s hand as it grasps the Virgin’s mantle painted in a rich ultramarine blue. The vibrancy of this colour together with the crimson and golden ochre of her garments is enhanced by the strong accents of white within the painting. Executed with great subtlety, the whites range from the intense candour of the Christ Child’s tunic and the Virgin’s folded cuff, to more shaded areas such as her veil, and become increasingly darker in the tenebrous passages at the edge of the painting, such as the garment worn by the young Baptist, and more shadowy still in the description of St Joseph’s hair and beard. The beautifully rendered face of St Joseph cast in soft shadow is a touching counterpoint to the tilted head of Christ bathed in light. Here as elsewhere the paint layers are remarkably well preserved. Schedoni’s method of application is polished, evident for example in the blended skin tones, but in this painting his spontaneous approach also comes to the fore in areas such as the hair of the young St John, which is freely painted over the rose of the Madonna’s robe, or in details such as the highlight on a thumbnail.
The idea of the Madonna embracing the Christ Child relates to Schedoni’s celebrated composition on canvas of The Holy Family, a work recorded in the Farnese collections from 1693 and now at the Louvre. It is approximately three times larger than this panel and includes an element of still life and a trompe l’œil cartellino that are absent here. The Louvre painting omits the young St John, substituting him with the figure of St Joseph, in profile, as here, but reversed. Datable to about 1610 according to Negro and Roio and between 1610 and 1612 according to Dallasta and Cecchinelli,2 it was almost certainly painted in Parma. The present work is an autograph variant close in date to the Louvre painting. More similar in type to this composition, incorporating both St Joseph and the young St John, but of inferior quality, is a version in the Pinacoteca, Bologna, considered by Negro and Roio to be partly by the studio.3 Further versions are known, none of which can be considered fully autograph.4
The motif beloved by Schedoni of the child that engages directly with the viewer is most famously deployed by him in a devotional painting executed in 1611 for his patron Ranuccio Farnese, The Charity of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, now at Capodimonte, Naples.5 Posed in a similar way and placed in the foreground close to the picture’s edge, the blond child stands in the immediate foreground of the painting as the young Christ Child does in this work. Rather than the mere repetition of existing motifs, this composition highlights the originality of Schedoni’s design, while at the same time echoing other masterpieces painted by him at a moment in his career when he was at the height of his powers.
Note on Provenance
The Holy Family in multiple variations – with and without other figures – was one of Schedoni’s most frequently painted subjects and many are recorded in different collections from the seventeenth century onwards, making it difficult to identify the provenance of this one with any degree of certainty. The reverse of the panel bears a number of seals, of which two can be partially deciphered. One is a red wax seal in the upper left corner, which bears in reverse the arms of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.6 This suggests the painting may have been in Naples, the city that was to house the Farnese collections inherited by Charles III, King of Spain (and from 1734 King of Naples and Sicily) as a consequence of the marriage of his parents Philip V of Spain and Elisabetta Farnese. The Louvre Holy Family was among the works that were transferred from Parma to Naples by the Bourbons when Charles became Duke of Parma and Piacenza and soon after King of the Two Sicilies. It may be that the same fate befell this work. The seal may be early nineteenth-century in date but its presence nevertheless suggests a link between Schedoni’s Farnese patrons in Parma and the later history of the Farnese collections in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. While the Louvre canvas eventually made its way to France as part of war reparation agreements with the Bourbon king Ferdinand IV of Naples, this painting may have suffered a similar fate to other works by Schedoni, which were sent to Palermo to avoid sequestration by the French. The second red wax seal on the reverse is smaller and oval in shape. It bears the arms of the Holy See and was issued by the Customs office of the Papal Treasury.7 Further clues are needed to determine the history of the painting’s ownership within the Papal States.
1. Oil on canvas, 106.5 x 89.2 cm.; inv. no. 661. See I Farnese: arte e collezionismo, Palazzo Ducale, Parma; Haus der Kunst, Munich, and Galleria Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples, exh. cat., Milan 1995, no. 106.
2. F. Dallasta and C. Cecchinelli, Bartolomeo Schedoni, Pittore Emiliano, Modena 1578, Parma 1615, Parma 1999, p. 165.
3. Oil on canvas (according to Dallasta and Cecchinelli 1999, p. 166; on panel according to Negro and Roio), 56 x 26 cm.; inv. no. 607. Negro and Roio believe St John and St Joseph to be of sufficient quality to be by Schedoni, while the Madonna and Child would appear to be partly by another hand.
4. A copy on canvas, 108 x 88 cm., at the Musée Fabre, Montpellier (inv. no. P.1.202); a work published as possibly by Amidano da Riccomini, 94 x 70 cm., at the Hermitage, St Petersburg (inv. 1558); a work of decidedly modest quality on panel, 39.2 x 26 cm., at the University Art Collection, Stockholm (inv. 222); and a later copy on panel, 27 x 21 cm., at the Accademia Carrara, Bergamo (inv. 577).
5. Reproduced in colour in Negro and Roio 2000, p. 58, no. 35.
6. Surrounded by the partially legible words: CONSERVAZ[IONE] D[EI] MONUMENTI [E DELLE] BELLE ARTI. It may be a seal issued by some official body within the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in charge of the region’s artistic patrimony.
7. Together with the partially legible words: [DOG]ANA […?] TERRA and the initials RCA, which stand for Reverenda Camera Apostolica.
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.
Online Registration to Bid is Closed for this Sale. Would you like to watch the live sale?Watch Live Sale