This sublime tondo
by the Master of the Madonna del Ponterosso is an exquisite example of Renaissance painting at the turn of the 16th
century. The painting is immaculately preserved with a beautiful paint surface, retaining the delicate glazes and refined modeling that are so often lost over time in paintings of this period. The painting was published in 1989 by Filippo Todini (see Literature) who grouped together five works “of elevated quality,” the present painting included, which he considered to be the work of a Florentine follower of Perugino, influenced by Ghirlandaio and elements of Flemish painting. Todini named the artist after a fresco at the sanctuary of Santa Maria del Ponterosso, in the small Florentine town of Figline Valdarno.
The design for the Virgin and Child, used for both the present painting and the master’s eponymous fresco, relates to Pietro Perugino’s celebrated Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints John the Baptist and Sebastiano
in the Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence (fig. 2).1
was commissioned by Cornelia Martini, widow of the Florentine merchant, Giovanni Martini, and dates to 1493. It must be assumed that the cartoon remained in Perugino’s workshop from that date onwards and the master himself reprised the design for the central figures of his Madonna and Child with Saints
in the church of Sant’Agostino, Cremona.2
The treatment of the angels in the present painting, meanwhile, is not at all Umbrian and seems much more northern in style, diverging from figures in the master's corpus
The eponymous fresco was housed in a tabernacle near the Ponterosso
or "red bridge" which traversed the local river in Figline Valdarno.3
Documents pertaining to the commission of the tabernacle, discovered through the studies of Nicoletta Baldini, have shed light on a possible identification of the fresco’s author.4
According to the documents, at some point between 14 March 1496 and 3 April 1499, the Florentine nobleman, Antonio Parigi, engaged a builder, a blacksmith and a painter for the construction and decoration of the tabernacle on his land at the edge of the river.5
The local painter, Giovanni di Papino Calderini, was charged with the tabernacle’s decoration and Baldini proposes the artist was the author of the Madonna and Child Enthroned,
thus tentatively identifies him as the elusive Master of the Madonna del Ponterosso.6
When the river running beside the tabernacle burst its banks in 1557, the fresco was removed from its original position due to the resulting flooding and placed on the high altar of the new church, built in 1570, where it remains today.7
We are grateful to Professor Filippo Todini for reconfirming the attribution to his Master of the Madonna del Ponterosso on the basis of photographs.
1. For the Perugino altarpiece see P. Scarpellini, Perugino, Milan 1984, p. 87, reproduced p. 179, fig. 84.
2. Ibid., p. 88, cat. no. 61, reproduced p. 183, fig. 91.
3. N. Baldini, Nella bottega fiorentina di Pietro Perugino. Un’identità per il Maestro della Madonna del Ponterosso: Giovanni di Papino Calderini pittore di Figline, Figline Vadarno 2010, p. 5.
4. Ibid., pp. 5-10.
5. Ibid., p. 8.
7. Ibid., p. 5.