Thence by descent to the present owner.
The disposition of the Madonna and Child derives, albeit with numerous differences, from Raphael’s so-called Mackintosh Madonna, the (much damaged) painting in the National Gallery, London,1 dating to the artist’s Roman period, circa 1509–11, the conception of which is much more legible in the related drawing in the British Museum, London.2 The Christ Child clings to the Madonna’s neck, while she delicately supports His foot, her gaze cast downwards. Sassoferrato replicated this composition almost exactly in paintings such as that in the Galleria Borghese, Rome.3
In the present work, however, although retaining the principal ideas of Raphael’s design, the artist has shifted the position of the Child’s legs so the Madonna holds His right foot, with His left on the cushion, and has of course added the book in the Madonna’s outstretched hand. The luxuriantly draped curtain, almost abstract in the complexity of its folds, emphasises the lucid purity of the Madonna’s peaceful expression and the figure of the Christ Child, and is pulled back to reveal the landscape vista beyond.
Sassoferrato’s innovative composition, combined with the clarity of sixteenth-century Roman classical revivalism, was clearly popular with the artist’s ever-increasing clientele. Other notable versions of the present work include the painting at Burghley House, Stamford, since 1769,4 and that in a private collection, formerly with Altomani & Sons, which is of larger dimensions and set against a green curtain.5 Though the chronology of Sassoferrato’s œuvre is notoriously difficult to construct, this latter work is dated by Massimo Pulini to the last years of Sassoferrato’s life, on account of the elaborately decorative drapery. The master must, however, have originally conceived of the design since at least before 1643, as it appears in the background of one of his finest and most sophisticated portraits – that of Cardinal Rapaccioli, today in The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota (fig. 1).
This painting will be published by François Macé de Lépinay in his forthcoming monograph on Sassoferrato.
NOTE ON PROVENANCE
Count Alessandro Contini Bonacossi (1878–1955) was an art dealer, collector, politician and philatelist. He sold a number of works to Samuel H. Kress and Jules H. Bache and formed an important and substantial collection himself, comprising furniture, sculpture and ceramics, as well as paintings. Part of this magnificent array is today displayed in the Galeria degli Uffizi, Florence, including Sassetta's large polyptych, Pala della Madonna della neve, Giovanni Bellini's Saint Jerome, the Portrait of Giuseppe da Porto with his son by Paolo Veronese, and a significant early marble by Gian Lorenzo Bernini – The Martyrdom of San Lorenzo.
1 Inv. no. NG2069; see H. Chapman, in Raphael: From Urbino to Rome, exh. cat., London 2004, p. 270, under cat. no. 98, reproduced fig. 118.
2 Inv. no. 1894,0721.1; see Chapman 2004, p. 270, cat. no. 98, reproduced p. 271.
3 Inv. no. 382; see K.H. Fiore, Guide to the Borghese Gallery, Rome 1997, reproduced in colour p. 104.
4 F. Macé de Lépinay (ed.), Il Sassoferrato. La devota bellezza, exh. cat., Milan 2017, pp. 64–65, reproduced in colour, p. 66, fig. 7.
5 Macé de Lépinay 2017, pp. 210 and 268, cat. no. 43, reproduced in colour p. 211.
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