While Bellini and other artists in Venice produced numerous depictions of the Madonna and Child for private devotion, such works by Carpaccio are relatively rare. The picture depicts the Virgin seated by a window, the Infant Christ on her lap. Both look outwards to a hilly vista, with a lone horseman (fashionably dressed in late quattrocento Venetian style) prancing by. A dark green curtain has been pulled back and acts as an incidental cloth of honor behind the Madonna, and both Mother and Child seem thoroughly engaged with the outside world. Such small details are typical of Carpaccio who relished any opportunity of telling a story.
This particular composition by Carpaccio is known in more than one version by his studio and other artists, and must have had a certain popularity. Recently, a picture attributed to Carpaccio of this composition was sold in these rooms.1 There were small differences in detail, such as the costume of the Virgin and the hair of the Infant, which was less unruly than in the present panel. The landscape also differed, and showed the horseman approaching rather than riding away. In a nuance that changes the tone of the picture, the Madonna is shown looking placidly down at her Child, a more orthodox iconography. A smaller, simplified and slightly later version of the painting, attributed to Lattanzio da Rimini, is in the collection of the Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Mass (inv. F.433).
This Madonna and Child was seen by Berenson in the early 20th Century, while it was in the collection of Dr. Hermann Eissler in Vienna.2 However, he did not publish it until his checklist of Venetian Renaissance paintings in 1957, and subsequent discussion of the picture appears to have been based solely on the image in his archive. A few years later, Guido Perocco, who included it amongst his “attributed works,” kept the question of its authorship open, but subsequent art historians doubted the work, despite its signature. More recently, Vittorio Sgarbi took up the discussion of the picture again, noting that even it were unavailable for first hand examination, there were convincing elements that support Carpaccio’s authorship. He suggested a late dating for the picture, to circa 1516-18, comparing the volumetric treatment of the drapery to the Madonna and Child with Saint Jerome and Catherine, formerly in Berlin (destroyed 1945), as well to the altarpiece of the Madonna and Child Enthroned with Six Saints painted for the Cathedral of the Assumption in Capodistria (Koper), Slovenia (dated 1516, now Koper Regional Museum). He further notes some elements in the present panel that recall earlier works by Carpaccio, such as the Madonna and Child with the Infant Baptist of circa 1499 in the Städel, Frankfurt (inv. 1075).
Sgarbi’s comparison to the Städel Madonna, in fact, seems particularly apt. Not only is there general compositional correspondence, but he also correctly notes a close connection to the head of the young Baptist with that of the Christ in the present panel. Both paintings are signed in a similar manner as well, also found in other paintings of this moment in the artist’s career, including some of the large canvases from the Sant’Orsola cycle (Accademia, Venice).3 Infrared reflectography of the present panel (see fig. 1) also reveals correspondence to the Frankfurt Madonna. The original drawing for the composition is drawn in a very clear and linear manner, with no attempt to suggest any type of volume or shading. It appears to have been worked up in brush, possibly over a direct tracing from a cartoon. The style of the underdrawing matches that of the Frankfurt Madonna and Child, with all of the facial features rendered in exactly the same style.4 Such similarities would suggest a dating for the present work to the mid to late 1490s.
Dr. Peter Humfrey, to whom we are grateful, has endorsed an attribution to Vittore Carpaccio after firsthand inspection.
This painting is offered for sale pursuant to a settlement agreement between the present owner and the heirs of Dr Hermann Eissler.
1. Anonymous sale, New York, Sotheby’s, 29 January, 2016, lot 427, as “Attributed to Vittore Carpaccio”.
2. According to the Duveen archives held at the Getty, Berenson had already seen the painting in the Eissler collection in Vienna before 1928 and considered it an autograph, late work.
3. The present panel is signed on a cartellino resting on the ledge of the window at left VICTORIS CARPAT[IO]. The Frankfurt panel is signed VICTORIS CARPATIO/ VENETI OPVS. After about 1500, Carpaccio begins to add an “H” to his signature after the “T”, such as in the Funeral of St. Jerome and the Vision of St. Augustine in the Scuola Dalmata, Venice, the first of which is dated 1502, and both of which are signed with the form VICTOR CARPATHIUS.
4. The underdrawing in the Frankfurt picture is somewhat obscured in parts, but is easily visible in the faces and flesh tones (cf. J. Sander, Italienische Gemälde im Städel 1350-1550: Oberitalien, die Marken und Rom, 2004, p.112, illus., pp. 110-111, figs. 100-101).
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