The painting at the time of its restoration was attributed to Niccolò dell'Abate, an attribution first put forward by Béguin in 1962 (see Literature) which no longer seems plausible. She dated the painting to Dell'Abate's Bolognese period, between 1547 and 1552, a dating which seems just a fraction too late. Furthermore she compares and illustrates a number of drawings and paintings, some of which have been since reattributed to Parmigianino. The painting's style seems more akin to the circle of Parmigianino, Girolamo Mazzola Bedoli and even Michelangelo Anselmi. David Ekserdjian, who inspected the painting when it was offered in 2002 (see Provenance), suggested quite plausibly that the panel is by the same hand as an altarpiece in a Milanese private collection formerly attributed to Parmigianino and to Bedoli but which is most likely by the Maestro di Sant'Uldarico.1 The present panel is undoubtedly by an artist working in Parma, and its Parmigianinesque qualities indicate that it almost certainly post-dates Parmigianino's return to the city in 1630.
X-radiographs of the painting, first undertaken and published by Béguin (see Literature), reveal a number of changes made by the artist directly onto the panel. There is an important pentimento in the position of the Christ Child, who initially faced outwards and was therefore far less dynamically posed. The window too has been changed: it was originally rectangular, the opening narrower and taller. The face and expression of the Virgin also appear to have been altered; her eyes were thought to have looked in a different direction and now the face has a less natural, almost mask-like appearance. The male saint, probably Saint Joseph, draws his fingers up to his lips in an air of contemplation, a gesture which appears to have been covered up in the past with a beard. It is not surprising that changes were made directly on the panel, for much of the painting appears to have been swiftly executed: the landscape displays a freedom reminiscent of Dosso Dossi, and the cameo on the Madonna's right shoulder has a quickly painted portrait of a man in profile.
1. See M. di Giampaolo, Girolamo Bedoli 1500-1569, Florence 1997, pp. 144-5, no. 49, reproduced.
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