Bartolomeo Veneto appears to have started his career by painting Madonnas, before focusing largely on portraiture. The present painting may now be added to his five autograph depictions of the Madonna and Child, considered to be his earliest works dating to between 1502 and 1505.1 Four of these follow a composition invented by Giovanni Bellini, of whom Bartolomeo was a self-professed pupil, in the signed work of circa 1495–1500.2
In its figural arrangement, the present painting corresponds more closely to Bartolomeo's fifth Madonna, today in the Musée Fesch, Ajaccio, which deviates from Bellini's model. But in the colouring, and particularly in the background details, this work shares strong similarities with Bartolomeo's Madonna in the Accademia Carrara, Bergamo. Typical of Bartolomeo's style, and common to both paintings, are the rather packed surroundings behind the protagonists, from animals and figures in the immediate middle ground, to the crowd of buildings and dense wood on the hills behind, with the cooler silhouettes of the mountains beyond. Some details are even repeated exactly in both paintings, such as the house on tall stilts, just to the left of Christ's shoulder, which likewise appears in the Madonna that was offered at Finarte, Milan in 1994.
Further details derive directly from other sources, reflecting Bartolomeo's propensity for borrowing motifs. The turbaned figure on the left, for example, is adopted from Bellini's Sacred Allegory,3 and the rabbits on the right are clearly a quotation of the pair in the master's Saint Jerome.4 The somewhat outsized goldfinch, presumably originally tethered on a string held by the Christ Child, is found in a Madonna by Nicolò Rondinelli, another of Bellini's pupils.5 And the steeply-pitched roofs of the buildings on the right show that Bartolomeo looked beyond the Veneto for inspiration, since these replicate exactly the farm buildings behind the Prodigal Son in Albrecht Dürer's engraving of 1496.
The relative origin of the figural arrangement here is more complicated. The formal pose of the Madonna and Child appears to have been inspired by a design of Vittore Carpaccio, an example of which was offered at Sotheby's, New York, 30 January 2019, lot 6, datable to circa 1492, where the pair sit before an open window on the left – a device also favoured by Alvise Vivarini, a decade earlier. An arched window, as in Vivarini's Madonna and Child of 1483,6 is also found in a Madonna and Child in a similar pose, in the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard, which bears a traditional attribution to Bellini's follower, Lattanzio da Rimini.7
The figures in the Fogg painting correspond with the Carpaccio example, but the drapery and headdress are closer to those found in another work also formerly associated with Cima, sold London, Sotheby's, 26 April 2007, lot 68, as by a follower of Giovanni Bellini (fig. 1).8 Though clearly inspired by the examples of Carpaccio in its figure composition, and Vivarini in the arched window, the figures in the Sotheby's 2007 work in turn bear so much similarity to the present painting, as to suggest that it may also be an early Madonna by Bartolomeo Veneto, which Professor Humfrey dates to circa 1500.
The present work should therefore be seen as the result of the migration of a model that may have originated with Vivarini, was adapted by Carpaccio, translated into the language of the Bellini workshop, and finally transcribed into Bartolomeo Veneto's idiomatic, eclectic interpretation.
We are grateful to Professor Peter Humfrey for his help in the cataloguing of this lot, and for endorsing the attribution to Bartolomeo Veneto on the basis of first-hand inspection. This painting will be published by Professor Peter Humfrey in a forthcoming article, 'A Group of Madonnas by Carpaccio and Bartolomeo Veneto, and perhaps by Alvise Vivarini', in the Colnaghi Studies Journal, no. 6, March 2020.
1 Musée du Petit Palais, Avignon, inv. no. 20419; Alana Collection, Newark, Delaware, signed and dated 1502; sold Milan, Finarte, 18 October 1994, lot 27; Musée Fesch, Ajaccio, inv. no. 852.1.391, signed and indistinctly dated; and Accademia Carrara, Bergamo, inv. no. 723, signed and dated 1505; see L. Pagnotta, Bartolomeo Veneto. L’opera completa, Florence 1997, pp. 154–63, cat. nos 1-5, all reproduced.
2 Alana Collection, Newark, Delaware; see M. Minardi in M. Boskovits (ed.), The Alana Collection, II: Italian Paintings and Sculptures from the Fourteenth to the Sixteenth Century, Florence, 2011, pp. 64–70.
3 Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, inv. no. 1890, no. 903; see R. Ghiotto and T. Pignatti, L’opera completa di Giovanni Bellini, Milan 1969, p. 103, cat. no. 149, reproduced.
4 National Gallery of Art, Washington, inv. no. 1939.1.217; see Ghiotto and Pignatti 1969, p. 106, cat. no. 182, reproduced.
5 Palazzo Barberini, Rome, inv. no. 1354; see L. Mochi Onori and R. Vodret, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica. Palazzo Barberini, i dipinti. Catalogo sistematico, Rome 2008, p. 340.
6 National Gallery, London, inv. no. L1158.
7 Inv. no. 1918.40; see B. Fredericksen and F. Zeri, Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections, Cambridge, Mass, pp. 103 and 567.
8 P. Humfrey, Cima da Conegliano, Cambridge 1983, pp. 193–94, cat. no. 238, reproduced plate 201a.
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