Rosso Fiorentino

Madonna and Child, St. John the Baptist, St. Elizabeth and St. Joseph

Giovanni Battista di Jacopo di Gasparre called Rosso Fiorentino
( Florence, 1494 - Paris, 1540 )

Oil on panel 92x71.8 cm Approved by : Keith Christiansen, Curator, European Painting, Metropolitan Museum of Art ; Everett Fahy, Sir John Pope-Hennesy Director of European Painting, Metropolitan Museum of Art ; Larry Feinberg, Curator, Oberlin College, Allen Memorial Art Museum Sydney J. Freedberg, Chief Curator Emeritus, The National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. ; Larry Kanter, Curator, Robert Lehmann Collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art ; Sir John Pope-Hennessy, former Director, European Painting, Metropolitan Museum of Art ; Carlo Volpe, late Professor, University of Bologna.

Possibly the work donated by Sister Lucrezia Barducci (d. 1574) to The Barducci Chapel, Santa Felicita, Florence during her lifetime ; This was moved from the chapel to the convent and was recorded as still in Santa Felicita in 1761 ; Sold by 1828.

E. Camesasca, “Dipinti manieristi in collezioni fiorentine” Il Vasari, Vol XXI, no. 2-3, July-Sept. 1963, p. 91, pl. XLVI ; F. Fiorelli Malesci, La Chiesa di Santa Felicita a Firenze, Florence, 1986, p. 159, 298.

This work could well be the Rosso Fiorentino Virgin and Child referred to in a document of 21 March 1573 (Florentine style, thus 1574) recording the death of Sister Lucrezia Barducci. It states the work was given by her to the Barducci Chapel, Santa Felicita, many years before. Although the work has not been included in the major studies of the artist in recent years, it represents an invaluable opportunity to show the stylistic similarities and characteristics it shares with other works executed at an early stage in the artist’s career. The detailed comparisons with works such the Assumption of the Virgin and Madonna and Child with St. John, show unequivocally the hand of Rosso in his very early years in Florence.

Even if Rosso was perhaps not a formal apprentice in the del Sarto studio and was self-taught as Vasari implies, he was aware that this was the most innovative workshop in Florence, and there are many references to the master’s work in those pictures that are accepted to be Rosso’s from early in the second decade of the century. Pictures like the Madonna and Child with St. John in the Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt-am-Main (fig. 1), show how he shakes up the relative symmetry of Sarto’s figures, with tremendously engaging children whom one forgives for their naughtiness. The Frankfurt painting can be seen as a reaction to the Andrea del Sarto composition Madonna and Child with the Infant St. John the Baptist (fig. 2), especially in colouring and in the pose of the St. John, and so must date slightly later from around 1514. Rosso was among those followers of Andrea del Sarto who had access to the cartoon for the Madonna and Child with the Infant St. John the Baptist. The imaginative way he used the design (in the work exhibited at Colnaghi’s in 1983, Discoveries from the Cinquecento) included adding a couple of cupids on either side of the Madonna.

The present work is a fascinating example of Rosso’s early style when he came into the orbit of Andrea, and it must date among the earliest of his productions. The Christ Child is standing, as in the Frankfurt panel, while the artist uses the profile pose from the seated St. John in that design ; the added figures of St. Joseph and St. Elizabeth mean that there is that sense of crowding that Rosso often manages, as in the Uffizi altarpiece referred to above. There is a sense, in the kneeling St. John, that the concentration in the del Sarto workshop in obtaining the greatest variety in pose, and the ability to link all the figures together in a complicated rhythm, is a common Florentine ambition. As in the Frankfurt composition, these are challenging problems, especially when the artist is essentially relying on a great intuitive genius rather than many years of study of anatomy. This is the reason why features like the extended hand of the Christ Child is essentially repeated verbatim in the Uffizi altarpiece done for the hospitaller of Santa Maria Nuova, which was painted later in 1518. The hands and feet, too, are seen again in the other early works, understood with a growing familiarity of language. St. Joseph’s elongated fingers exhibit much of the eccentricity of Rosso, seen slightly later in works like the Madonna and Child with Four Saints, Uffizi, Florence (fig. 3). The hand and arm of St. John are posed exactly as that of the putto in the Hermitage Assumption of the Virgin (fig. 4), and the features and treatment of the hair of the two children seems to be without question the same hand ; as does the model of the Virgin correspond to those in both the Assumption and the Frankfurt panels. The design as a whole has echoes of the 1513 grisaille of Charity that del Sarto painted in the cloister of the Scalzo, as does the Pontormo Madonna and Child with the Infant St. John the Baptist (fig. 5), but the group of figures is naturally not so cohesive, and there are other stylistic ingredients, like the employment of the arms (of St. Joseph and the Madonna) to bracket the entire composition, which is the product of Rosso’s fertile imagination.