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P.10 Madonna and Child with St. John the Baptist and St. Bartholomew

P.10 Madonna and Child

1521

Volterra, Museo Diocesano di Arte Sacra (part of the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo).

Panel, 170 x 137.1 Signed and dated at the lower left: RVBEVS / FLO FAC/ AS / MDXXI.

Fig.P.10a
Fig.P.10b bw

A small rectangular piece is missing and replaced at the top of the right edge; also a long vertical area repaired at the bottom just left of center to cover damage apparently caused by the flame of an altar candle; damaged area also in the lower right corner and possibly on the Virgin’s neck.  Otherwise only very small losses that have been repaired.  In general the surface appears very well preserved, especially since its restoration for the Il Rosso a Volterra exhibition of 1994 by F. Giannitrapani under the direction of M. Burresi.  The panel is decidedly convex which has also been observed by Janet Cox-Rearick.  The curvature is regular and the seams of the panel have not separated nor the surface cracked. These factors may indicate that the convexity is not due to warping but to the construction of the panel itself.

St. John at the left has reddish hair and beard. His undergarment is brownish gray, with browner fur at the neck and arm; his sash, gray green with yellow.  The drapery on his right shoulder is dark green becoming yellow-tan in the light.  His cloak is a very pale yellow-tan, very slightly more orange in the shadows. Pink-orange reflected light on his face.  The Virgin’s dress and sash are light green-blue becoming white in the light; the band on her arm is yellow-tan.  Her mantle is dark green.  The Child is blond, and is dressed in red-orange; his sash is dark green with yellow passages and the drapery around his arm is gray-white.  His left foot stands on a dark green pillow, the same as the Virgin’s dress, that must be placed on the platform on which the Virgin is seated. St. Bartholomew has brown-black hair. His cloak is gray with a dull dark green cast; the sash at his waist, a dark green-gray. His sleeves are light yellow, the foremost one turning to a very pale pink-lavender in the shadows, The edge of the cover of the book is red, the edges of the pages are yellow-tan.  Dark lettering in the book except for one red letter and for several lines in red in the second column, a red that matches the color of Christ’s garment.  The cheeks of all the figures are slightly pink.  The architecture is gray, the floor in the foreground, gray-tan. Some areas of the picture are very thinly painted, especially St. John’s cloak.

PROVENANCE: From the Pieve di S. Giovanni Battista, at Villamagna (16 kilometers north of Volterra).2 At the time of the apostolic visit of the Bishop of Rimini, Giovanni Castelli, in 1576, a picture was recorded on the high altar of the church, and described as: “Icona altaris, licet antiquum, est satin decens;” at this time the bishop decreed that the two side altars, without “tabulae,” were to be destroyed; see Bocci, in Ciardi, 1987, who interpreted this reference as indicating Rosso’s altarpiece on the high altar.  Franklin, 1994, 69, 277, n. 68, gave the full text of the visitation (AVV. Visite Pastorali, Mons. Castelli, 1576, fols. 653–654), and noted that the reference is inconclusive as it mentions only one “icona” in the church and does not describe it, concluding that because the first indication of its location in 1618 indicates an altar at the right (but not also “on the same side of the church as the sacristy and the main entrance,” as Franklin, 1994, 69 states (see below) it can be almost certain that it was not made for the high altar, which may also be indicated by its small size.  Maffei, 1925, 106, stated that the picture is on the second altar at the left next to the door that leads to the sacristy, an altar dedicated to the Virgin Mary, to St. John the Baptist, to whom the church is also dedicated, and to St. Bartholomew, all of whom are mentioned in an inscription, which Maffei quoted, on the altar that records that this altar, dedicated to the saints in the picture, was restored in 1590 by one “JOSEPH BINDI PLEBANUS” (see also Franklin, 1994, 277, n. 67).  As indicated above in 1618 the church was visited by the Bishop Bernardo Inghirami from Volterra who wrote: “super altare adest icona decentissimum cum imagine Beate Marie Virginis, s. Johannis et s. Bartholomei” (Bocci, in Ciardi, 1987). In 1959 and in 1969 the altarpiece was on an altar against the left wall directly across from the entrance to the church which was then toward the back of its right wall; this is probably the same location indicated by Maffei.  This would seem to be where the picture was in 1590; the 1618 indication that it was “adest” would seem to contradict this but this reference could be mistaken or the direction was made with the viewer’s back to the high altar.  It cannot be proved that this was the original location of the altarpiece even if the altar in 1590 was then dedicated to the very saints that appear in it.

Bocci (see above) identified the rector of the church in November 1520 as canon Francesco di Bartolommeo, detto dei Maffei, who resided in Volterra, and hence thought it reasonable that the commissioner of the altarpiece was “nell’ambito della famiglia Maffei” and more specifically that it was commissioned by Francesco, the appearance of St. Bartholomew in the altarpiece referring to his father.  St. John the Baptist in the picture is related to the dedication of the church.  The latter saint is also the painter’s namesake.  While none of this proves that the picture was made for the high altar of the church it might suggest such a location, especially as it is an altarpiece by what would have been the most prestigious painter in Volterra at that moment. The small size of the panel does not argue against this as the church itself is very small.  What struck me in 1959 and 1969 was that the picture was located so that it could be seen directly across from the side entrance of the church, which was then its primary entrance. This entrance was at the end of a courtyard with a building that included the residence of the priest at the right.  It is possible that this building was not there in 1521 and when it was built it redefined what was the main entrance to the church.  The reconstruction of the altar could have been related to the moving of the altarpiece from the high altar, which itself would then have been redesigned.  (A much later reference to a Madonna of the Rosary on the altar across from Rosso’s altarpiece could refer to the high altar depending on the precise meaning of “dirimpetto.” I should have thought there was a door across from Rosso’s picture.  The subject of the Madonna of the Rosary would have been a possible subject for a high altar around 1590.)  In June 1977 the picture was at the Museo Diocesano di Art Sacra in Volterra; a priest then at the museum said that the altarpiece was moved there six or seven years before when the church at Villamagna was closed.  In the Primato del disegno catalogue of 1980 (see below) it is recorded as from the Pinacoteca in Volterra. Bocci, in Ciardi, 1987, gave its location as the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo in Volterra.

In 1959 the old priest at the church who showed me the picture told me that traditionally it is believed that the picture was a gift from Rosso, whose real name was Giovanni Battista, to this small country church dedicated to that saint and that could not have afforded such an altarpiece.  Freedberg, 1961, I, 554, believed that the altarpiece seems to be “beyond the pocket and taste” of the village of Villamagna. Franklin, 1994, 92, 278, n. 91, thought such autobiographical theories not easily defensible.  At the same time, the tradition that it was a gift from Rosso is worth recording, and does find some support in the several references by Vasari to Rosso’s generosity elsewhere, if not in the execution of pictures, at least in the frequent gifts of drawings to artists for their projects.  Freedberg’s comment also brings up what can only be seen as a startling fact, if one has ever visited the church at Villamagna, that such a sophisticated picture should be there.  If I remember well there is nothing else in the church of much interest. Franklin’s responses may be related to his low estimate of the picture in 1994.  The human circumstances that surrounded the making of this picture, even if it was ordered by Francesco di Bartolommeo in part to honor his father, could have included the good will of Rosso and even a certain attachment on his part to this country church.

Ciardi, in Ciardi and Mugnaini, 1991, 10, 76, reported that when the altarpiece was still “in situ” in the middle of the eighteenth century “Nelle Predella in tre tondi son di mano del Rosso abbozzati S.Niccola da Tolentino a cornu evangelii S.Bastiano in mezzo, S.Antonio Abate nell’altro Tondo;” see also Franklin, 1994, 69, and 177, n. 63, where the text is fully transcribed (Florence, Biblioteca Riccardiana, 112, MS Moreni, Notizie delle città di Volterra, insert 2, “Notizie delle Pitture e Sculture fatte in Volterra doppo la morte di Giorgio Vasari, before 1788, fols. 12v-13r, modern numbering: “Villa Magna. Tavola della Madonna con Giesu Bambino, San Paolo, e San Giovanni Battista.  Nella Chiesa della Pieve in Villa Magna nell’Altare a mano manca dirimpetto all’Altare della Santissima Vergine del Rosario è la Tavola dove siede in alto Maria Vergine in un Tondo di Architettura Giesu Bambino vestito nella Vita; San Giovanni Battista a destra della medesima vestito di Pelle con braccia, e coscia e gamba destra scoperte magro di fattezze e dall’altra parte è San Bartolommeo Apostolo pure in siede figure bellesime, e bene intese. Leggesi da Piede nell’estrmità della Tavola accosto alla Cornice di suo adornamento in belle lettere nello scalone primo della Pittura con Rubeus Flo. Fac. A:C [sic]: / [fol. 13r] M:D:XXI.  Nella Predella in tre tondi son di mano del Rosso abbozzoti San Niccola da Tollentino a cornu Evangelii San Bastiano in mezzo.  Sant’Antonio Abbate nell’altro Tondo.”  According to Franklin noted also in R. Bagemihl, “Il Rosso a Volterra.  Curiosità e notizie,” La Spalletta. Settimanale volterrano di cronaca e cultura, IV, no. 32, 8 August 1987, 3–4.  A predella would have been an unusual feature for Rosso in 1521 and it might be wondered, in spite of the eighteenth century reference, if this predella was Rosso’s and original to his altarpiece, or a later use of an old predella in the church.3

LITERATURE:

Maffei, 1925, 105–107, 114–115, published the first notice of the existence of this picture.

Battistini, 1928, mentioned.

Berenson, 1932, 495, as Rosso.

Mentioned by Dal Mas, 1939, 119, n. 2. Mostra del Cinquecento, 1940, 66, as Rosso, around 1521.

Salmi, 1940, 80 (as “la paletta di Tavarnelle di Volterra”), as having figures worthy of El Greco.

Sabatini, 1941, 424, speaks of the luminosity of the pure colors heightened by the contrast of the penumbra of the background; reproduced here for the first time.

Becherucci, 1944, 27, considers Rosso’s new pictorial language as here fully realized for the first time, and speaks of the primary unity achieved by its “accordo cromatico.”

Exhibited in Volterra, Fiumi, 1949, no., 34.

Barocchi, 1950, 39–40, 245, relates it to Sarto’s Madonna of the Harpies and to Fra Bartolommeo; for her the drapery of the saints is inspired by Pontormo and Dürer.

Baldini, in Mostra del Pontormo, 1956, 129, no. 162.

Oertel, 1956, 217.

Becherucci, 1958 (1968, 455).

Freedberg, 1961, 554–555, 607, as executed after the Deposition in Volterra; he remarks that it recalls Sarto’s Madonna of the Harpies.  For him the picture is “the most extreme evocation of an implausible humanity in Rosso’s career.”

Berenson, 1963, 195.

Carroll, 1964 (1976), I, Bk. I, 75–76, Bk. II, 124, P. 14, II, Bk. III, Fig. 23.

Shearman, 1965, II, 226, as around 1521, and as derived from Sarto’s lost Madonna of S. Ambrosio.

Borea, 1965, Pls., VI–VII, as stylistically related to the S. Maria Nuova Altarpiece.

Freedberg, 1966, 582–583.

Del Conde, 1975, 126, as done before the Volterra Deposition.

Nyholm, 1977, 151–152, Fig. 80.

Carroll, 1978, 46, n. 2.

Carli, 1978, 101, Fig. 126, as showing a more diffused and quiet luminosity compared to the crude coloristic contrasts of the Volterra Deposition.

Borea, in Primato del disegno, 1980, 191, no. 452 (as in the Pinacoteca, Volterra).

Burresi and Caleca, 1981, 27.

Darragon, 1983, 25, 28, 37, speaks of its ascetic figures and the austere mystical conviction of the painting.

Wilmes, 1985, 73, 77, 81, 110–112, 115–116, 122, 164, Fig.13, believed it functioned as an “Andachtsbild.”

Fischer, 1986, 157, under no. 97, the St. Bartholomew related to Fra Bartolommeo’s in the Pala Pitti.

Carroll, 1987, 19.

Bocci, in Ciardi, 1987, seems to indicate that the picture was done before the Deposition; stating that the parish would not have been able to afford such a picture, he suggested that it was commissioned by the curate of the church, the canon Francesco di Bartolommeo, detto dei Maffei, who actually resided in Volterra, and whose father would be commemorated in the figure of St. Bartholomew in the altarpiece.

Hamburgh, 1988, 603, n. 63, mentioned.

Paolucci, 1989, 63–65, 66–67, Color Pls., 156, mentions the rustic, popular, and “low church” destination of the picture.

Ciardi and Mugnaini, 1991, 15, 18, 19, 23, 24, 58, 62, 76–81, no.11, with 4 Color Pls., 83, 86, 149–150, thought that the Virgin’s hand supporting Christ’s foot is derived from Andrea Sansovino’s statue in S.Agostino in Rome hence indicating an early trip there by Rosso in 1519–1520; St. John related to the marble statue of this Saint once attributed to Donatello in the Bargello.

Hall, 1992, 153, as Sartesque in coloring.

Lebenztejn, 1992, 294.

Franklin, 1994, 55–56, 69–74, 79, 90, 92, 107, 216, 278, n. 91. 316, Color Pl. 52 (before recent cleaning), its straight forward format inclining one to date it before the Deposition, and as showing Rosso “a worse painter” than when he painted the S. Martia Nuova altarpiece, and that Rosso may not have thought the parish church as worthy as the site of the earlier altarpiece which “may account for the notable loss of quality.”

Brilli, 1994, 25, 107, Color Pl., 109.

Costamagna, 1994, 36.

Falciani, in Gnocchi and Falciani, 1994, 15–16, 68, 69, Color Fig.

Burresi, in Rosso a Volterra, 1994, 148, under no. 3, compares its technique with that of the Rebecca and Eliezer in Pisa.

Mugnaini, in Rosso e Volterra, 1994, 157–159, no. 14, Color Pls. 157–159, 161, under no. 15, as “modulata secondo un ritmo più disteso e simmetrico” than the Volterra Deposition, and the head of the Virgin like that in Rosso’s Baltimore Holy Family.

Mugnaini, 1994, 102.

Valle, 1994, 25, 55.

Ciardi, 1994, 25, 26, Fig., 41–42, 43, Fig., 44, 58, 66–68, 71, 80–81, 86, 95–96, n. 127, the head of St. Bartholomew similar to the head of St. Paul by Masaccio in Pisa suggesting that Rosso made have made a trip to Pisa, the saints also related to Francesco da Sangallo’s St. John the Baptist in the Bargello, and showing also the influence of Andrea Sansovino’s Madonna and Child and St. Anne in Rome; non-finito at the margins but not in the center.

Marchetti Letta, 1994, 65–66, 67, Pl. 91, St. Bartholomew resembling Masaccio’s St. Paul in Pisa which Rosso may have visited from Volterra.

The elongation of the figures and the extraordinary stylistic sophistication of the altarpiece as compared to that of the Volterra Deposition suggest that the picture from Villamagna was done after the other in 1521.  This might also be concluded from the supposition that Rosso went to Volterra to executed the Deposition and that the decision to paint the altarpiece for the small church at nearby Villamagna would have occurred only after his arrival in this region.  If it was commissioned by the canon Francesco di Bartolommeo dei Maffei, as suggested by Bacci, it is likely that his knowledge of Rosso would have come about because of the latter’s Deposition executed in Volterra where the canon lived.  While St. Bartholomew may refer to Francesco’s father, the fact that the church was dedicated to St. John the Baptist, who appears with reddish hair and beard in the painting, may have made this an inviting commission and possibly an inexpensive one for Francesco.


1 The measurements from Primato del disegno, 1980, 191, no. 452.

2 On this ancient church see Giuseppe Cappelletti, Le chiese d’Italia, XVIII, Venice, 1864, 191, no. 5, which does not, however, mention Rosso’s painting.  For the name of the church as the Pieve di San Giovanni and Santa Felicita and for other bibliography on it, see Franklin, 1994, 55, 277, n. 62.

3 See Franklin, 1994. 69, 277, n. 64, for a predella of this type as part of Benevento di Giovanni’s altarpiece of 1470 in the Pinacoteca of Volterra.  Franklin says the present frame of Rosso’s altarpiece is an imitation Roman baroque frame.