P.12 Madonna and Child with Ten Saints

P.12 Madonna and Child with Ten Saints

(Dei Altarpiece)


Florence, Pitti, no. 237.

Panel, 254 x 210, enlarged to 354 x 259.2 Signed and dated on the pedestal beneath the Virgin: RVBEVS / FAC / MDXXII (Fig.P.12b).

Fig.P.12b Rosso’s signature
Fig.P.12c Madonna and child
Fig.P.12d bw, St. Bernard
Fig.P.12e Sts. Augustine, Sebastian
Fig.P.12f bw, St. Anthony Abbot (Ranieri?)
Fig.P.12g St. Sebastian
Fig.P.12g, detail
Fig.P.12h red drapery
Fig.P.12i Dei in frame
Fig.P.12j Dei with additions

Although the altarpiece has been enlarged on all four sides the original limits of Rosso’s picture are clearly visible immediately above the Virgin’s head, at the back of the head of the youthful saint at the left, at the right of St. Augustine’s head, and just below the central diamond of the pavement.  The original panel seems to be composed of six boards of different widths: the first seam, that has opened the entire height of the picture, runs through the tip of the nose of the young saint at the far left, slightly disfiguring it, and through the base of the thumb of St. Peter; the second seam is just to the left of the right eye of the female saint; the third is at the edge of the Virgin’s left eye; two others may be barely discernible dividing the last fourth of the picture into two equal parts.  There is a crack above the head of the female saint that runs through the left arm of St. Anthony Abbot and into the left wrist of the Virgin but this crack appears to be in one of the boards and not between two of them. Aside from these two major cracks the surface of the picture appears well preserved under a layer of evenly darkened varnish and dirt.  Pentimenti are visible at St. Sebastian’s right knee and along the inner contour of his left leg and foot; a knot in the panel is visible in the lower part of his left leg. An edge of the female saint’s drapery is seen through her left hand suggesting that it had originally been positioned differently.  There are incisions in the gesso ground marking the horizontal edges of the steps; part of one of these incisions can be seen through the drapery of the female saint just below St. Peter’s foot; other incisions mark the edges of the pattern of the pavement.  From a comparison with Petrucci’s copy in S. Spirito (see below) it is clear that the sword and broken wheel at the bottom of the picture, parts of which are painted on the original panel, are additions, as are also, it seems, the faint halos.  The flag behind the first saint’s head has been extended to the left.  The details of an entablature at the springing of the vault are additions, as is some of the highlighting of the architecture and of the inner surface of the niche at the right (besides the painted copy see below the drawings that copy this altarpiece before it was enlarged). Furthermore, the square of the pavement at the lower left of the female saint just above the sword has been lightened as has also, to some extent, the corresponding square at the right.

The Virgin wears a blue mantle falling over her head and lap; white ruffles at her forehead and white drapery across her shoulder. Her blouse is pink with an orange sleeve.  The Child’s hair is light tan. At the left, the first, youthful, saint (St. George?) has dark brown hair; the drapery over his shoulder appears to be very dark olive green. The flag behind him is red. St. Peter, with gray-white hair and beard, wears a blue-green undergarment, very bright in the light and almost black in the shadows; a light violet sash appears to cut diagonally across his chest.  His mantle, dull orange-brown, the book, dull red, the key, yellow-tan.  The next, youthful, saint has dark brown hair; his garment, visible just to the right of St. Peter’s beard, is rose-pink.  The old saint (St. Anthony Abbot), to the left of the Virgin, has gray hair and beard and is dressed in gray; a ring of large brown-orange beads on his left arm.  To the right of the Virgin the old saint (St. Joseph?) with gray hair and beard wears a brown-orange mantle over a dark green undergarment, the entire figure submerged in warm brown-orange shadows.  St. Bernard wears a yellowed white habit.  The saint behind him, with a staff (St. James the Elder? or St. Roch?), has reddish-brown hair and beard; his mantle, bright pink worn over a dark gray garment slightly visible at his chest. St. Augustine has a brown beard and wears a gray miter; his garment is tan, olive green, and red-orange, and is also partly visible to the right of St. Sebastian’s leg.  Three figures are visible in the niches of his crozier, and the Annunciation appears embroidered on the pallium at the shoulder. St. Sebastian has brown hair; his drapery is green, very yellow in the light, blue-green in the shadows.  The hair of the female saint is dark brown, interlaced with barely visible dark red ribbons.  The drapery over her right breast and the upper part of her right arm is a dull light green, becoming very yellow in the light; over her left breast, shoulder and arm the drapery is dull red. Her right sleeve is pink-red, becoming yellow in the light. The drapery over the upper part of her legs is red-orange, that over her right leg and knee, dull light green and yellow.  At her neck the edge of a white blouse is visible.  The pedestal beneath the Virgin, decorated with two lion heads, is dark brown.  The steps, dark gray-green; the pavement, shades of tan and dull light green.

PROVENANCE: Vasari (see below), as painted for the [chapel of the] Dei family in S. Spirito in Florence; removed to the Pitti and replaced with a copy by Francesco Petrucci,3 on canvas, that is still in the chapel, between 1683, when the last of the Dei family died,4 and 1719, when Petrucci died.  It may have been removed only after 1698 when it is still mentioned as in S. Spirito in Del Bruno, 1698, 110–111 (it is not mentioned in the third edition of 1719).  The altarpiece is listed in the Pitti in the inventory of 1713–23 (see Barocchi, 1950, 246, and Franklin, 1994, 279, n. 15, as recorded in the Camera dei Cimbali [inventory N. 10–17, 791, fol. 12]).  The original frame remains in the chapel; it is just possible that this frame was designed by Rosso.5

PREPARATORY DRAWING: Florence, Uffizi, no. 478F, Study for the Figure of St. Sebastian (D.7).

COUNTERPROOF OF A LOST PREPARATORY DRAWING?: London, Courtauld Institute of Art, Witt collection, no.2162, Study for the Head of St. Anthony Abbot (D.8).6


Vasari, 1550, 757 (Vasari-Ricci, IV, 243–244), after the Volterra Deposition: “Perche cresciuto in pregio e fama, fece in Santo Spirito di Fiorenza la tavola de Dei, la quale gia avevano allogato a Raffaello da Urbino, che la lasciò per le cure dell’opera, ch’haveva preso a Roma.  Laquale il Rosso lavorò con bellissima grazia, e disegno a vivacità di colori.  Ne pensi alcuno che nussuna opera abbia piu forza, o mostra piu bella di lontano, di quella: la quale per la bravura nelle figure, e per l’astrattezza delle attitudini, non piu usata per gli altri, fu tenuta cosa stravagante; ne gli fu molto lodata.  Ma poi a poco a poco hanno conosciuto i popoli la bontà di quella: e gli hanno dato lode mirabili.”7

Vasari, 1568, II, 206 (Vasari-Milanesi, V, 158–159), the same, with the addition: “perche nell’unione de’colori, non è possibile far piu: essendo, che i chiari, che sono sopra dove batte il maggior lume, con i men chiari vanno a poco a poco con tanta dolcezza, e unione a trovar gli scuri con artifizio di sbattimenti d’ombre, che le figure fanno addosso l’una all’altra figura, perche vanno per via di chiariscuri facendo rilievo l’una all’altra.  E tanta fierezza ha quest’opera, ch si può dire, ch’ella sia intesa, e fatta con piu giudizio, e maestria, che nessun’altra, che sia stata dipinta da qual si voglia piu giudizioso maestro.”  Praised by Borghini, 1584, 111–112, 202, “nondimeno pare ad alcuni curiosi, che il S. Bastiano, che nel rimanente è bellissima figura, habbia il collo alquanto corto, e à quella Santa, che siede amerebbono le mani un poco più lunghette.”8

Highly praised by Bocchi, 1591, 74–75.

Del Bruno, 1698, 110.

Dezallier d’Argenville, 1745, 98, mistakenly thinks a painting by Rosso in S. Spirito represents the Trinity.

Richa, IX, 1, 1761, 27–28, also praises the picture.

L’Etruria pittrice, 1791, following Pl. XXXXVII, as the “Tavola dei Rè in S. Spirito.”

Lanzi, 1792, 91–92, as without the faults or strange elements of the picture in Città di Castello, and as Rosso’s finest picture in Italy.

L’Imperiale e reale Galleria Pitti illustrata, IV, Florence, Luigi Bardi, 1842, Pl. with 2 pp. of text by Giovanni Masselli that mentions the copy by Petrucci.

Giovanni Rosini, Storia della pittura italiana esposta coi monumenti. Epoca Terza, V, Pisa, 1845, 71, Pl. 139 top (line drawing).

Berenson, 1896, 129.

Goldschmidt, 1911, 19, relates the picture to Pontormo’s Visitation at SS. Annunziata and to Sarto’s Madonna of the Harpies, especially to the color of the latter; the large Child as also derived from Sarto.  He relates the seated female saint to the Magdalen in Sarto’s Disputation on the Trinity and to the woman seated on the steps in Pontormo’s Visitation; the St. Peter as from Fra Bartolommeo’s Salvator Mundi.

Voss, 1920, 32, 184.

Friedlaender, 1925, 71, 73 (1957, 29), relates its composition to the Florentine High Renaissance and the description of the figures to Sarto’s, but points out its divergence from these in the handling of the surface and in the use of color.

Pevsner, 1928, 29, as more closely related to Sarto than are the earlier Volterra Deposition and the Way to Calvary in Arezzo, wrongly ascribed by him to Rosso.

Kunsenberg, 1931, 18–20, 127, 129, 184–185, ns. 39–45, mentions the derivation of the St. Peter from Fra Bartolommeo’s Salvator Mundi.

Medea, 1932, 78–79, Pl. XI.

Venturi, IX, 5, 1932, 208–210, 211, Fig. 118, sees memories of the Frate in the St. Bernard.

Kunsenberg, 1935, 62.  Mostra del Cinquecento, 1940, 67.

H. Hoffman, Hochrenaissance, Manierismus, Frühbarock, 1938, 57f., 132 (from Paatz, see below).

Salmi, 1940, 80, as showing a crowded composition composed entirely of figures with some echo of Rapahel.

Becherucci, 1944, 27–28, recognizes the influence of Fra Bartolommeo.

Barocchi, 1950, 41–44, 246, also notes the Frate’s influence, specifying the compositional scheme from his Marriage of the St. Catherine in the Louvre, and the figure of St. Peter from his Salvator Mundi; she also refers to his Assumption in Naples and recognizes from the St. Sebastian as the most Bartolommesque figure.  For her the female saint presents coloristic recollections of Sarto as in his Disputation on the Trinity.  She also finds in the drapery of the saints some reflections of Dürer and Pontormo.

Paatz, V, 1953, 158, 206, ns. 292, 293.

Shearman, 1957, I, 237–243, as the replacement for Rapahel’s Madonna del Baldacchino; he relates the composition of Rosso’s picture to Fra Bartolommeo’s type of altarpiece with four figures, and the crowding of the figures to Pontormo’s S. Michele Visdomini altarpiece.

Briganti, 1961, 26 (1962, 24), speaks of its “painterly” intentions as distinct from the formal intensity of the Volterra Deposition.

Berenson, 1963, 194.

Carroll, 1964 (1976), I, Bk. I, 83–92, Bk. II, 125, P. 15, 220–221, under D. 11, III, Bk. III, Fig. 26.

Hirst, 1964, 125, n. 21, gives Wilde’s unpublished observation that the figure of St. Sebastian is derived from Michelangelo’s studies connected to his bronze David that was sent to France.

Shearman, 1965, I, 167, the female saint derived from Sarto’s Corsini Madonna and from recollections of Fra Bartolommeo’s altarpieces.

Borea, 1965, Pl. XII, of the female saint.

Carroll, 1966, 169–170, suggests that its frame in S. Spirito may be after Rosso’s design.

Freedberg, 1966, 583.

Freedberg, 1971, 128, 484, n. 25, recognizes that the tone of travesty in Rosso’s work is quite gone and sees a sympathetic reference to Fra Bartolommeo; also possibly some conscious relation to Raphael’s commission.

Conti, 1973, 102, mentions its enlargement on all four sides in relation to the enlargement of other paintings in the Pitti.

Nyholm, 1977, 149, 152, Fig. 81.

Hall, 1979, 57, mentions Borghini’s approval of the altarpiece.

Parronchi, 1981, 53, saw the Child as derived from a statue of Amore by the young Michelangelo in Rome.

Darragon, 1983, 23, 37, mentions Vasari saying that the altarpiece was not enthusiastically received at first.

Berti, 1984, 152, Color Pl., 153–154, as indebted to Raphael’s grace and especially to the School of Athens (which he may have seen in Rome by 1511); he pointed out the young St. Joseph and identified the Dominican as St. Dominic.

Lévèque, 1984, 165, 167.

Wilmes, 1985, 64, 67, 69, 73, 77, 81, 122–127, 132, 134, 153, 163, 174, Fig. 18, as related to Fra Bartolommeo’s Salvator Mundi.

Carroll, 1987, 19–20, 34, ns. 44, 45, as showing within its context the vision of St. Bernard.

Caron, 1988, 365, 366, Fig. 5, 368, discussed the color of the painting.

Ciardi and Mugnaini, 1991, 19, 26–27, 28, 86, 90–93, no.15, with 3 Color Pls., 94, 150, its style explained by a trip to Rome in 1519–1520 and not by Perino’s presence in Florence in 1522–1523, and as related to Rosso’s drawing for an altarpiece in the Uffizzi [D.4].

Stefaniak, 1992, 715, n. 60, as eerie and transformed into a vision of St. Bernard.

Franklin, 1994, 74, 83–94, 96, 99, 105, 107–109, 168, 171, 221, 240, 307, Appendix D, DOCUMENT 1, 316, Ps. 65, 68, 69, Color Pls. 62, 64, the project going back to the will of Rinieri di Bernardo Dei, who died on 20 September 1506, from which the commission was given to Raphael, and then revived by his bastard son, Piero Dei, probably just before he died in Lyons shortly before 14 October 1522, indicating that a procurator in Florence may have acted on his behalf in commissioning the altarpiece from Rosso; its style basically “reinforcing the dense, rhythmical style represented by the Volterra paintings;” showing Sts. Peter, special to the Dei family to whose arms the papal keys had been added by papal privilege, Anthony Abbot, evidently special to Rinieri Dei, Joseph behind the Virgin, perhaps St. James, possibly because of a brother named Jacopo and because S. Spirito is in parish of S. Jacopo sopr’Arno, perhaps St. Maurice, for whom Piero Dei ordered masses, perhaps St. Catherine, and St. Bernard, for Bernardo Dei and because the chapel is dedicated to this saint.

Brilli, 1994, 25, 77, Color Pl. 78.

Falciani, in Gnocchi and Falciani, 1994, 16, 60, 62, Color Fig.

Marchetti Letta, 1994, 66–69, Color Pls. 92–93, as representing a moment of moderation.

Rosanna Caterina Proto Pisani, in Pontormo a Empoli, 1994, 63, relates it to Pontormo’s Saints from Pontorme.

Ciardi, 1994, 25, 27, Figs., 44, 94, n. 94, as having a Raphael intonation because it was a substitute for Raphael’s painting.

Mugnaini, 1994, 101, as showing a new synthesis and harmony.

Jollet, 1994, 81, Fig. (detail).


COPIES: Florence, S. Spirito, former Dei Chapel, sixth chapel on the left, Francesco Petrucci, Copy on canvas of Rosso’s painting in the original dimensions and in its original frame, on which, see PROVENANCE above (Fig.P.12Copy, Painting, Petrucci).

Florence, Uffizi, 6481F, Copy of the altarpiece before its enlargement, black chalk and brown wash heightened with white on light blue paper, 35.5 x 31.3 (Fig.P.12Copy, Florence, 6481F).  LITERATURE: Ferri, 1890, 125, as Rosso’s study for his altarpiece.  The handling of this drawing bears no relationship to Rosso’s draughtsmanship; a copy probably of the second half of the sixteenth century.

London, Sotheby’s, 1990, Copy of the Christ Child and the Madonna, red chalk, 15.9 x 11.3; inscribed on the verso: Cignani (Fig.P.12Copy, London, Sotheby’s).  LITERATURE:  Old Master Drawings, Sotheby’s, London, July 2, 1990, 24, lot 19, 25, Color Plate,   also on cover, as Rosso, for the Dei altarpiece, according to Julien Stock.  Ciardi and Mugnaini, 1991, 14, 22, Fig., as by Rosso for Dei altarpiece and as related to sculptor’s drawings by Donatello, Bandinelli, Andrea Sansovino, and the young Jacopo Sansovino.  Miller, 1992, 113, n. 7, was inclined to accept the drawing as Rosso’s.  Franklin, 1994, 279, n. 20, as a weakly drawn copy from the altarpiece.  The handling of the drawing is not specifically like that of any red chalk drawing by Rosso of the 1520s.  The schematic description of the figures gives evidence of a derivation from the painting, the execution of which the hatching of the drawing has been derived.  The inscription on the verso would seem to indicate Nicolò Circignani.

New York, Marcello Aldega and Margot Gordon, dealers (BM, CXXXIII, vi).  Formerly Paris, Jacques Trambley Collection (in 1972), Copy of the figure of St. Sebastian, red and black chalk, 41 x 14.5 (Fig.P.12Copy, New York, Aldega&Gordon).  The present owners attribute the drawing to Andrea Boscoli whose style it does resemble.  The drawing was kindly brought to my attention by Sylvie Béguin.

Princeton, Princeton University, The Art Museum, no. 48–1282, Copy of the altarpiece before its enlargement, black chalk and gray wash, 25.5 x 25.7 (Fig.P.12Copy, Princeton); on the verso, in pencil: purchased by Platt at Parsons, London 1922; on the back of the mount: ex-Sir John Sterling-Maxwell, and in ink at lower left: 20 / Il Rosso / K 1825. A copy of the second half of the sixteenth century.

Rome, A. Arduini Collection (formerly?), Copy of the figures of St. Sebastian and St. Augustine, media (chalk?) and dimensions unknown (Fig.P.12Copy, Rome, Arduini).  From a photograph at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence a very detailed copy after the altarpiece before it was enlarged.

St. Albans Bay, Vermont and Paris, Pamela Gordon (January, 1984), Copy of the Head of St. Anthony Abbot, verso, Copy of the Left Hand of the Female Saint, black chalk, c. 19 x 12.7.

St. Petersburg, Hermitage, inv. no. 14149, Copy of the altarpiece before its enlargement, pen and ink and wash, heightened with white that has oxidized, dimensions unknown; in the lower right corner in ink: 79 (Fig.P.12Copy, St.Petersburg).  LITERATURE: Starye Gody, II, 1911, Pl. opposite p. 5, as in the S. P. Jarémitch Collection, and as by Rosso.  Kusenberg, 1931, 152, no. 57, as a copy of Rosso’s painting before the additions were made to it.  As kindly related by L. Salmina, the drawing is now catalogued in the Hermitage, correctly, as a copy of the Dei Altarpiece of the second half of the sixteenth century.


1 From left to right the saints appear to be: possibly St. George, holding the flag, as identified by Venturi, IX, 5, 1932, 210; St. Peter, with key; an unidentifiable young male saint whose head only is visible; St. Anthony Abbot with a staff and a ring of beads around his left arm (this saint seems also to appear in Raphael’s early study, at Chatsworth, for the Madonna del Baldacchino that Rosso’s picture replaced, see Riedl, 1958, 227–228, and Alessandro Cecchi, in Raffaello a Firenze, 1984, 119, 123, 126, Fig.); a seated young female saint holding a book and a martyr’s palm, possibly St. Catherine of Alexandria in Rosso’s original picture although the identifying wheel of this saint is an addition to the enlarged painting, as may well be the palm she holds in her right hand (she is not specifically named by Borghini, 1584, 202, and falsely identified as Mary Magdalen by Bocchi, 1591, 74, Del Bruno, 1698, 110–111, and Richa, IX, 1, 1761, 27); St. Bernard, to whom the chapel of the Dei family in S. Spirito, for which the altarpiece was painted, is dedicated, and in reference also to Bernardo Dei, the father of Rinieri who originally commissioned the altarpiece from Raphael (see Riedl, 1958, 226, n. 9); possibly St. Joseph, although Venturi, IX, 5, 1932, 210, seems wrongly to think the fourth figure (St. Anthony Abbot) is this saint; St. James the Elder, as possibly in Raphael’s Madonna del Baldacchino(see Riedl, 1958, 228, and n. 13) or, because of his youthful appearance and his association with St. Sebastian, St. Roch, as suggested by Venturi, IX, 5, 1932, 211; St. Sebastian; St. Augustine, in reference to the Augustinian church of S. Spirito. Paatz, V, 1953, 158, would identify one of the figures as St. Paul but his special attributes appear nowhere in the painting and its is unlikely that the almost hidden and reticent saint referred to above as possibly St. Joseph would be St. Peter.

2 From Barocchi, 1950, 246.  The enlarged dimensions are given as 348 x 257 by Kusenberg, 1931, 184–185, n. 39, amd as 353 x 253 in Mostra del Cinguecento, 1940, 67.  It is not known who executed the enlargements of Rosso’s altarpiece, but it could have been Frencesco Petrucci who made the copy now in St. Spirito (see below). As pointed out by Kusenberg, 1931, 184–185, n. 39, the added architecture is based on that of Fra Bartolommeo’s Salvator Mundi.

3 Borghini-Bottari, 1730, 87, n. 1.

4 A plaque in the chapel in S. Spirito states that Giovanni Dei, the last of the family, died in 1683, and left the chapel to the “Procuratori de poveri vergognosi di S. Martino” (S. Martino del Vescovo, the seat of the Compagnia dei Buonomini); see also  Richa, IX, 1, 1761, 27–28.

5 See Carroll, 1966, 169, and n. 8, where the frame is related to Landucci’s description of the arch that Rosso designed for the entry of Leo X into Florence in 1515 (L.12), and to Rosso’s Design for a Chapel of 1528–1529 in the British Museum (D.38).  Franklin, 1986, 53, n. 22, noted that the problem with attributing the design of the frame to Rosso is that the frame in the Segni Chapel to the right of the sacristy door in S. Spirito has a very similar frame.  The altarpiece within this frame has been attributed to Ridolfo and Michele di Ridolfo Ghirlandaio (Paatz, V, 1953, 147) and may date after Ross’s altarpiece. Franklin, 1994, 86, as both frames possibly from the same workshop, again although Ridolfo altarpiece may be as much as a decade later. It might be noted that with these altarpiece on either side of the entrance to the sacristy they bring visual unity to the arrangement around this door.  It may be for this reason that the frame of the Dei altarpiece was copied when the frame of Ridolfo’s same size picture was made.  In this regard it might be noted that Ridolfo’s composition is dependent on Rosso’s.  For a view of the original frame containing Rosso’s original picture, see Fig.P.12i.

6 On the false assumption that Rosso’s Study for an Altarpiece, Uffizi 479F, is a study for the Dei Altarpiece, see (D.4)

7 On Raphael’s painting, the Madonna del Baldacchino, see Riedl, 1958, 223–246.  Riedl gives the original dimensions of Raphael’s altarpiece as around 245 x 210 which are almost exactly the same as the original dimensions of Rosso’s picture.  See also Alessandro Cecchi, in Raffaello a Firenze, Florence, 1984, 119–128, no.10, where the dimension of Raphael’s picture, 279 x 217 minus the added height of 32, gives 247 x 217 as the dimensions of the original panel.

8 Milanesi, in his edition of Vasari, V, 158, n. 5, noting that this saint’s fingers are long, comments: “si può credere che al Borghini sfuggisse dalla penna un più per un meno.”