RP.18 Holy Family with Saint Elizabeth and the Young Saint John the Baptist

RP.18, Holy Family

New York, Art Market.

Panel, 92 x 71.


The Virgin’s mantle is wine red, her sleeve and skirt and the cloth over her head, gray-blue.  St. Elizabeth has a gray headscarf and a brown sleeve.  Joseph wears a very dark green tunic and a lavender sleeve.  The Christ Child has reddish hair.  St. John’s hair is dark blond; the animal fur he wears, browns and tans.  The background is dark green, the parapet, green-gray.

Since its publication in 1963 the drapery that covered the genitals of Christ and the Baptist has been removed.

PROVENANCE: Florence, Private Collection (1963),1 New York, Piero Corsini (1983).  Exhibited at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, 1987, and in the 1990-1991 exhibition, “Rosso Revealed,” as Rosso?, about 1514, and as related to Sarto about 1513-1514 (Bruce L. Edelstein).

LITERATURE: R., “Dipinti manieristi in collezioni fiorentini,” Vasari, 23, 1963, 91, Pls. 46-47, as incontestably by Rosso Fiorentino, 1510-1520.

It seems to be that the robust and emotionally active Sartesque children in this picture, the awkwardness of Saint John, and the compositional incoherence of the painting created a kind of hope that these stylistic aspects would be those of an early work by Rosso Fiorentino.  But the drawing, anatomy, faces, and expressions of the Sartesque angels in Rosso’s Assumption of 1513-1514 (Fig.P.3a) are not like those of the children in the Holy Family, nor do the heads of these children resemble the head of Rosso’s Angel Playing a Lute (Fig.P.4a).  The children also do not look like the angels in the S. Maria Nuova Altarpiece of 1518.  There is a blank prettiness in the Virgin’s head that is not relatable to Rosso, and an unspirited commonness of the heads of St. Elizabeth and Joseph that is far from Rosso’s intense persons.

The picture seems to me to have been done in the 1530s or 1540s with the children imitative of Sarto’s of around 1512 and 1513 and the adult figures looking rather weakly like those in Sarto’s late works.  If there is any hint of influence from Rosso’s works it would be from paintings like the Dei Altarpiece of 1522 (Fig.P.12a) and the Marriage of the Virgin of 1523 (Fig.P.13a).

The head of the Virgin somewhat resembles that in the Madonna and Child with the Young Saint John the Baptist in Frankfurt (Fig.RP.10a).  Similar to the Child is the young Christ in the Madonna Crowned by Two Angels at Colnaghi’s in 1982 (Fig.RP.15).  The curly hair of the children recalls that in the version of the Madonna and Child and the Young Saint John the Baptist in a private collection in Norway (Fig.RP.3, Norway), of which another version is in Berlin (Fig.RP.3).  All of these pictures are Sartesque images done as a kind of revival of his style after his death.2


1 The photograph in the Longhi fototeca makes a reference to Sig. Salocchi, October, 1963.  I thank Philippe Costamagna for sending me this information.

2 A note on the photograph in the Longhi fototeca ascribes the three principal figures to Rosso before 1520, with the two saints added some decades later by another and unidentifiable Tuscan artist.