Florence 1474 - 1515
The Holy Family with St. John the Baptist
Oil on panel
41½ x 30½ inches
(105.3 x 77.4 cm.)
Palazzo Niccolini,[i] Florence (by 1677)
Bingham Family (Earls of Lucan)[ii]
Chester Dale, New York; his gift, (ca. 1950) to:
Louise Marock, New York (ca. 1950-1985); thence by descent to:
Mr. and Mrs. George D. Buchanan, New York (until 1991); from whom purchased by:
Stanley D. Moss, New York (1991-2017)
L’età di Savonarola: Fra’ Bartolomeo e la Scuola di San Marco, Florence, Palazzo Pitti and Museo di San Marco, April 25 - July 1996, cat. no. 37, as Albertinelli
Visions and Vistas; Old Master Paintings and Drawings, New York, Berry-Hill Galleries, Jan. 25-Mar. 4, 2000, as Albertinelli
Cosimo Rosselli, Painter of the Sistine Chapel, Winter Park, Florida, The George D. and Harriet W. Cornell Fine Arts Museum at Rollins College, February 9 - April 22, 2001, cat no. 27, as Albertinelli
Francesco Bocchi and Giovanni Cinelli, Le Bellezze della Città di Firenze (Florence 1677), p. 406, as Fra Bartolomeo
G. Richa, Notizie istoriche delle chiese fiorentine, vol. VIII, Florence 1759, p. 48, quoting Cineli, as Fra Bartolomeo
J.A. Crowe and G.B., Cavalcaselle, A History of Painting in Italy, vol. III, London 1866, p. 478 (as a lost Fra Bartolomeo);
Fritz Knapp, Fra’ Bartolomeo und die Schule von San Marco, Halle 1903, p. 268 (as a lost Fra Bartolomeo)
Hans von der Gabelentz, Fra Bartolomeo und die florentiner Renaissance, Leipzig 1922, Vol I, p. 198 (as a lost Fra Bartolomeo)Robert B. Simon, Visions and Vistas; Old Master Paintings and Drawings, exh. cat. New York 2000, pp. 12-13, as by Albertinelli
Serena Padovani, L’età di Savonarola: Fra’ Bartolomeo e la Scuola di San Marco, exh. cat., Florence: Palazzo Pitti 1996, pp.141-143, cat. no. 37 ill., as by Albertinelli
Arthur R. Blumenthal, Cosimo Rosselli, Painter of the Sistine Chapel, exh. cat., Winter Park, Florida 2001, p. 204-207, cat no. 27, as by Albertinelli.
Serena Padovani, “Fra’ Bartolomeo e Mariotto Albertinelli: Il Problema della Bottega,” in Rinascimento; Fra’ Bartolomeo; Sacra Famiglia a Modello, exh. cat. Brescia: Museo di Santa Giulia, November 20, 2014- January 18, 2015, p. 15, fig. 1., as by Albertinelli
Odette D’Albo, “Bottega di San Marco; Sacra Famiglia con San Giovannino,” in Rinascimento; Fra’ Bartolomeo; Sacra Famiglia a Modello, exh. cat. Brescia: Museo di Santa Giulia, November 20, 2014- January 18, 2015, pp. 49-53, fig. 2, as by Albertinelli
Mariotto Albertinelli’s career as a painter began at the age of twelve when he entered the workshop of Cosimo Rosselli. There he was to befriend a fellow student two years his senior, Baccio della Porta, with whom he would collaborate on a variety of pictorial projects throughout their lives. In the 1490s Baccio fell profoundly under the influence of Savonarola and entered the Dominican monastery of San Marco, taking the name by which he is best known, Fra Bartolomeo. Although he abandoned painting briefly, Fra Bartolomeo returned to work with Albertinelli toward the end of the first decade of the sixteenth century. They then operated a joint studio –Vasari states that “they were one soul and one body” and that “the hand of Mariotto was taken by many for that of Fra Bartolomeo.” While each artist would work independently, their workshop functioned under the name of the “Bottega di San Marco,” with paintings marked by a distinct monogram (a cross and two rings) to reflect the cooperative authorship.
The present Holy Family with St. John the Baptist dates from this period when Albertinelli and Fra Bartolomeo both painted independently and operated a joint workshop. The composition of the work is one employed with some variation by each artist, as well as by the workshop. A drawing of the Virgin’s head by Fra Bartolomeo (Rotterdam, Boymans van Beuningen Museum; see illustration) seems the source for all,[iii] but in Fra Bartolomeo’s painted treatment in the National Gallery, London, known as the Mond Holy Family, the figures (lacking the Infant St. John), attitudes, and setting are quite distinct, with the scene being set outdoors before ancient ruins. Albertinelli’s composition, the present work, brings the Holy Family inside, placing the figures in a darkened environment suggestive of a manger. Of the “Bottega di San Marco” derivations, one, monogramed and dated 1511, is in the Galleria Borghese, Rome, while a second remains in the Galleria Corsini, Florence. Both of these feature a landscape visible over the Virgin’s shoulder, a differently posed John the Baptist (playfully engaged with the viewer), the absence of still-life elements and drapery on the Christ Child, and a quizzical rather than contemplative Joseph, lacking the hands that grasp his staff and tenderly support the bundle on which the Christ Child rests in Albertinelli’s painting.
While our Holy Family had historically been considered to be by Fra Bartolomeo – it was so described in the 1677 Florentine guidebook by Bocchi and Cinelli (see Literature) –recent scholarship has given the work firmly to Albertinelli. Such was the opinion first of Ludovico Borgo, supported by Sydney J. Freedberg and Everett Fahy. [iv] Serena Padovani, followed by Odette D’Albo, has more fully explored the relationship of the various versions of the composition (supplemented by technical analyses) and the partnership of the two artists in the years 1509-13. They conclude as well that the present work is entirely from Albertinelli’s hand and that the Borghese and Corsini paintings are derivations from the “Bottega.” Dr. Padovani notes strong n stylistic similarities between the present painting and The Annunciation, in the Accademia, Florence, signed and dated 1510 Mariotti Florenti opus.
The Niccolini collection from which the present comes was especially notable for its Raphael Madonna and Child, known as the Niccolini-Cowper Madonna, now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington. It was sold from the Niccolini family to Lord Cowper by the painter Johann Zoffany, who shows himself holding the painting next to Lord Cowper in his celebrated painting of the Tribuna of the Uffizi (Windsor, Royal Collection). Zoffany purchased several paintings from the Niccolini at the same time and it is quite possible that Albertinelli’s Holy Family with St. John the Baptist was one of them.
[i] The Niccolini coat-of-arms appears on a red wax seal affixed in the lower left corner of the painting
[ii] A wax seal with the Bingham coat-of-arms and the motto “Spes mea Christus” is on the verso of the panel.
[iii] See C. Fischer, Fra Bartolomeo: Master Draughtsman of the High Renaissance, Rotterdam 1990, pp. 216-217, reproduced
[iv] In a letter of October 5, 1988, Borgo described the present work as “an earlier and better version of the replica in the Borghese Gallery.” Freedberg and Fahy confirmed their opinions orally to the former owner, as did Laurence B. Kanter who, however, maintained the attribution to Fra Bartolomeo