Domenico Beccafumi,  Madonna and Child with St. John the Baptist


(Siena, 1486 – 1551)


Madonna and Child
with St. John the Baptist


Oil on panel


28 ⅜ x 22 ⅞ inches

(72 x 58 cm)


Passerini Collection, Cortona (?)
Cisterna Collection, Turin (?)
Sotheby’s, Florence, October 23, 1974, lot 76, as ‘Sienese School, 16th Century” (although called Beccafumi in the entry)    
Private Collection, Florence


“Domenico Beccafumi, l’artista da giovane,” Montepulciano, Museo Civico Pinacoteca Crociani, March 18 - June 30, 2017.


Carol Togneri Dowd, “The Travel Diary of Otto Mündler,” The Volume of the Walpole Society, vol. 51, 1985, p. 135, “Principe della Cisterna [Carlo Emmanuele, Principe dal Pozzo]. / A picture called Raphael, but not unlikely to be an early Beccafumi. Virgin holding a book in her l. hand. The infant Christ is seated on her knees; little S. John on the ground, in the center of the picture. Something manieré in drawing and in colour.”

Andrea De Marchi, “Maestro Delle Eroine Chigi Saracini”, in Da Sodoma a Marco Pino: pittori a Siena nella prima metà del Cinquecento, ed. Fiorella Sricchia Santoro (Florence 1988), p. 85, 87-88.

Mina Gregori, unpublished conference paper, Studies in Honor of Sylvie Beguin, Kunsthistorisches Institut, Florence, October 24-27, 1989.       

Fiorella Sricchia Santoro, “Domenico Beccafumi: 1507-1512,” in Domenico Beccafumi e il suo tempo, exhibition catalogue (Siena 1990), pp. 72, 76-77, no. 1.

Alessandro Morandotti, “Gerolamo Genga negli anni della pala di Sant’Agostino a Cesena,” in Studi di Storia dell’Arte, no. 4, 1993, p. 279-280, note 27.     

Gabriele Fattorini, “Alcune questioni di ambito beccafumiano: il “Maestro delle Eroine Chigi Saracini” e il “Capanna senese”,” in Beccafumi, ed. Piero Torriti (Milan 1998), pp. 37-38, 42, 45.

Paolo Giannattasio, “I disegni,” in Beccafumi, ed. Piero Torriti (Milan 1998), p. 234.

Piero Torriti, Beccafumi (Milan 1998), p. 349, no. A5.

Susana Avery-Quash, The Notebooks of Sir Charles Eastlake, vol. 2, The Volume of the Walpole Society, vol. 73, 2011, pp. 327, 336, “Principe Cisterna – M. & C. & little St John – very capricious composition imitation of Leonardo – hand of M. holding book like Berlin Raphael white fl. very pale sh. – very d. lk drapery of M. with wh. Its like Beccafumi – very lt hair in all.”

Alessandro Angelini, “Una ‘Sant’Agnese di Montepulciano’ di Domenico Beccafumi. Per una revisione dell’attività giovanile del pittore,” in Prospettiva, no. 157/158, January-April 2015, pp. 76-77, 79, 81, 82, fig. 8.

Alessandro Angelini, Il Buon Secolo della Pittura Senese: dalla maniera moderna al lume caravaggesco: Domenico Beccafumi, l’artista da giovane, exhibition catalogue (Pisa 2017), pp. 74-75.

This delicately painted work is among the earliest known paintings by Domenico Beccafumi, the preeminent painter of Siena in the early Cinquecento.  The artist’s idiosyncratic and unmistakable style marked the transition from the High Renaissance to  a unique adaptation of  Florentine Mannerism in his native city.  Although there is no documentary evidence that he travelled to Rome, it is evident that Beccafumi had an opportunity to study the works of Michelangelo and Raphael early on his career, which laid the foundation for the agitated and incandescent works of his mature period. This painting predates Beccafumi’s encounter with the revolution underway in Rome and is one of the most perfect expressions of his early style, when he was under the influence of Perugino, Leonardo, and Fra Bartolomeo.

The painting depicts the Virgin, the Christ Child, and the Infant Saint John the Baptist set in an expansive landscape. The composition of the figures in the foreground is remarkably accomplished. The Virgin is portrayed seated between two low walls, an elegant solution that allows the dynamic Baptist, the true protagonist of the painting, to kneel directly in front of her. The Baptist peers out of the painting towards the viewer, gesturing towards Christ, who, seemingly indifferent to our presence, gazes cheerfully at the goldfinch, tethered by a thin cord held in the Virgin’s hand. Christ balances on one foot, stabilizing himself by grasping onto the Baptist’s arm. The convergence of the figures’ hands is one of the most striking passages of the painting. The density of the left half of the composition is balanced out on the right by the movement captured in the Virgin’s proper left arm as she gently raises an open book. Directly above, the diminutive and rapidly executed Saint Joseph, trailing behind the Virgin and child on a donkey, refers to the episode of the Flight into Egypt.

Experimental in the arrangement of the figures and masterful in its execution, this painting is the finest of Beccafumi’s early works. It is in exceptional condition, retaining its highly finished surface and subtle brushwork. The treatment of the figures —especially the elegant fingers, the subtle shadows that play across the flesh, and the round, smiling faces— is also found in the slightly later painting of the same subject in the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin. Furthermore, the present painting reveals Beccafumi’s debt to the Florentine painters of the previous generation. The energetic position of the infant Baptist indicates Beccafumi’s awareness of Leonardo’s compositional inventions, particularly that of the Christ Child in the Madonna of the Yarnwinder. The influence of Fra Bartolomeo’s landscapes is also apparent in the precipitous slope of the mountain and the atmospheric effect in the distance.

At the time of this painting’s rediscovery and in the years following, the early career of Beccafumi was imperfectly understood by scholars. The altarpiece of the Trinity, painted in 1513 for the Ospedale di Santa Maria della Scala in Siena (now in the Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena), was the earliest known work by the artist.  However, the discovery of a document of 1507 describing Beccafumi as a “pictor” indicating that by this date he was already well-established as an artist, permitted a reevaluation of his early career.[1] In 1988 Andrea De Marchi had included the present work and the Berlin tondo in a group that he had assembled around the Judith, Artemisia, and Cleopatra formerly in the Chigi-Saracini collection – paintings that he attributed to an anonymous Sienese painter which he christened the Master of the Chigi-Saracini Heroines. Soon after, Mina Gregori considered our Madonna to be an early painting by Beccafumi. In the 1990 monographic Beccafumi exhibition in Siena Fiorella Sricchia Santoro, with the knowledge of the 1507 document, proposed that the Master of the Chigi-Saracini Heroines was in fact to be identified as the young Beccafumi, with the present painting being one of his earliest works. While Gabriele Fattorini maintained that the Master of the Chigi-Saracini Heroines was an independent personality, recent scholars, including Paolo Giannattasio and Alessandro Angelini, have accepted that the group of paintings that had been given to the anonymous master in fact represent the oeuvre of Beccafumi in the first decade of the century. In the 2017 exhibition “Domenico Beccafumi; l’artista da giovane,” Angelini firmly dated our Madonna, c. 1507-1508, adding a Saint Agnes in Montepulciano to his catalogue of early works by the artist.

A weak copy of the present work with a variant background has been attributed to Girolamo Genga by Alessandro Morandotti. Angelini has suggested that this version may have been conceived by Genga in Beccafumi’s workshop, as the figures in the distance are based on those in the tondo in Berlin. Additionally, Angelini proposed that the present painting is identifiable with the work seen by Sir Charles Eastlake, the celebrated Director of the National Gallery in London, and Otto Mündler in 1856 in the Cisterna Collection in Turin, and earlier by G. B. Cavalcaselle in the Passerini Collection in Cortona.

Domenico Beccafumi:  Madonna and Child with St. John  (Berlin Gemäldegalerie)

Domenico Beccafumi: Madonna and Child with St. John (Berlin Gemäldegalerie)


[1] Stefano Moscadelli, ‘Domenico Beccafumi “Pictor de Senis” nel 1507’, in Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Instituts in Florenz, 33, 1989, pp. 394–5.