(Ferrara, ca. 1460- ca. 1513)
The Virgin Praying
Tempera and oil on panel
10 ¾ x 7 ¼ inches
(26.8 x 18.2 cm)
10 7/16 x 6 ⅜ inches
(26.5 x 16.2 cm)
Private Collection, Europe (until 2017)
This exquisite small panel depicts the Virgin Mary at prayer, kneeling with her hands clasped before her in a rich domestic setting. Her room is open on two sides –one to a walled enclosure, perhaps alluding to the “hortus conclusus,” the epithet of the enclosed garden from “The Song of Songs” associated with her virginity; the other to the viewer. A coffered ceiling leads back to a raised green curtain, a doorway and barred window beyond, suggesting the confines of her bedroom. A pink pilaster, richly ornamented with a foliate design, supports a gold capital, while in the distance tree tops can be seen beyond the wall. The Virgin’s prie-dieu seems built-in to the floor on which she kneels, below which a series of segmented trefoil openings pierce the base. A cabinet door in her desk is open to the viewer -- like the lectern on which her book rests, attesting to the artist’s grasp of and delight with perspective rendering. The writing in her book, as with the inscription on the paper adjacent, is convincingly rendered, but in fact illegible. A pen and inkpot, as well as an hourglass, rest on the edge of the table. The Virgin, crowned by a subtle but elaborate halo and clad in her traditional red and blue robes, seems wholly absorbed in her contemplative prayer.
Whether the present work was conceived as an independent work, or was part of a larger ensemble, is impossible to determine. If the latter, it would most likely have been the right half of a devotional diptych representing the Annunciation. The setting and pose of the Virgin are typical of such works, although overt symbols of the event –most often, a golden ray or representation of the Holy Spirit – are absent. The attribution of the panel to Panetti, first suggested by Mattia Vinco, has been confirmed by Mauro Lucco (email of October 9, 2017), who considers the present work “a very fine example of Domenico Panetti in his earlier years, probably about 1497-1500, very close to the altarpiece in the Museo della Cattedrale di Ferrara.” That work features the Virgin and Child on a throne with an almost identical pilaster design. A later and larger Annunciate Virgin, part of a set of organ doors (Ferrara, Pinacoteca Nazionale), features a similarly ornamented pilaster, a compositional analogous Virgin, and such idiosyncratic details as the trefoil decorations of the base. Yet another depiction of the Annunciation in the Pinacoteca Nazionale, signed by Panetti, depicts the Virgin in much the same pose as in the present work, praying before a prie-dieu with a book covered with an almost identical scrawl, on a desk looking as if it came from the same cabinet maker.
Panetti’s birthdate is not known, but Barrufaldi, the chronicler of Ferrarese painters, suggests that he was born around 1460, the son of a painter named Gaspare. Documents and commissions abound in the early 1500s, but none of these can be associated with extant works. However, several signed works are known, and have permitted the reconstruction of his oeuvre. Panetti’s paintings have been confused with those of Lorenzo Costa, but there is a rich and robust quality to his style, which suggests he may have been exposed to the paintings of Perugino. Vasari states that Panetti was the first teacher of Garofalo, but their styles remain quite distinct.