This panel is perhaps the one mentioned as a work by Jacopo Pontormo in the Aldobrandini inventory of 1626. It is one of several copies of The Virgin and Child with the Infant Baptist by Andrea del Sarto, today in the Wallace Collection in London. It depicts the Virgin Mary as she hands the Christ Child to the young John the Baptist, who is portrayed here in the company of two figures, perhaps saints or – as was believed in the past – angels.
19th-century frame, 123.5 x 100 x 7.7 cm
(?) Rome, Aldobrandini collection, 1626 (Inv. 1626, ch. 92, no. 6; Della Pergola 1959); (?) Rome, collection of Olimpia Aldobrandini, 1682 (Della Pergola 1959); Rome, Borghese Collection, 1693 (Inv. 1693, room IV, no. 4; Della Pergola 1959); Inv. 1694, p. 420, no. 246; Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese 1833, p. 21. Purchased by Italian state, 1902.
The provenance of this painting is still uncertain. According to Paola della Pergola, it came into the Borghese Collection from the estate of Olimpia Aldobrandini. The scholar in fact called attention to two entries in that family’s inventories: the first, which dates to 1626, describes ‘a work with a Madonna with Christ in her arms, surrounded by three angels, by Jacomo Pontormo, no. 234’ (Inv. 1626, ch. 92. no. 6; Della Pergola 1959), while the second, from 1682, reads, ‘one with the Madonna with the Child in her arms surrounded by three angels, on panel, by Giacomo del Pontormo, four spans high, Inv. ch. 217 no. 234 and in that of His Eminence the Cardinal, ch. 547’ (Inv. Olimpia Aldobrandini 1682; Della Pergola 1959; 1963).
At the same time, Della Pergola had her own doubts whether these entries regarded the work in question, given the mistaken attribution to Pontormo (see Della Pergola 1959). If we exclude this possibility, then, the first certain mention of the work dates to 1693, when the Borghese inventory of that year lists ‘a work of five spans on panel with the Madonna and Child and three other figures, no. 128, with a gilded frame, by Andrea del Sarto’. The description given of the work the following year is even more explicit: ‘A painting of the Madonna, the Son, Saint John and two other saint Johns, with a black frame with gilded edging, 4¼ spans high by 3¼ spans wide, copy of Andrea del Sarto, on panel’ (see Della Pergola 1959). Here there is no doubt that the last-mentioned entries correspond to the work in question, given especially that the number ‘128’ cited in the 1693 inventory is still visible in the lower right hand corner.
The panel was executed by an anonymous painter connected to the workshop of the Florentine master (Della Pergola 1959). It is in fact a copy of The Virgin and Child with the Infant Baptist in the Wallace Collection in London. The original, signed by Del Sarto, shows a more developed sky in the background than the Borghese painting. Other versions of that work are held today in various museums, including two in Madrid (Museo del Prado, inv. nos 333, 338), one in Naples (church of San Giacomo degli Spagnoli; see Guiness 1899), one in Munich (formerly attributed to Puligo, Alte Pinakothek, inv. no. 509), one in Salisbury (Longford Castle, formerly in the Hutchinson collection) and one in Le Havre (Musée, inv. no. 22). In the view of Roberto Longhi (1928), the Borghese exemplar was executed by the Florentine Andrea Piccinelli, called Brescianino. His theory was rejected by Bernard Berenson (1936) in favour of Domenico Puligo but accepted by Sidney J. Freedberg (1963), who believed that the work in question came into being to replace the original and that it was executed in the Aldobrandini residence.