This canvas, intended for private devotion, was painted in about 1740 by Pompeo Girolamo Batoni, the artist from Lucca. Before it was purchased by the Italian state in 1909, it had been ascribed to Carlo Maratti; yet immediately afterwards the attribution was changed to the present one, which critics have unanimously accepted in light of clear indications of Batoni’s style.
late 18th-/early 19th-century frame, with twisted ribbon fillet, lotus leaves and palmettes, 82 x 66 x 5.5 cm
Purchased by Italian state from Count Guglielmo Aluffi-Pontini, 1909.
This painting is an exquisite example of Batoni’s sacred production. It is a half-length representation of the Virgin, attired in a pink gown and light blue mantle with an ochre veil on her head. She gingerly embraces the naked Child; seated on a cushion, he tenderly caresses Mary’s face with his left hand while holding an apple – an allusion to the fruit of original sin – in his right. The artist chose this motif of an exchange of affections between Mother and Son with the intent of reproducing a composition in the classical style: Batoni indeed interpreted the subject by drawing inspiration from similar works by Raphael, Correggio and especially Guido Reni, his main points of reference in his own development. While the canvas also shows the influence of Sebastiano Conca and Francesco Trevisani, it is in particular reminiscent of the style of Carlo Maratti, to whom in fact critics had ascribed the work prior to its purchase by the Italian state in 1909. The painting entered the Borghese Collection thanks to the efforts of Director Giulio Cantalamessa, who proposed acquiring it from Count Guglielmo Aluffi-Pontini. The attribution to Maratti was immediately changed to the present one, which critics have since unanimously accepted, given the clear evidence of Batoni’s style: the polished, almost porcelain-like rendering of the figures, the pink tint of their flesh, and the light, bright colouring.
At the age of 20, Pompeo Batoni moved to Rome, soon finding himself at the centre of the artistic life of the city. He acquired notable fame among foreign travellers, thanks above all to his excellent skills as a portraitist. The rest of his pictorial production can be divided into works of a profane character, mostly mythological subjects, and of a religious nature, often with Mary as protagonist, as in the work in question. The dimensions of our canvas indicate that it was intended for private devotion, as was the case with many similar works painted by the artist.
Paola Della Pergola proposed dating the work to roughly 1770, while Anthony Clark moved the time of its execution back some 30 years, suggesting approximately 1742 (Della Pergola 1959, p. 72; Clark 1985, p. 223). In a recent monograph on the artist, Edgar Peters Bowron suggested a chronological range between 1738 and 1740 (this had already been proposed by De Angelis 1984, p. 18) on the basis of a comparison with a contemporary work, the Judgement of Solomon, whose present whereabouts are unknown: this scholar argued that physiognomic features and rendering of the clothing of some of the figures in this painting are quite similar to those of the Madonna and Child (Bowron 2016, p. 34).
Two other works have connections with the Borghese canvas: a preparatory study in sanguine, which is certainly autograph (Department of Prints and Drawings of the Uffizi, Florence, inv. no. 5785), and a replica with variations, illuminated by candlelight and with nocturnal effects, which Della Pergola identified in a private collection in Rome. The latter work may be the same one which appeared on the Roman market in 1958 (Clark 1985, p. 223).
Pier Ludovico Puddu