This painting was inherited from Cardinal Salviati by Olimpia Aldobrandini and later entered the Borghese collection through her marriage to Paolo Borghese. The small painting, which was probably made for private devotion, combines the different stylistic and cultural influences typically found in Garofalo’s work. The composition of the work is in fact very similar, including in terms of the figure’s positions, to paintings by Raphael. However, we can also see references to the Veneto and Ferrara milieus, as well as the strong influence of Dosso Dossi, found in the expressive drama of the two apostles and the refined palette.
Rome, Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini, Inv. 1603, no. 55; Meldola, Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini, 1612 (Della Pergola 1962, Costamagna 2000); Rome, Olimpia Aldobrandini the younger, 1682, no. 320; Borghese collection, Inv. 1790, room I, no. 35; Inventario fidecommissario Borghese 1833, p. 6, n. 4. Purchased by the Italian state, 1902.
This small painting is of secure Aldobrandini provenance. Besides recent research that has clarified a stop in Meldola (Costamagna 2000), given its inclusion in an inventory previously connected to the Salviati inheritance but that has turned out to be instead one for the collection of Cardinal Pietro, there is a number on the back that corresponds to the relative work on the list of assets and the notation ‘Benve’, which clearly indicates the painter (Tarissi de Jacobis 2002).
The Borghese painting is representative of the third stage of Garofalo’s development of the theme of the Madonna and Child Enthroned, preceded by the Argenta Altarpiece (Museo civico di Argenta, 1513) and the altarpiece for the church of San Guglielmo in Ferrara (National Gallery, London, inv. NG671, documented in 1517), which seems to be the work closest to the Roman painting and therefore determines its dating (Mazzariol 1960; V. Romani in Ballarin 1994-1995). The features of this work reflect what Garofalo would have been able to see, study and learn in the Ferrara painting milieu in which he trained. The work of artists like Boccaccio Boccaccino, Andrea Mantegna and Lorenzo Costa was in fact crucial for the creation of his at once both traditional and courtly figurative image world, filtered through the eccentricity of Dosso and structured, in terms of composition and the softness of some of his painterly landscapes, on the classicism of Raphael and his Bologna followers (Fioravanti Baraldi 1993).
The work is dominated by an enthroned Madonna, her face framed by a pure white veil and her eyes lowered and timid. She holds a lively Christ Child in her arms, who plays with the keys offered to St Peter, his energetic pose contrasting with the solid, sure block of his mother seated on the royal throne. The two apostles, recognisable by their traditional attributes, are the mediators through which the viewer can access the Sacra Conversazione, in particular St Peter, who looks at the viewer and whose finger points to the Virgin, introducing us to the Marian mysteries and the divinity of Christ. This modus operandi reveals Garofalo to have been fully part of the courtly Este artistic tradition, in which gazes and gestures were used to circulate the fundamental messages of politics and religion through paintings.