Although the 1693 Borghese inventory attributed this painting to Giulio Romano, critics now ascribe it to Raffaellino del Colle, the painter from Sansepolcro who trained in Rome in the famous workshop of Raphael.
The work depicts the Virgin Mary together with her son Jesus and the young John the Baptist, portrayed here as a boy, with a fleece on his back and a crucifix in his hand. Numerous 16th-century copies and derivations attest to the popularity of this composition during the mid-1500s.
Salvator Rosa, 130 x 106 x 8.2 cm
Rome, Borghese Collection, 1693 (Inv. 1693, room VIII, no. 53; Della Pergola 1959); Inventario Fidecommissario 1833, p. 32; purchased by Italian state, 1902.
Opera in prestito per la mostra "Raffaellino del Colle in mostra: dai disegni alle opere ", Museo Civico Piero della Francesca – San Sepolcro (AR) (15 settembre - 15 dicembre 2023, esclusi tempi di riconsegna e riallestimento)
Of unknown provenance, this painting was first documented in connection with the Borghese Collection in 1693, when the inventory of that year listed it as a work by Giulio Romano: ‘a work of 4 spans on panel, the Virgin, the Child, Saint John with the Lamb, at no. 127, with an engraved gilded frame, by Giulio Romano’. The attribution was confirmed in both the 1833 Inventario Fidecommissario and the profiles by Giovanni Piancastelli (1891) but rejected by Adolfo Venturi (1893) in favour of Girolamo Siciolante da Sermoneta and by Hermann Voss (1920), who proposed the name of Raffaellino del Colle. For his part, Roberto Longhi (1928) was not persuaded by either of these proposals; instead, he cautiously wrote of an anonymous artist of Florentine origin inspired by the style of Giulio Romano. Building on Longhi’s idea, Paola della Pergola (1959) maintained that the panel was in fact by Pippi himself, noting clear similarities with other works by him, including the Madonna with the Washbasin (Gemäldegalerie, Dresden) and the Fugger altarpiece in the church of Santa Maria dell’Anima in Rome, in which, incidentally, the motif of the exedra – here visible behind the Virgin – also appears.
In 1976, Federico Zeri revived the attribution to a Raffaellino del Colle, maintaining that the painting was a variation of the panel in Baltimore (Walters Art Museum, inv. no. 37.548), which according to this scholar was executed by the artist from Sansepolcro (for a different opinion, see Ferino 1989; Grann 1999; Agosti 2019). Compared with the work in question, the painting in Baltimore reverses the positions of the protagonists and adds tiny figures as well as thin, small trees in the background. While Zeri’s idea was rejected by Achim Gnann (1999), who attributed both versions to Giulio Romano, dating them to 1522-24, it was warmly received by Anna Lo Bianco (1984), who pointed to stylistic similarities with other paintings by Raffaellino, such as the faces which extend downward in the Saint Sebastian in the Galleria Nazionale of Urbino and the figures in the Resurrection in Sansepolcro. Lo Bianco proposed the date of roughly 1530 for the work, interpreting those Tuscan traits pointed out by Longhi as allusions to Bronzino, with whom Raffaellino had worked in decorating the Villa Imperiale in Pesaro.
A number of other critics have also embraced Zeri’s attribution (Coliva 1994; Stefani 2000; Herrmann Fiore 2006; Droghini 2001; Id. 2019; Agosti 2019). Some, however, date the work to an earlier period – 1523-24 – with respect to Lo Bianco’s proposal of approximately 1530 (Droghini 2001; Id. 2019; Agosti 2019). These scholars cite similarities to other paintings executed by Raffaellino in those years, such as in the lunette of the cathedral of Sansepolcro (see Droghini 2001), which once hung above the Resurrection of Christ (cathedral of Sansepolcro, 1524-1525), and the Woman with a Mirror in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow (1523-23): like the subject in the latter work, the Virgin in the Borghese panel turns sideways and is depicted from a lower perspective (see Agosti 2019).
Although critics agree on the attribution of the work in question to Raffaellino, we would do well to mention several recent theories which render the question more complicated. In particular, some scholars point to the fact that Raffaellino, to whom Giulio Romano left his workshop, may have finished works begun by the master by partially or totally changing his intention: this is perhaps the case of the work in Baltimore, for which X-ray testing revealed a different original plan (Droghini 2001; 2019). By the same token, some critics maintain that Raffaellino executed the Borghese panel in Giulio’s workshop using either a drawing by Pippi (Droghini 2001) or more probably a cartoon by him (Agosti 2019), which seems to be suggested by the fact that the arrangement of the figures is reversed compared to the work in the Walters Art Museum.