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Madonna and Child with The Infant Saint John the Baptist

Andrea d'Agnolo called Andrea del Sarto and workshop

(Florence 1486 - 1531)

In the past it was believed that this painting came from the collection of the elder Olimpia Aldobrandini. Critics have attributed it to Andrea d'Agnolo, the Florentine painter better known as Andrea del Sarto. Yet several details, such as the rendering of the boys, betray the hand of a collaborator, perhaps Jacopo Pontormo, who according to Vasari worked for a certain period in Del Sarto’s workshop.

It depicts the Virgin seated in a typically Tuscan landscape together with John the Baptist and the little Jesus, who is portrayed here as he plays with a goldfinch, symbol of Christ’s death and passion. Legend has it that when the bird attempted to remove a thorn from the crown on Christ’s head it was stained with his blood, forever colouring its beak red.

Object details

1513 ca.
oil on panel
cm 80 x 60

Salvator Rosa, 114 x 90.5 x 7.6 cm


(?) Rome, collection of Olimpia Aldobrandini, 1626 (Inv. 1626, c. 89; Della Pergola 1959); (?) Inv. Olimpia Aldobrandini 1682; Rome, Borghese Collection, 1693 (Inv. 1693, room VII, no. 25); Inv. 1790, room VIII, no. 6; Inventario Fidecommissario 1833, p. 14; purchased by Italian state, 1902.

  • 2013 Firenze, Galleria degli Uffizi
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1906 Luigi Bartolucci (support);
  • 2005 Laboratorio Soprintendenza;
  • 2011 Nicoletta Naldoni.


Critics still debate the provenance of this painting. According to Paola della Pergola (1959), it corresponds to the work listed in the 1626 inventory of the elder Olimpia Aldobrandini’s possessions: ‘[...] with a woman holding the cupid on her lap and Saint John to one side, by Andrea del Sarto, at no. 181’. The same painting is mentioned in the 1682 inventory: ‘a work on panel with the Virgin with a Cupid in her lap and Saint John who is passing the cross to him, two spans high [sic], with a frame with arabesques, by Andrea del Sarto [...]’ (Inventories of 1626 and 1682, in Della Pergola 1959).

Although the dimensions given in this entry do not correspond to those of the work in question, Della Pergola claimed that the panel passed from Aldobrandini to the Borghese Collection. The 1693 inventory does in fact include a description that fits our painting: ‘... of 4 spans on panel, the Virgin and Child and Saint John, at number 82, with an engraved frame, by Andrea del Sarto’.

The present writer does not concur with Della Pergola’s theory. The painting described in the Aldobrandini inventory differs from the Borghese panel in both size and subject: contrary to what we see here, the 1682 document describes a work ‘two spans high’ depicting John the Baptist as he hands a cross to Christ.

While doubts remain as to its provenance, certain is the reference to Andrea del Sarto, as most critics have generally accepted this attribution (Berenson 1909; Longhi 1927; Della Pergola 1959). The exceptions here are Giovanni Morelli (1897) and Adolfo Venturi (1925), who ascribed it to the Florentine painter Giuliano Bugiardini. Yet even those who recognise the style of Del Sarto are hesitant in acknowledging the work as solely by the master: noting ‘a strange, faun-like mix of Leonardo, Raphael and Buonarroti’ in this work, Roberto Longhi (1927) pointed to certain features which seem distant from the style of the Florentine painter, such as the rendering of the Virgin and the enthusiasm of the boys. Along these lines, some critics (Longhi 1927; Della Pergola 1959) associate these elements with Del Sarto’s early career, while others (Natali 1989) see them as proof of the collaboration of one of his students, in all likelihood Jacopo Pontormo, who according to Vasari finished his master’s works during his apprenticeship.

Longhi dated the work to roughly 1514, perceiving certain similarities with the fresco Nativity of the Virgin in Santissima Annunziata in Florence. Della Pergola agreed with this date, although it was moved back several years by Antonio Natali (1989), who noted in Mary’s pose an echo of the Virgin in the Dresden altarpiece (Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine of Alexandria, Gemäldegalerie, inv. no. 76).

Antonio Iommelli


Francesca Alberti - Madonna con Bambino e san Giovannino by Andrea del Sarto
  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese, in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 238;
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 166;
  • G. Morelli, Della Pittura Italiana. Studi Storici Critici: Le Gallerie Borghese e Doria Pamphili in Roma, Milano 1897, p. 92;
  • E. Jacobsen, Italienische Gemälde in der Nationalgalerie zu London. Kritische Notizien zum Katalog von 1898, “Repertorium für Kunstwissenschaft”, 1901, p. 231;
  • B. Berenson, Florentine Painters, New York 1909, p. 103;
  • A. Venturi, Storia dell’Arte Italiana, IX, Firenze 1925, p. 424;
  • C. Galassi Paluzzi, Indice delle Opere di Pittura esistenti in Roma, in “Roma”, V, 1928, p. 268;
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane. La R. Galleria Borghese, in “Vita Artistica”, II, 1927, pp. 85-91;
  • B. Berenson, Pitture Italiane del Rinascimento, Milano 1936, p. 16;
  • P. della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, II, Roma 1959, p. 11 n. 4;
  • S. J. Freedberg, Andrea del Sarto, Cambridge 1961, p. 470;
  • S. J. Freedberg, Andrea del Sarto, Cambridge 1963, p. 35;
  • R. Monti, Andrea del Sarto Milano 1965, pp. 40-141;
  • J. Shearman, Andrea del Sarto, Oxford 1965, I, p. 42, II, 289;
  • A. Natali, A. Cecchi, Andrea Del Sarto: catalogo completo dei dipinti, Firenze 1989, p. 49;
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, Galleria Borghese Roma scopre un tesoro. Dalla pinacoteca ai depositi un museo che non ha più segreti, San Giuliano Milanese 2006, p. 110;
  • Norma e capriccio. Spagnoli in Italia agli esordi della "maniera moderna", catalogo della mostra (Firenze, Galleria degli Uffizi, 2013), a cura di T. Mozzati, Firenze 2013.