Madonna and Child with the Young St. John the Baptist and St. Anthony of Padua as a Young Man

Madonna and Child with the Young St. John the Baptist and St. Anthony of Padua as a Young Man

Biagio Di Antonio Tucci

date
c. 1480
tecnique
tempera on wood
dimensions
60 x 48.3 cm
source of the artwork

Faenza, Congregazione della Carità. On permanent loan to the Pinacoteca comunale since 1878.

short description

In an interior, the Virgin Mary reads from a prayer book in her right hand while using her left to hold the Baby Jesus, who is seated on a red cushion resting on a ledge. Jesus imparts a blessing with one hand while holding in the other a goldfinch symbolising his future Passion, a bird that Christian legend claims stained its plumage with the blood of the crucified Christ. On either side of the two main figures we see, on the left, the young St. John the Baptist, Jesus’s cousin, in a camelskin tunic, and on the right, St. Anthony of Padua portrayed as a young man yet recognisable by his Franciscan habit and by the lily in his hand. On the left, through an arched window, we can see an orderly landscape with a river and a tower.

It is not known who commissioned this painting from the Florentine artist Biagio d’Antonio Tucci, but its small size suggests that it was intended for private devotion.

inventary n°
194

In an interior, the Virgin Mary reads from a prayer book in her right hand while using her left to hold the Baby Jesus, who is seated on a red cushion resting on a ledge. Jesus imparts a blessing with one hand while holding in the other a goldfinch symbolising his future Passion: a Christian legend claimed that the red part of the bird’s plumage was a result of its attempt to use its beak to remove the crown of thorns at the Crucifixion, indelibly marking itself with the holy blood in the process. On either side of the two main figures we see, on the left, the young St. John the Baptist, Jesus’s cousin, in a camelskin tunic, and on the right, St. Anthony of Padua portrayed as a young man yet recognisable by his Franciscan habit and by the lily in his hand. On the left, through an arched window, we can see an orderly landscape with a river and a tower.

It is not known who commissioned this painting from the Florentine artist Biagio d’Antonio Tucci. Most recent scholarship (Bartoli 1999; Tambini 2) tends to date the panel c. 1480.

In addition to large altarpieces, Biagio d’Antonio and his flourishing workshop produced a large number of paintings on the Madonna and Child theme. These small pictures, painted for private devotion, along with the decoration of wedding chests and birth trays, offered painters a steady income. Biagio and his assistants often repeated the same image, possibly with a number of variations such as the addition of saints and angels. In fact, we cannot rule out the possibility that they may even have used the same cartoons; but be that as it may, their serial output is invariably of the highest quality in terms of its execution.

The attention to natural detail and to the effect of light points to the strong influence that Flemish painting had on Biagio d’Antonio, who had the opportunity to admire several outstanding examples of that art in Florence in the late 15th century. The setting, on the other hand, a domestic interior shrouded in darkness and lit only by two windows giving onto a landscape, echoes such celebrated works by Leonardo da Vinci as the Benois Madonna (St. Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum) or the Madonna of the Carnation (Munich, Alte Pinakothek).

Starting in the second half of the 19th century, a number of local scholars attributed the panel first to Andrea Utili, then to Giovanni Battista Utili, two 15th century painters from Faenza whose names crop up with a certain frequency in the local archives. Writing in 1935, however, Carlo Grigioni was the first to put forward the name of the Florentine painter Biagio d’Antonio, and his suggestion, embraced by both Roberto Longhi and Luisa Becherucci as early as in 1938, was accepted conclusively in the wake of important research conducted by Antonio Corbara in 1947. No art historian has questioned it since then.

GRIGIONI 1935
C. Grigioni, La pittura faentina dalle origini alla metà del Cinquecento, Faenza 1935, p. 246

LONGHI, BECHERUCCI 1938
Mostra di Melozzo e del Quattrocento romagnolo, exhibition catalogue ed. Longhi R., Becherucci L., Bologna 1938, p. 91, entry no. 99

GOLFIERI 1947
E. Golfieri, A. Corbara, Biagio d’Antonio pittore fiorentino in Faenza, “Atti e memorie dell’accademia fiorentina di scienze morali ‘La Colombaria’”, I, 1943-1946, p. 453

BARTOLI 1999
R. Bartoli, Biagio d’Antonio, Milan 1999, p. 217, n. 87, with previous bibliography

TAMBINI 2009
A. Tambini, Storia delle arti figurative a Faenza. Il Rinascimento. Pittura, miniatura, artigianato, Faenza 2009, p. 46.

The images are the property of the Pinacoteca Comunale di Faenza. For the use of the images, please write to infopinacoteca@romagnafaentina.it.

written by
Piero Offidani