Madonna and Child with St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist

Madonna and Child with St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist

Alfonso Lombardi

c. 1524
280 x 300 x 116 cm
source of the artwork

until 1876: Faenza, Oratory of St. John the Baptist (where a pastoral visit in 1573 records an altar “ornato de pulchris et devotis statuis Beatae Verginis et Sanctorum” [adorned with beautiful and devout statues of the Blessed Virgin and Saints])

short description

Not only have the statues lost their original colour, but we are not even certain of their original arrangement. The Virgin, clad in 16th century attire, holds the Christ Child in a pose freely inspired by Raphael and rests on a tall pedestal, solemnly occupying space thanks to the swell of her billowing mantle. At her feet we see St. John the Baptist (to whom the oratory which first housed the group was dedicated) with his animal fur and cloak, his long stick with a cross at the top and a lamb, his symbol; and St. John the Evangelist holding a hefty volume containing his Gospel, his thoughtful gaze resting on the eagle with outspread wings at his feet. The figures, rapidly and dynamically modelled in terracotta, appear to move freely in space. Alfonso Lombardi’s sculpture is imbued with a deep painterly grasp of monumentality thanks to his skill in conveying with a certain complexity his figures’ three-dimensional nature, causing them to rotate and placing them on different levels as though in a fresco or an altarpiece. He devloped this style in Bologna c. 1525 through direct interaction and exchange with painters working with him in the same artistic complexes. Those painters included Girolamo da Treviso (Treviso, 1498 – Boulogne, 1544) who was working for Sabba da Castiglione (Milan, c. 1480 – Faenza, 1554), a Knight of Malta, in the church of Commenda in Faenza.

inventary n°

Five years after the group was first installed in the Pinacoteca, the then Director Federico Argnani mentioned the presence beneath the three statues of an inscription no longer visible bearing the date 1524. We have no other documents to prove the exact date at which the group was fashioned. It is not specifically mentioned in any sources of the period, although Vasari’s Lives of the Artists and Antonio Masini’s Bologna Perlustrata, published in 1560, both contain vague references to what may be this group. The surfaces have lost their original colour and the three figures’ original arrangement is unknown, but the fact that their invisible parts were left rough suggests that they were designed to be seen from a handful of different frontal positions at a height of one or two metres above the oratory floor. The Virgin is clad in an aristocratic 16th century gown with large sleeves puffed at the shoulder and tight around the forearm, with such naturalistic touches as a crease in the cuff on the right sleeve conveying the idea of real cloth. In the Christ Child’s pose Lombardi freely interprets the work of Raphael, for instance in the Holy Family with a Palm Tree (National Gallery, Edinburgh, NGL 062.446) or in the Madonna of Divine Love (Museo di Capodimonte, Naples, Q 146) (Giannotti 2020).

Working in Bologna in 1525, he modelled the saints for the Voltone del Podestà, which Vera Fortunati Pietrantonio (1981) has linked to the saints that Girolamo da Treviso (Treviso, 1498 – Boulogne, 1544) had painted at the Virgin’s feet in a now lost altarpiece for the Hospital of San Biagio. Lombardi’s profound painterly grasp of monumentality can also be perceived if we compare the Faenza group Virgin with the same figure in a painting by Girolamo da Treviso now in Cesena (Calogero 2020) and, in the field of terracotta sculpture, with the Madonna di Piazza modelled by Antonio Begarelli (Modena, 1499 – 1565) in 1523 and now in the Modena’s Museo Civico.

The Faenza St. John the Evangelist’s cloak, held up along with the book, billows out to cascade about his legs “in vast, moving, furrowed fields stretching out in light, as in the best work of Girolamo da Treviso” (Ferretti, in Calogero 2023), an expedient that almost swells his silhouette out of proportion. The Faenza St. John the Evangelist’s drapery also bears comparison with that of the ageing counsellor in a marble relief depicting Moses’ Test of Fire which Lombardi carved for the left-hand door of the Basilica of San Petronio, where the small prophet’s chubby flesh is also akin to that of the Faenza Christ Child. The Faenza group likewise echoes the work in the Zen Chapel in St. Mark’s in Venice (1504–6) by Antonio Lombardo (c. 1458 – c. 1516), a sculptor whose role as leading sculptor in the D’Este projects Alfonso took over on the latter’s death. He must equally have had access to various sculptures in the Veneto and beyond, his handling of space in the Faenza Madonna and Child recalling that of Jacopo Sansovino’s Madonna of Childbirth (1516–21) in the church of Sant’Agostino in Rome (Calogero 2023).

St. John’s the Evangelist’s twisting pose and the artist’s three-dimensional handling of the Virgin’s volumes suggest that the statues may have stood in a spacious architectural setting or in a single architectural space allowing the figures to interact as in a sacred conversation. The most obvious match for this sculpture group in terms of painting is found in a fresco by Girolamo da Treviso for Sabba da Castiglione, designed in 1529 and completed in 1533, in the church of the Commenda in Faenza. Alfonso Lombardi probably had no rivals in the Faenza area in the field of monumental altar sculpture, which certainly does not feature, for example, in the output of local sculptor Pietro Barilotto. In addition to this group, Lombardi’s work for Faenza and its hinterland also includes monumental groups depicting the Crucifixion and the Visitation for Castel Bolognese (both now in the parish church of San Petronio) and a half-bust of St. Jerome in clay and terracotta recently rediscovered in Bagnara di Romagna (Ravenna) and currently on the antique market (Galleria d’Arte Ossimoro, Spilamberto). The links between these works from the Romagna area and works from other major areas in Emilia should be sought in the context of the lively circulation of artists working on commissions from monastic orders and confraternities in the region (Calogero 2023).

M. Calogero, Alfonso Lombardi, da Ferrara ai giorni dell’incoronazione: un dialogo fra le arti, in Alfonso Lombardi. Il colore e il rilievo, exhibition catalogue ed. M. Calogero, A. Giannotti (Bologna, Pinacoteca Nazionale, 4 March – 7 June 2020), Rimini 2020, pp. 7-25 (esp. pp. 19-20)

M. Calogero, Alfonso Lombardi a Faenza, in Storia delle arti figurative a Faenza. Il Cinquecento, ed. M. Calogero, D. Gasparotto, M. Minardi, C. Ravanelli Guidotti, A. Tambini, Faenza 2023, pp. 222-227

S. Casadei, Pinacoteca di Faenza, Bologna 1991, p. 61 n. 121

A. Giannotti, Bologna crocevia di forestieri: la scultura 1520-1540. In Alfonso Lombardi. Il colore e il rilievo, exhibition catalogue ed. M. Calogero, A. Giannotti (Bologna, Pinacoteca Nazionale, 4 March – 7 June 2020), Rimini 2020, p. 42

D. Lucidi, Alfonso Lombardi e il Salvator Mundi (Florence, Bacarelli & Botticelli), Florence 2018, p. 68

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written by
Alice Festi