This exquisite Madonna and Child was painted about 1483–84 for the wealthy Florentine banker Filippo Strozzi. Through an arcade decorated with his armorial emblems (three crescents) is a landscape that was probably intended to suggest the countryside around the Strozzi villa near Florence, where the picture probably hung in a private oratory. Like many wealthy men, Filippo Strozzi valued material display and insisted that his paintings employ the finest ultramarine blue—as here.
About 1490 the duke of Milan's agent in Florence commented that Filippino's paintings were sweeter—più dolci—than those of Botticelli, Filippino's master.
History and Patronage: The history of this very beautiful painting by Filippino Lippi cannot be fully reconstructed prior to 1900, when it was with the German dealer Nikolaus Steinmeyer in Cologne; it was purchased from the famous Duveen firm by the German-born financier Jules Bache in 1928 and bequeathed to The Met. However, the coat of arms of the wealthy Strozzi family—three crescent moons—appears both on the escutcheon decorating the capital of the column of the arcade and on the roundel in the spandrel, and the picture must therefore have been commissioned for a member of this famous banking family. The most likely candidate is Filippo Strozzi (1428–1491), who returned from exile to Florence in 1466, becoming a major patron of both Filippino and Benedetto da Maiano. In 1482 Filippo Strozzi paid Filippino for designing a flowered tapestry to go above a daybed ("per uno disegnio d’una spalliera a verdura fattoci"; see Zambrano and Nelson 2004, p. 620, doc. 7) and in 1487 he contracted the artist to decorate his funerary chapel in Santa Maria Novella. Work on the chapel was interrupted by Filippino's employment in Rome for Cardinal Carafa (1488–89); Benedetto da Maiano was responsible for the tomb. Although The Met’s picture has sometimes been dated as early as about 1478 and as late as about 1489, most scholars place it in the years 1485–87—prior to Filippino’s departure for Rome. The removal in 2010 of an obfuscating varnish transformed the appearance of the picture, revealing a previously unsuspected delicacy in the modeling of the face of the Virgin, who is shown as a young mother of endearing tenderness, and a brilliance of color indicative of a prestigious, fully autograph commission. From the payments for the Strozzi chapel we know that Filippo attached great importance to material splendor: "e sieno ornate [le quatro figure] d’azurro e d’oro, chome e più richamente si può, e ‘l resto del cielo tutto d’azurro oltremarino fine, almeno di pregio di fiorini quarto larghi l’oncia . . . " (the four figures should be adorned with blue and gold, as richly as possible, and the rest of the sky should be of fine ultramarine, of a value of at least four florins per ounce [Zambrano and Nelson 2004, p. 622, doc. 12]). The blue of the Virgin’s cloak is underpainted in white in order to exploit to a maximum the optical effects of the blue pigment’s translucency. The closest stylistic analogy is with one of Filippino’s supreme masterpieces, the Badia Altarpiece, which was completed sometime before 1486. A date of about 1483–84—that is, after the two circular paintings (tondi) with the Annunciation in San Gimignano (commissioned in 1482) and before the Pala di Palazzo Vecchio, which is dated 1485—seems likely.
Theme and Iconography: The theme of the Christ Child fingering or reading from a book was extremely popular in Florence, one of the most famous examples being Botticelli's Madonna della Magnificat (Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence). It is a standard theme of Filippino's devotional paintings. Here the child rustles through the pages. The pomegranate on the table is an emblem of the Church while in the niche behind the Virgin are a book and a brass lamp (an identical lamp appears in Filippino's Annunciation in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg). The window gives a view beyond a colonnade or loggia to a townscape (for which, see below). The character of this landscape is much indebted to the example of Netherlandish painting, both the work of Memling and Hugo van der Goes’ Portinari Altarpiece, (Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence), which arrived in the city in 1483. As with Filippino's altarpiece for Tanai de' Nerli in Santo Spirito, Florence, the activities shown in the background were almost certainly more than mere embellishment and had specific significance for the patron. As in the Nerli Altarpiece, they give the picture a topical frame of reference.
Neilson (1938) suggested that the picture could have been painted for the oratory built by Filippo Strozzi for his villa at Santuccio (midway between Florence and Poggio a Caiano). Elaborating on this idea, Lillie (2005) has noted the close agreement between the architecture in the painting and that of the villa, which was renovated in the years 1483–84, and has further proposed that the landscape contains features of the territory around Santuccio, although the view would be suggestive rather than topographical. She plausibly identifies the picture in a 1491 postmortem inventory listing nine paintings from Filippo Strozzi’s villa: "1 nostro donna in piano" (A.S.F., Carte Strozziane, V, 65).
The Background Scene: The background view through the loggia is towards a fortified gate and two bridges over the river and was probably intended to suggest the territory of the Strozzi villa at Santuccio. Two men bearing farming implements are crossing the near bridge while, in front of a house on the other side of the bridge, a dark-skinned woman pours water into a pitcher. On the farthest bridge are two black Africans, one with a red cloth wrapped around him, the other, bare chested, evidently spearing fish. The two black men are almost certainly enslaved servants from sub-Saharan Africa. As elsewhere in the Mediterranean, prior to the 1460s slavery was associated with non-Christian societies and in Italy enslaved peoples were predominantly from the markets in the Levant and were Tartars, Circassians, Russians, and unbaptized Slavs or Saracens. They were mostly female and performed domestic tasks, such as the woman gathering water. In Florence they accounted for less than one percent of the population in 1427 and were a luxury. As noted by Sergio Tonetti, from whom the information contained in this entry is drawn ("The Trade in Black African Slaves in Fifteenth-century Florence," in T. F. Earle and K. J. P. Lowe, ed., Black Africans in Renaissance Europe, Cambridge, 2005, pp. 215–26), "Until the 1440s, black slaves were sold to Italians and other Europeans by Arab merchants operating in the cities on the Mediterranean coast of Africa. After the voyages combining exploration, trade and plunder by the Portuguese (and also Italian) sailors, under the patronage and financial sponsorship of Prince Henry of Portugal, known as ‘the Navigator,’ black Africans reduced to slavery from the coastal areas of Senegal and Guinea started to flow into the ports of the Algarve and into Lisbon itself." Black Africans begin to appear in Florence in the 1460s, mainly acquired through Tuscan banks with branches in Lisbon. We know that Filippo Strozzi owned an African slave identified in his testament of 1491 as "Giovanni grande nero, mio Schiavo" (big black John, my slave) and it is this fact that explains the figures and activities in the background scene. In the will Filippo Strozzi provided for Giovanni’s freedom (see G. Gaye, Carteggio inedito d’artisti dei secoli XIV, XV, XVI, Florence, 1839, vol. 1, p. 360).
Underdrawing: In 1997 the painting was examined with infrared reflectography, revealing a freehand preparatory drawing (Bambach 1997). It was re-examined in 2010 in The Met’s conservation department at the time of its cleaning. The basic details of the figures were drawn in with brush and ink, which were also used to establish deep shadows and dark passages. The contours of Mary’s facial features probably follow a cartoon, though when Filippino painted the Virgin, he made an adjustment to the angle of her head, bending it slightly closer towards the infant Christ (see Additional Images, fig. 3, and Technical Notes). The picture seems to have been well known and admired: it was copied by a follower of Filippino (Gemäldegalerie, Mainz; see Fahy 1966–67) and was adapted by the young Piero di Cosimo (Royal Collection, Stockholm; see Bacci 1966).
[Keith Christiansen 2016]
Perhaps the most immediately striking aspect of this painting is the dazzling brilliance of the blue paint used to depict Mary’s mantle. In order to craft such a vibrant hue Filippino used the finest quality ultramarine, a pigment extracted from lapis lazuli, a mineral imported from Afghanistan. At the time, ultramarine was so costly that its value was many times the price of gold—but given the wealth of the Strozzi family, cost was no impediment. Mary’s mantle was underpainted with white paint in order to exploit the optical effects of the ultramarine’s translucency and the white’s ability to reflect light, thereby intensifying the blue color.
Examination of the painting with infrared reflectography (IRR) revealed hidden details about the making of the painting. A brush and ink were used to draw the basic details of the figures, arrange the composition, and establish deep shadows and dark passages. The contours of Mary’s facial features probably follow a cartoon the artist used repeatedly in his workshop. When it came time to paint Mary, Filippino made an adjustment to the angle of Mary’s head, bending it slightly closer towards the infant Christ (see Additional Images, fig. 3).
[Karen Thomas 2010]
?Filippo Strozzi, Santuccio, near Florence (until d. 1491; inv., 1491); ?his son, Alfonso Strozzi, Florence (from 1491); ?Marcello Massarenti, Rome; [Nikolaus Steinmeyer, Cologne, until about 1900; sold to Martius]; Götz Martius, Kiel (about 1900–about 1920; sold to Van Diemen); [Van Diemen, Berlin, about 1920–23; sold to Duveen]; [Duveen, Paris, London, and New York, 1923–28; sold for $200,000 to Bache]; Jules S. Bache, New York (1928–d. 1944; his estate, 1944–49; cats., 1929, unnumbered; 1937, no. 11; 1943, no. 10)
Düsseldorf. location unknown. "Kunsthistorische Ausstellung," August 1904, no. 244 (as by Filippino Lippi, lent by Professor Götz Martius, Kiel).
New York. World's Fair. "Masterpieces of Art: European Paintings and Sculpture from 1300–1800," May–October 1939, no. 216 (lent by the Jules S. Bache collection, New York).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Bache Collection," June 16–September 30, 1943, no. 10.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Florentine Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum," June 15–August 15, 1971, no catalogue.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "A Renaissance Masterpiece Revealed: Filippino Lippi's 'Madonna and Child'," January 15–April 25, 2011, no catalogue.
Rome. Scuderie del Quirinale. "Filippino Lippi e Sandro Botticelli nella Firenze del '400," October 5, 2011–January 15, 2012, no. 24.
Posthumous inventory of the contents of Filippo Strozzi's villa at Santuccio. 1491, c. 14 sin [Archivio di Stato, Florence, Carte Strozziane, V, 65; see Lillie 2005], lists "1 nostra donna in piano" among objects left to Filippo's son Alfonso, possibly this work.
Auguste Marguillier. "L'exposition des maîtres anciens à Düsseldorf." Gazette des beaux-arts, 3rd ser., 32 (October 1904), p. 285, mistakenly refers to the artist as Filippo Lippi.
Gustavo Frizzoni. "La mostra d'arte retrospettiva del 1904 a Düsseldorf." Rassegna d'arte 5 (January 1905), p. 6, fig. 7, states that, based on the coat of arms that appears on the capital, it was painted for a member of the Strozzi family; dates it about 1478, because he feels that it must have been painted toward the beginning of Filippino's relationship with the Strozzi family [which actually dates from 1487]; notes that it passed from a Roman prelate, possibly Marcello Massarenti, to Germany, where it was acquired by Martius.
Paul Schubring. "Die kunsthistorische Ausstellung in Düsseldorf 1904, V: Die Madonna Strozzi von Filippino Lippi." Zeitschrift für christliche Kunst 18 (1905), cols. 97–100, pl. III, states that the color, light, and use of genre details are influenced by Hugo van der Goes's Portinari altarpiece (Uffizi, Florence) of about 1475; suggests that the picture was a gift for the second wedding of Filippo, eldest son of Filippo Strozzi, who remarried in Florence after returning from exile in Naples in 1479.
Bernhard Berenson. The Florentine Painters of the Renaissance. 3rd ed. New York, 1909, p. 148, lists it as by Filippino, in the Martius collection, Kiel.
Joseph Archer Crowe and Giovanni Battista Cavalcaselle. A History of Painting in Italy: Umbria, Florence and Siena from the Second to the Sixteenth Century. Ed. Langton Douglas. Vol. 4, Florentine Masters of the Fifteenth Century. London, 1911, p. 293 n. 4, Douglas lists it among undoubted works by Filippino and states that it was "perhaps" made for a member of the Strozzi family.
Adolfo Venturi. Storia dell'arte italiana. Vol. 7, part 1, La pittura del quattrocento. Milan, 1911, p. 674 n. 1, lists it among works attributed to Filippino.
Bernard Berenson. Letter to Isabella Stewart Gardner. November 20, 1922, describes this painting, which Duveen had offered to Mrs. Gardner, as "the loveliest, the most delicate, & best preserved [Filippino] I've ever seen".
A Collection of Ancient Paintings, Objects of Art and Modern Paintings. New York, 1925, unpaginated, unnumbered, ill.
Walter Heil. "The Jules Bache Collection." Art News 27 (April 27, 1929), p. 3, ill. p. 29.
A Catalogue of Paintings in the Collection of Jules S. Bache. New York, 1929, unpaginated, ill.
[Georg] Gronau inAllgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler. Ed. Hans Vollmer. Vol. 23, Leipzig, 1929, p. 270.
H. E. Wortham. "The Bache Collection." Apollo 11 (May 1930), p. 352, mentions the influence of Botticelli.
Georg Gronau. "Über zwei florentiner Madonnen des Quattrocento." Pantheon 6 (1930), pp. 512–13, ill., dates it about 1487; discusses it in connection with a copy by Piero di Cosimo in the royal collection, Stockholm; mentions a second copy by Raffaellino in the Gemäldegalerie, Mainz.
Lionello Venturi. Pitture italiane in America. Milan, 1931, unpaginated, pl. CCII.
Raimond van Marle. The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting. Vol. 12, The Renaissance Painters of Florence in the 15th Century: The Third Generation. The Hague, 1931, p. 318.
Alfred Scharf. "Filippino Lippi and Piero di Cosimo." Art in America 19 (February 1931), pp. 61–62, fig. 2 (mistakenly labelled as Piero di Cosimo), dates it about 1487, stating confusingly that "by advancing the picture's date of origin, its relationship to the marriage of Filippini Strozzi to Selvaggia de' Gianfiggliazzi in 1484 is established".
Bernhard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Oxford, 1932, p. 286.
Lionello Venturi. Italian Paintings in America. Vol. 2, Fifteenth Century Renaissance. New York, 1933, unpaginated, pl. 263.
Osvald Sirén. Italienska Tavlor och Teckningar i Nationalmuseum och andra Svenska och Finska Samlingar. Stockholm, 1933, pp. 64–65, ill.
Alfred Scharf. Filippino Lippi. Vienna, 1935, pp. 26, 31–32, 108, no. 33, fig. 30, dates it about 1485 and considers it a test for the contract of 1487 to decorate the walls of the Strozzi chapel in Santa Maria Novella; suggests that the flat architectural background was influenced by contemporary relief sculpture.
Bernhard Berenson. Pitture italiane del rinascimento. Milan, 1936, p. 246.
A Catalogue of Paintings in the Bache Collection. under revision. New York, 1937, unpaginated, no. 11, ill.
Katharine B. Neilson. Filippino Lippi: A Critical Study. Cambridge, Mass., 1938, pp. 27, 68–72, 76, 114, 116, 119–20, 123, fig. 26, dates it about 1487 and believes it was probably commissioned by Filippo Strozzi, possibly for the oratory at his villa at Santuccio; notes that the background view is influenced by Netherlandish painting; suggests that the picture might derive from Botticelli's "Madonna of the Book" in the Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milan.
George Henry McCall. Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture from 1300–1800: Masterpieces of Art. Ed. William R. Valentiner. Exh. cat., World's Fair. New York, 1939, p. 106, no. 216, dates it about 1487 and states that "it is believed to have been painted on the occasion of the marriage of Filippini Strozzi to Selvaggia de' Gianfigliazzi".
Duveen Pictures in Public Collections of America. New York, 1941, unpaginated, no. 112, ill., dates it about 1487.
Walter Heil. "The Bache Paintings at the Metropolitan." Art News 42 (June–July 1943), p. 11.
A Catalogue of Paintings in the Bache Collection. rev. ed. New York, 1943, unpaginated, no. 10, ill.
Alfred Scharf. Filippino Lippi. Vienna, 1950, pp. 21, 54, no. 57, pl. 57.
Luciano Berti and Umberto Baldini. Filippino Lippi. Florence, 1957, pp. 84–85, no. 52.
Federico Zeri. "Rivedendo Piero di Cosimo." Paragone 9 (July 1959), p. 45, dates it about 1485.
Carlo L. Ragghianti. "Filippino Lippi a Lucca, l'Altare Magrini: nuovi problemi, nuove soluzioni." Critica d'arte 7 (January–February 1960), pp. 16–17, fig. 21 [reprinted in "Studi lucchesi," ed. Gigetta Dalli Regoli, (1990?), p. 190], dates it 1484–85.
Bernard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Florentine School. London, 1963, vol. 1, p. 110.
Luigi Grassi. Piero di Cosimo e il problema della conversione al Cinquecento nella pittura fiorentina ed emiliana. Rome, 1963, p. 38.
Mina Bacci. Piero di Cosimo. Milan, 1966, p. 66, under no. 3, reports Longhi's opinion that this painting is a replica, only partly by Filippino himself, of a hypothetical original of 1475–80 that inspired Piero di Cosimo's copy in Stockholm.
Everett Fahy. "The 'Master of the Naumburg "Madonna"'." Fogg Art Museum Acquisitions (1966–67), pp. 14, 17, attributes the picture in Mainz to the Master of the Naumburg Madonna.
Federico Zeri with the assistance of Elizabeth E. Gardner. Italian Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Florentine School. New York, 1971, pp. 167–69, ill., date it about 1485 and state that it was probably commissioned by a member of the Strozzi family.
Everett Fahy. "Florentine Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum: An Exhibition and a Catalogue." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 29 (June 1971), p. 434, ill., states that it was commissioned for the Strozzi family.
Everett Fahy. "Letter from New York: Florentine Paintings at the Metropolitan." Apollo 94 (August 1971), p. 152, fig. 5.
Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 106, 325, 608.
Guido Pampaloni. Palazzo Strozzi. Rome, 1974, p. 16, fig. 13 (cropped), believes that it was probably painted for Filippo Strozzi and tentatively agrees with a date of 1487–89.
Mirella Levi d'Ancona. The Garden of the Renaissance: Botanical Symbolism in Italian Painting. Florence, 1977, p. 541.
Rollin van N. Hadley. "What Might Have Been: Pictures Mrs. Gardner Did Not Acquire." Fenway Court (1979), p. 53, no. 73, ill.
J. Russell Sale. Filippino Lippi's Strozzi Chapel in Santa Maria Novella. PhD diss., University of Pennsylvania. New York, 1979, pp. 110, 135 n. 28, fig. 40.
Howard Hibbard. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1980, pp. 234, 237, fig. 416 (color).
Luciano Berti and Umberto Baldini. Filippino Lippi. Florence, 1991, pp. 63, 193, ill. p. 181 (color, reversed), date it about 1487–89, relating it to the artist's Nerli altarpiece in Santo Spirito, Florence, which they date about 1488.
Anna Forlani Tempesti and Elena Capretti. Piero di Cosimo: catalogo completo. Florence, 1996, p. 107, mention it in connection with Piero di Cosimo's version of the composition in Stockholm.
Carmen C. Bambach inThe Drawings of Filippino Lippi and His Circle. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1997, pp. 26–28 n. 8, colorpl. 17, notes that infrared reflectography examination has revealed freehand underdrawing.
Carlo Del Bravo. "Filippino e lo Stoicismo." Artibus et Historiae no. 37 (1998), p. 71.
Jonathan Katz Nelson inFilippino Lippi. Milan, 2004, pp. 412, 467, 575 n. 98, includes it among works of art owned by Filippo Strozzi.
Patrizia Zambrano inFilippino Lippi. Milan, 2004, pp. 35, 227, 302 n. 109, pp. 348–49, no. 33, ill. p. 348 and fig. 23 (color).
Beatrice Paolozzi Strozzi inPalazzo Strozzi: cinque secoli di arte e cultura. Ed. Giorgio Bonsanti. Florence, 2005, pp. 62–63, 104 n. 29, ill. (color).
Amanda Lillie. Florentine Villas in the Fifteenth Century: An Architectural and Social History. Cambridge, 2005, pp. 140, 143, 312 n. 28, figs. 114–15 (overall and detail), identifies it with a Madonna on panel listed in a posthumous inventory of the contents of Filippo Strozzi's (died 1491) villa at Santuccio, in which it is included among objects inherited by Filippo's eldest son, Alfonso; notes that the depiction of the spandrel with the Strozzi device of crescent moons in Lippi's painting corresponds exactly to the "sgraffito" decoration on the spandrels of the entrance loggia at the villa (fig. 96), although the columns and capitals of the painting are less closely related to those existing at Santuccio; adds that the background landscape in the painting is not an exact transcription of the setting of the villa but that the individual elements do relate in a general way to the countryside around Santuccio.
Horton A. Johnson. "The Renaissance Fifth Finger." Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 98 (February 2005), p. 87, fig. 1 (detail).
Dennis Geronimus. Piero di Cosimo: Visions Beautiful and Strange. New Haven, 2006, pp. 188, 328 n. 76, fig. 145.
Edith Gabrielli. Cosimo Rosselli: catalogo ragionato. Turin, 2007, pp. 56–57, 221, notes that the composition inspired Cosimo Rosselli's "Madonna and Child with the Infant Saint John the Baptist" (early 1490s; Musée Fesch, Ajaccio).
Linda Wolk-Simon. "A New Painting by Perino del Vaga for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York." Burlington Magazine 153 (October 2011), p. 644, fig. 4 (color).
Keith Christiansen inFilippino Lippi e Sandro Botticelli nella Firenze del '400. Ed. Alessandro Cecchi. Exh. cat., Scuderie del Quirinale, Rome. Pero (Milan), 2011, pp. 148–51, no. 24, ill. (color, overall and detail), discusses the possible original placement of the painting in the chapel of Filippo Strozzi's villa at Santuccio, dating the work to about 1483–84 and commenting on the lavish use of lapis lazuli.
David Franklin inPiero di Cosimo: The Poetry of Painting in Renaissance Florence. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Art. Washington, 2015, p. 16, fig. 4 (color), compares it with Piero's version in Stockholm.
Alessandro Cecchi inPiero di Cosimo, 1462–1522: pittore eccentrico fra Rinascimento e Maniera. Exh. cat., Galleria degli Uffizi. Florence, 2015, pp. 124, 127–28, 133 n. 11, fig. 5 (color).
Kathryn Calley Galitz. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Masterpiece Paintings. New York, 2016, p. 269, no. 151, ill. pp. 159, 269 (color).
Artist: Filippino Lippi (Italian, Prato ca. 1457–1504 Florence)Date: 1457/58–1504Medium: Metalpoint, highlighted with white gouache, on pink prepared paper (recto); metalpoint, on pink prepared paper (verso)Accession: 36.101.1On view in:Not on view
Artist: Attributed to Filippino Lippi (Italian, Prato ca. 1457–1504 Florence)Date: 1457/58–1504Medium: Pen and brown ink, brush and brown wash, highlighted with white gouacheAccession: 68.204On view in:Not on view
Artist: Filippino Lippi (Italian, Prato ca. 1457–1504 Florence)Date: ca. 1480Medium: Soft metalpoint, highlighted with white gouache (some touches of black chalk probably added by later hand), on ochre prepared paperAccession: 1998.193On view in:Not on view