An angel introduces the infant John the Baptist—a patron saint of Florence—to his newborn cousin, Jesus, who is adored by his mother. The soft, diffused light—inspired by the work of the Netherlandish painter Hans Memling—creates a mood of “gentle pietistic reverie” (the critic Roger Fry, writing in 1909).
Several workshop replicas of this important picture (unfortunately abraded by a past harsh cleaning) survive, as well as a related composition by Fra Bartolomeo, who spent time in Credi’s workshop. The frame copies that on one of the replicas. Circular paintings (tondi) were often displayed in bedrooms.
Lorenzo di Credi holds a notable place in the history of Florentine painting in the late fifteenth century. He was closely associated with the sculptor-painter Andrea del Verrocchio, whose workshop was the most prestigious in Florence, attracting artists ranging from Botticelli and Perugino to Leonardo da Vinci. Credi was his trusted, right-hand assistant, taking over direction of the workshop during Verrocchio’s absences and to him is ascribed the execution of an important altarpiece in the cathedral of Pistoia that was commissioned from Verrocchio and had still not been delivered in 1485 because of missing funds. Credi was Verrocchio’s heir and executor at the sculptor-painter’s death in 1488. Under Credi the workshop seems to have specialized in the production of devotional images and it has now been demonstrated that among those who spent time with him was the young Fra Bartolomeo (on this, see Fahy 1969 and 1996). Credi and Fra Bartolomeo both became fervent followers of Savonarola and their religious paintings—including the one catalogued here—need to be evaluated with this in mind. (On Credi's connections with Savonarola's supporters, see F. W. Kent, "Lorenzo di Credi, His Patron Iacopo Bongianni and Savonarola," Burlington Magazine 125 (September 1983), pp. 538–41.)
The Metropolitan’s tondo was purchased in 1909 on the advice of Roger Fry, who that same year published an eloquent article in which he perspicaciously noted Credi’s gift for what he called "gentle pietistic reverie." Remarking that Credi had "neither Verrocchio’s sense of anatomical accent nor Leonardo’s chiaroscuro with its deep psychological import," Fry went on to observe that "the language that was proper to him was that of an earlier day, the language of pure line and brilliant oppositions of pure color, the language of Fra Angelico and the miniaturists." This last observation, which was based entirely on Fry’s formalist appraisal of Credi’s paintings rather than an exploration of his religious beliefs, is especially relevant when the artist’s sympathy for the reforms of Savonarola is taken into account. Fry argued for the importance of the Metropolitan painting and considered it the source for a tondo in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich (no. 1018; see Additional Images, fig. 1) in which a closely similar composition is reversed and the background reconceived. The attribution of that work—long the subject of debate (Dalli Regoli , for example, still considered it to be by Credi)—has now been settled in favor of the young Fra Bartolomeo, working in Credi’s workshop. Fahy (1969), who gives a compelling overview of the relationship between Credi and Fra Bartolomeo, argued for the primacy of the Metropolitan’s tondo, noting that its fame is reflected in a series of copies and variants, including that by Fra Bartolomeo, a tondo in the Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe (in which the composition is in the same sense as that in Munich); a tondo in the Uffizi, Florence (no. 1599); an upright, rectangular panel in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin (no. 100); a tondo sold at Christie’s (November 24, 1967, no. 16); and another in the Gallerie dell’Accademia, Florence (no. 8661). The figures of the Virgin and Child are also related to an altarpiece by Credi, The Adoration of the Shepherds, from the church of Santa Chiara and now in the Uffizi (no. 8399).
An examination of the Metropolitan’s painting in 2014 with infrared reflectography has revealed that the design of the picture was transferred from a pounced cartoon, which could have been used in the workshop for the creation of copies and variants. A tracing was made of the composition and a superposition of this tracing on Fra Bartolomeo’s tondo in the Alte Pinakothek reveals a close match of each of the principal figures—the Virgin, the Christ Child, and the angel—but not for the overall composition: Fra Bartolomeo evidently shifted the tracing for each figure, but from the outset wished to open the space for his larger support. He then elaborated the articulation of the figures free-hand. The chromatic richness and superior quality of the Metropolitan’s picture compared to the related pictures (other than that by Fra Bartolomeo) only became apparent in 2014, with the removal of a dense, tinted varnish that had almost certainly been applied to disguise damages. The delicate effects of light, especially evident in the shadowed interior behind the kneeling Virgin, are clearly inspired by Credi’s study of Netherlandish painting, especially the work of Hans Memling. While there is some pitting throughout the composition and while the face of the angel and the infant Saint John the Baptist have suffered, other areas of the picture were found to be in relatively good condition. It would seem to date from the early 1490s. A drawing of or after the Christ Child, whose typically baby-like pose was a favorite of Credi’s, was known to Dürer, who made a copy of it (Cabinet des Dessins, Musée du Louvre, Paris, R.F. 4662).
[Keith Christiansen 2014]
Frédéric de Reiset, Paris (until d. 1891); his daughter, vicomtesse Adolphe-Louis-Edgar de Ségur-Lamoignon, Paris (1891–at least 1899); her daughter, vicomtesse Achille-Jean-Marie Amelot de la Roussilhe, Paris (1909); [Robert Dell, Paris, 1909; sold to MMA]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Florentine Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum," June 15–August 15, 1971, no catalogue.
R[oger]. E. F[ry]. "A Tondo by Lorenzo di Credi." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 4 (October 1909), pp. 186–88, ill., attributes it to Lorenzo di Credi and dates it between similar compositions in the Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe, and the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin; considers it the original from which a version in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich, was copied.
Robert Dell. Letter to Bryson Burroughs. June 4, 1909, provides provenance information.
Morton H. Bernath. New York und Boston. Leipzig, 1912, p. 72, fig. 73, attributes it to Lorenzo di Credi.
Bryson Burroughs. Catalogue of Paintings. 1st ed. New York, 1914, p. 53, attributes it to Lorenzo di Credi.
Raimond van Marle. The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting. Vol. 13, The Renaissance Painters of Florence in the 15th Century: The Third Generation. The Hague, 1931, pp. 294–95, fig. 203, attributes it to Lorenzo di Credi and dates it before 1510.
Bernhard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Oxford, 1932, p. 297, lists it as a work painted in great part by Lorenzo di Credi.
Bernhard Degenhart. "Die Schüler des Lorenzo di Credi." Münchner Jahrbuch der bildenden Kunst, n.s., 9 (1932), pp. 131, 160, lists as a late work by Lorenzo di Credi, dating it in the sixteenth century.
Bernhard Berenson. Pitture italiane del rinascimento. Milan, 1936, p. 255.
Moritz Hauptmann. Der Tondo: Ursprung, Bedeutung und Geschichte des italienischen Rundbildes in Relief und Malerei. Frankfurt, 1936, p. 206, calls it a later variation of the Karlsruhe tondo, and believes it may be by Credi's own hand except for the oversimplified background; dates it about 1490 and refers to a Dürer drawing of 1495 that shows the Child in the same pose.
Harry B. Wehle. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Italian, Spanish, and Byzantine Paintings. New York, 1940, p. 55, ill., as "Madonna Adoring the Child with the Infant Saint John the Baptist and an Angel".
Bernard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Florentine School. London, 1963, vol. 1, p. 116.
Gigetta Dalli Regoli. Lorenzo di Credi. Milan, 1966, pp. 62–63, 159–60, no. 127, fig. 167, attributes it to Lorenzo di Credi, suggesting that it may be the earliest version from a group of Adoration tondi (Alte Pinakothek, Munich; Galleria Borghese, Rome; Galleria degli Uffizi and Fondazione Horne, Florence).
Everett Fahy. "The Earliest Works of Fra Bartolommeo." Art Bulletin 51 (June 1969), p. 144, n. 9, suggests that it may be the prototype for a tondo (Alte Pinakothek, Munich) that he attributes to the early period of Fra Bartolomeo, showing the same composition in reverse.
Anabel Humphreys. "Credi, Tommaso and a York Tondo." Preview 22 (April 1969), pp. 787–88, lists eight works attributed to Lorenzo di Credi, his school, or "Tommaso" (a personality identified by Berenson and listed in Refs. Berenson 1932 and 1963) that she believes depend closely on the MMA tondo.
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. 157–58, ill., note that the theme was often repeated in the workshop of Lorenzo di Credi; attribute it in great part to Credi himself with some details possibly executed by helpers.
Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 110, 344, 606.
John Pope-Hennessy. "Roger Fry and The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Oxford, China, and Italy: Writings in Honour of Sir Harold Acton on his Eightieth Birthday. Ed. Edward Chaney and Neil Ritchie. London, 1984, p. 234.
Emmanuel Starcky inDessins de Dürer et de la Renaissance germanique dans les collections publiques parisiennes. Exh. cat., Musée du Louvre. Paris, 1991, p. 46, under no. 32.
Everett Fahy inL'età di Savonarola: Fra Bartolomeo e la scuola di San Marco. Ed. Serena Padovani. Exh. cat., Palazzo Pitti, Florence. Venice, 1996, p. 6, fig. 2.
Hélène Grollemund inDürer e l'Italia. Ed. Kristina Herrmann Fiore. Exh. cat., Scuderie del Quirinale, Rome. Milan, 2007, p. 223, under no. IV.2.
In conjunction with the conservation work undertaken in 2014, a copy of the original frame on the copy of the picture in the Uffizi (inv. no. 1599) was commissioned. The frame was hand-carved and gilded in Florence (see Additional Images, fig. 3).
Artist: Attributed to Lorenzo di Credi (Lorenzo d'Andrea d'Oderigo) (Italian, Florence 1456/59–1536 Florence)Date: late 15th–early 16th centuryMedium: Metalpoint, heightened with white, on pink prepared paper; profile retouched in brownish chalk, hair retouched in black chalk, and highlights added to bust, all by a later hand.Accession: 1975.1.413On view in:Not on view
Artist: School of Lorenzo di Credi (Lorenzo d'Andrea d'Oderigo) (Italian, Florence 1456/59–1536 Florence)Date: early 16th centuryMedium: Pen and brown ink, traces of white, over red chalk underdrawing of the Madonna.Accession: 1975.1.371On view in:Not on view