The composition of this touching image, which may date to about 1454, is inspired by the sculpture of Donatello, who worked at Padua between 1443 and 1453. Its emotional intensity is compromised by abrasion to the paint surface (the face of the Virgin is almost obliterated). Only the cherubim on the right are well preserved. The illusionism of the arched setting is typical of Mantegna’s desire to break through the picture plane and invade the space of the viewer.
The Madonna protectively embracing the Christ Child is shown behind an arched marble opening surrounded by winged seraphim (red) and cherubim (lavender). An illusionistic play is established by the extended legs of the Child. This kind of illusionism was characteristic of Mantegna and is, notably, found in his early painting of Saint Mark (Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt) and in the detached fresco of the Assumption of the Virgin in the Eremitani church, Padua, completed prior to 1457.
The picture is badly damaged. Only the cherubim give an idea of the refined elegance of execution; the face of the Virgin has lost all modeling and is defined almost entirely by the underdrawing, which infrared reflectography reveals is free-hand and fully characteristic of the artist. When the picture entered the Museum in 1931 the faces of the Virgin and Child had been heavily reconstructed, which explains why many authors hesitated to ascribe the work to Mantegna. This included Kristeller (1901), who, however, rightly noted that if by Mantegna it had to be an early work. Christiansen (1992) illustrated a detail of the infrared reflectogram—most clearly seen in the seraphim—and dated the picture to about 1454. This dating is accepted by most scholars.
The composition was certainly inspired by the sculptural reliefs of Donatello, who worked in Padua between 1443 and 1453. Variant compositions by followers are in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, and the Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa. They substitute the illusionistic opening for a more conventional parapet and rearrange the child’s legs.
[Keith Christiansen 2011]
J. Stirling Dyce, London (in 1891); Charles Butler, London and Warren Wood, Hatfield, Hertfordshire (by 1901–4; sold to Agnew); [Agnew, London, 1904–5; sold to Thomson]; Mrs. James Thomson (from 1905); Dr. Hans Wendland, Basel (until 1926; sold to Kleinberger); [Kleinberger, New York, 1926; sold for $33,000 to Friedsam]; Michael Friedsam, New York (1926–d. 1931)
London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Winter Exhibition," January–March 1891, no. 152 (as by Mantegna, lent by J. Stirling Dyce).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Michael Friedsam Collection," November 15, 1932–April 9, 1933, no catalogue.
London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Andrea Mantegna," January 17–April 5, 1992, no. 12.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Andrea Mantegna," May 5–July 12, 1992, no. 12.
Padua. Musei Civici agli Eremitani. "Mantegna e Padova: 1445–1460," September 16, 2006–January 14, 2007, no. 28.
Paul Kristeller. Andrea Mantegna. London, 1901, pp. 120, 123, 437, no. 3, fig. 50 [German ed., 1902, pp. 127, 130–31, 459, fig. 49], as in the collection of Charles Butler, London; states that because of the poor condition of the painting, it is impossible to attribute it with certainty to Mantegna, but that if it is by him, it is very early; compares it with the Madonna and Child in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, which he attributes to Mantegna, and with the work of Jacopo Bellini; lists it as from the Barbieri and Fusaro collections.
Charles Yriarte. Mantegna. Paris, 1901, p. 209, ill. opp. p. 208, as in the collection of Charles Butler, London; attributes it to Mantegna and calls it an early work.
Fritz Knapp. Andrea Mantegna. Stuttgart, 1910, pp. 179, 183–84, 187, ill. p. 158, attributes it to an imitator of Mantegna.
A[dolfo]. Venturi. "La pittura del Quattrocento." Storia dell'arte italiana. Vol. 7, part 3, Milan, 1914, pp. 271, 308, 322, 356, attributes it to an early follower of Mantegna, comparing it with the Berlin Madonna, which he also attributes to a follower, and noting a connection with Bartolomeo Vivarini's Madonna in the museum in Sassari, Sardinia; suggests that all three works derive from a lost prototype by Mantegna.
Max J. Friedländer. Letter. December 10, 1924 [see Ref. Collection of Ancient Paintings 1925], attributes it to Mantegna.
A Collection of Ancient Paintings, Objects of Art and Modern Paintings. New York, 1925, unpaginated, unnumbered, ill., as by Mantegna.
Bernard Berenson. Letter to Kleinberger. November 24, 1925.
B[ernard]. Berenson. Letter to Michael Friedsam. March 28, 1926.
William B. M'Cormick. "America Has a New Andrea Mantegna." International Studio 83 (March 1926), pp. 62–63, ill., attributes it to Mantegna.
Erich v[on]. d[er]. Bercken. Malerei der Renaissance in Italien: Die Malerei der Früh- und Hochrenaissance in Oberitalien. Potsdam, 1927, pp. 125–26, fig. 134, as in a private collection, Basel; attributes it to Mantegna and calls it one of his earliest works.
Ella S. Siple. "Recent Acquisitions by American Collectors." Burlington Magazine 51 (December 1927), p. 298, pl. IA, calls it "attributed to Mantegna".
Bernard Berenson in The Michael Friedsam Collection. [completed 1928], pp. 77–78, attributes it to Mantegna and dates it about 1460; notes the influence of Donatello and Jacopo Bellini.
Bernhard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Oxford, 1932, p. 328, lists it as an early work by Mantegna.
Bryson Burroughs and Harry B. Wehle. "The Michael Friedsam Collection: Paintings." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 27, section 2 (November 1932), p. 34, no. 55, ill. p. 37, as attributed to Mantegna.
Bernhard Berenson. Pitture italiane del rinascimento. Milan, 1936, p. 291.
Raimond van Marle. The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting. Vol. 18, The Renaissance Painters of Venice. The Hague, 1936, pp. 95–96, attributes it to Mantegna and suggests that it might have served as the model for the Berlin Madonna; mentions it again as a separate work formerly in the Butler collection, "a free but rather ruined copy".
Giuseppe Fiocco. Mantegna. Milan, , pp. 32, 201, pl. 34a, attributes it to Mantegna and dates it about 1454, the year of Mantegna's marriage to the daughter of Jacopo Bellini; calls the Berlin Madonna a much later caricature of it; states that it is possibly the work formerly in the Fusaro collection, Padua.
F. Mason Perkins. Letter. March 24, 1938, judging from a photograph, writes that if the face of the Madonna is restored then the work may be by Mantegna.
George M. Richter. "A Mantegna Problem." Apollo 29 (February 1939), pp. 63, 65, attributes it to Mantegna and calls it an early work.
Harry B. Wehle. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Italian, Spanish, and Byzantine Paintings. New York, 1940, pp. 128–29, ill., attributes it to the workshop of Mantegna and dates it to his earliest period.
William E. Suida. "Mantegna and Melozzo." Art In America 34 (April 1946), p. 61, fig. 2, attributes it to Mantegna.
E. Tietze-Conrat. Mantegna: Paintings, Drawings, Engravings. London, 1955, p. 191, fig. 3, rejects the attribution to Mantegna.
Paolo d'Ancona. Mantegna. 2nd ed. Milan, , p. 18, attributes it to Mantegna and dates it just before 1490, noting that it refers to an earlier typology.
Renata Cipriani. Tutta la pittura del Mantegna. Milan, 1956, pp. 52–53, pl. 32, attributes it to Mantegna; dates it probably to the time of the fresco of the Baptism of Hermogenes (1450–51) in the church of the Eremitani, Padua; identifies it as possibly the work from the Fusaro collection.
Millard Meiss. Andrea Mantegna as Illuminator. New York, 1957, p. 27.
Giovanni Paccagnini et al. Andrea Mantegna. Exh. cat., Palazzo Ducale, Mantua. Venice, 1961, p. 23, no. 11, fig. 20, attributes it at least in part to Mantegna and notes that if it does date from about 1454 [see Ref. Fiocco 1937], it could be the result of a collaboration between Mantegna and the Bellini.
Gaetano Andrisani. "Il genio pittorico di Andrea." Arte cristiana 49 (September 1961), p. 214.
Stefano Bottari. "Le mostre del Mantegna e del Crivelli." Arte veneta 15 (1961), p. 313, attributes it to Mantegna.
Edoardo Arslan. "Il Mantegna a Mantova." Commentari 12 (July–September 1961), p. 165, considers it an early work by Mantegna influenced by Jacopo Bellini.
Giovanni Mariacher. "Commento alla mostra di Andrea Mantegna." Acropoli 2, no. 3 (1961–62), p. 205, finds the Madonna closer to Bellini than Mantegna.
Giovanni Paccagnini. Andrea Mantegna. Milan, 1961, p. 23, colorpl. 92.
Carlo L. Ragghianti. "Codicillo mantegnesco." Critica d'arte 9 (July–August 1962), pp. 26, 40 n. 2, finds it too damaged to make an attribution.
Creighton Gilbert. "The Mantegna Exhibition." Burlington Magazine 104 (January 1962), pp. 6, 9, relates it to the Saint Luke polyptych (commissioned 1453; Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan) and the Saint Eufemia (1454; Museo di Capodimonte, Naples), calling the angels "shop work" and noting that the Madonna's face is repainted, but finding the Child very close to the figure of Saint Scolastica in the Saint Luke polyptych.
Roberto Longhi. "Crivelli e Mantegna: Due mostre interferenti e la cultura artistica nel 1961." Paragone 13 (January 1962), p. 17, pl. 19a, attributes it to Mantegna, and identifies the angels as seraphim rather than cherubim; suggests that it depends on a lost prototype by Giovanni Bellini, comparing it with the Berlin Madonna, which he attributes to Lazzaro Bastiani, and with a Madonna and Child formerly in the Steffanoni collection, Bergamo (pl. 19b), which he thinks may be an early work by Bartolomeo Vivarini.
Rodolfo Pallucchini. I Vivarini. Venice, , pp. 40–41, considers it the prototype for the Berlin Madonna, which he attributes to Bartolomeo Vivarini.
Renata Cipriani. All the Paintings of Mantegna. New York, 1963, vol. 1, pp. 16–17, 52–53, pl. 31.
Ettore Camesasca. Mantegna. Milan, 1964, pp. 16–17, 114, pl. 19, attributes it to Mantegna and mistakenly states that it may be the work formerly in the Fusaro collection; tentatively accepts a date of about 1450.
Niny Garavaglia inL'opera completa del Mantegna. Milan, 1967, p. 93, no. 19, ill. [English ed., "The Complete Paintings of Mantegna," New York, (1970/71), p. 93, no. 19, ill.], indicates that it is "currently attributed" to Mantegna; finds a date of 1454 the most likely; mistakenly connects it with the ex-Fusaro painting.
Bernard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Central Italian and North Italian Schools. London, 1968, vol. 1, p. 240.
Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 118, 322, 607.
John Pope-Hennessy. "The Madonna Reliefs of Donatello." Apollo 103 (March 1976), pp. 177–78 [repr. in "The Study and Criticism of Italian Sculpture," New York, 1980, p. 82], attributes it to Mantegna and dates it about 1460; states that the composition derives from a terracotta relief by Donatello in the Bode Museum, Berlin.
Robert Oertel and Hans-Joachim Eberhardt inCatalogue of Paintings, 13th–18th Century. 2nd, rev. ed. Berlin-Dahlem, 1978, p. 47, under no. 27, assign it to Mantegna's circle.
Federico Zeri with the assistance of Elizabeth E. Gardner. Italian Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, North Italian School. New York, 1986, pp. 33–35, pl. 16, attribute it to Mantegna and date it to the mid-1450s; relate it to Mantegna's fresco of the Assumption of the Virgin in the Eremitani, Padua, of 1454–56 and see the influence of Jacopo Bellini in the dotted gold highlights; identify the angels to the left of the Madonna as seraphim and those to the right as cherubim; state that the Berlin Madonna and a work in the Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa (formerly Fusaro collection), derive from the MMA painting.
Ronald Lightbown. Mantegna. Oxford, 1986, p. 477, no. 165, pl. 195, rejects the attribution to Mantegna.
Keith Christiansen inLa pittura in Italia: il Quattrocento. Ed. Federico Zeri. revised and expanded ed. [Milan], 1987, vol. 1, p. 142.
Mauro Lucco inLa pittura nel Veneto: il Quattrocento. Ed. Mauro Lucco. Vol. 2, Milan, 1990, p. 424.
Alberta De Nicolò Salmazo inLa pittura nel Veneto: il Quattrocento. Ed. Mauro Lucco. Vol. 2, Milan, 1990, p. 496.
Keith Christiansen inAndrea Mantegna. Exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts, London. New York, 1992, pp. 71, 139, 141, 153, 205, no. 12, ill. p. 140 (color) and fig. 26 (detail, infrared reflectography) [British ed., London, 1992], attributes it to Mantegna and dates it about 1454, calling it the artist's earliest surviving painting of this subject; notes that the panel has been cropped and probably originally included the outer edge of the arch; supports the attribution to Mantegna with evidence of the artist's freehand underdrawing; calls Donatello's Berlin relief [see Ref. Pope-Hennessy 1976] "almost certainly" the source of the composition.
Alberta De Nicolò Salmazo. Il soggiorno padovano di Andrea Mantegna. Padua, 1993, p. 72–76, 80, 120 n. 362, fig. 74, attributes it to Mantegna and dates it about 1454–55.
Gabriele Finaldi inThe Dictionary of Art. Ed. Jane Turner. Vol. 20, New York, 1996, p. 309, dates it to the 1450s.
Matteo Ceriana. "Una nuova opera di Pietro Lombardo." Venezia arti 11 (1997), p. 142 n. 24.
Miklós Boskovits inItalian Paintings of the Fifteenth Century. Washington, 2003, p. 100 n. 25, dates it to the mid-1450s, mentioning the Child as a model for the one in Francesco Benaglio's Madonna and Child of the late 1460s in the National Gallery of Art, Washington.
David Alan Brown inItalian Paintings of the Fifteenth Century. Washington, 2003, pp. 430–31 n. 13, compares the spherical head of the Christ Child in this picture, and also the cherub to the left of him, with the head of the "Infant Savior" of about 1460 in the National Gallery of Art, Washington.
Alberta De Nicolò Salmazo. Andrea Mantegna. Milan, 2004, pp. 118, 120–21, 240, 289 n. 243, no. 20, ill.
Giorgio Marini inMantegna e le arti a Verona: 1450–1500. Ed. Sergio Marinelli and Paola Marini. Exh. cat., Palazzo della Gran Guardia, Verona. Venice, 2006, p. 234, under no. 23.
Silvia Fumian et al. inMantegna e Padova: 1445–1460. Ed. Davide Banzato et al. Exh. cat., Musei Civici agli Eremitani, Padua. Milan, 2006, pp. 15, 198–99, 244, no. 28, ill. (color), date it about 1453–54.
Mauro Lucco inGiovanni Bellini. Ed. Mauro Lucco and Giovanni Carlo Federico Villa. Exh. cat., Scuderie del Quirinale, Rome. Cinisello Balsamo, Milan, 2008, pp. 134, 144, relates the heads of the cherubim to that of the Christ Child in Bellini's Madonna and Child in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Madonna's white veil to that in Bellini's Madonna and Child in the Robert Lehman Collection (MMA 1975.1.81).
Esther Moench inMantegna, 1431–1506. Ed. Giovanni Agosti and Dominique Thiébaut. Exh. cat., Musée du Louvre. Paris, 2008, p. 88, relates it to Antonio Vivarini's "Holy Family" (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Strasbourg) of about 1455, noting that the MMA work is generally dated 1453–54.
Keith Christiansen. "The Genius of Andrea Mantegna." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 67 (Fall 2009), p. 35, fig. 37 (color).
Michel Hochmann. Colorito: La technique des peintres vénitiens à la Renaissance. Turnhout, 2015, p. 40.