Madonna and Child with the Infant Saint John the Baptist
Michele da Verona (Michele di Zenone) (Italian, Verona 1470–1536/44 Verona)
probably late 1490s
Tempera and oil on wood
29 x 22 3/4 in. (73.7 x 57.8 cm)
Anonymous Gift, 1927
Not on view
A sharpness of light and hard, almost marble-like surfaces are characteristic of Michele da Verona's work. This is one of the few paintings that can be ascribed to him with confidence. The landscape background is reminiscent of the hills outside Verona.
The Artist: Michele da Verona was just twelve years old when he was registered for the first time in the contrada of San Zeno Superiore in Verona in 1482; he lived in his native city—part of the Venetian state—until his death, as documented by the civil registry and by tax assessment. It is fair to suppose that his first contact with the painters of Venice took place through his Veronese colleague Francesco Bonsignori, who is documented in Mantua in 1477, and also worked in Venice (Giorgio Vasari, Le vite, Florence, 1568, vol. 1, p. 377). Neglected by early biographical sources, from Vasari until the beginning of the eighteenth century, Michele da Verona signed and dated only four works: a Crucifixion for the monastery of San Giorgio in Braida, Verona, now in the Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan (1501); another version, on a smaller scale, for the monastery of Santa Maria in Vanzo, Padua (1505); the fresco decoration of a chapel in the church of Santa Chiara, Verona (1508); and the altarpiece with the Madonna and Child with four saints for the church of Sant’Andrea in Villa Estense, near Padua (1523). Some drawings have also been attributed to Michele—almost certainly correctly; three are in the Lehman Collection (1975.1.382–84).
The Picture: The Madonna, seated on a marble bench, holds the Christ Child, who raises one hand to bless his cousin, Saint John the Baptist, who, holding a cross in one hand, points with the other at Jesus. A violet-colored curtain is drawn back to reveal a serene landscape with a monastery or convent crowning a distant hill. The sharply focused lighting is one of the finest aspects of this work, but the painter has also given particular attention to carefully describing details such as the hair, hands, and faces of the subjects (even the eyelashes have been represented). Although the picture is generally well preserved, it should be noted that conservation undertaken between 1979 and 1981 (see Zeri and Gardner 1986) revealed that the halos of the Virgin and the Christ Child had been repainted. That of the Madonna proved not to be original and was removed; the original halo of the Child was recovered beneath the repainted surface and is now visible, together with that of the infant Saint John the Baptist.
The composition was inspired by several Madonna and Child compositions by Giovanni Bellini that became well-known models for painters active throughout the Venetian state—the Serenissima Repubblica—at the end of the fifteenth century. Indeed, the similarity with certain compositions by Giovanni Bellini is among the reasons for the initial, mistaken attribution to Antonello da Messina, who worked in Venice for a number of years and was both familiar with and influenced by Giovanni Bellini. The picture was acquired by The Met as the work of Antonello (see Bryson Burroughs 1927), an attribution first proposed by Borenius (1922) and Lionello Venturi (1923) and then accepted by a wide range of scholars, including Wilhelm Bode, Max Friedländer, Umberto Gnoli, Roberto Longhi, August Meyer, William R. Valentiner, and Detlef von Hadeln (unpublished opinions in the department files). Alan Burroughs (1927) published the X-rays revealing some minor changes that he felt showed "an artistic individuality of high rank . . . a sensitive and accomplished master."
Notwithstanding the attribution to Antonello—which now seems incomprehensible—Bernard Berenson (1923), writing in an essay intended as a demonstration of critical method, rejected the attribution to Antonello, giving it, instead, to a follower of Bellini; he later (1932, 1936) ascribed it to an anonymous Venetian painter between Giovanni Bellini and Cristoforo Caselli working around 1510. The recognition that the picture was by Michele da Verona is due to Roberto Longhi, who in 1937 wrote to Bryson Burroughs informing him that, contrary to what he had previously thought, the picture could be attributed to Michele da Verona on the basis of a large Crucifixion in the Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan, that is dated 1501 ("A mio parere, l’opera è schiettamente Veronese, e sicuramente di Michele da Verona. A sostegno della mia nuova attribuzione servano confronti con le Marie nella ‘Crocifissione’ di Brera, datata del 1501": on the back of a photo in the Department files). Michele da Verona’s authorship is now almost universally recognized. This was also not the only work to be scrutinized by Longhi, who through private communications to his collaborators and students made a crucial contribution to expanding Michele da Verona’s catalogue (see Vinco 2014).
The controversial critical history of The Met’s painting and in particular its initial attribution to Antonello da Messina is a strong indication of its quality. Most scholars agree that it must have been painted by Michele da Verona during the last decade of the fifteenth century, when the young master was producing his most beautiful paintings, such as the Marriage (Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, inv. 1175) and the signed and dated Crucifixion for the monastery of San Giorgio in Braida in Verona, now in the Pinacoteca di Brera (inv. Gen. 551).
[Mattia Vinco 2016]
?conte Ludovico Moscardo, Verona (by 1672–d. 1681; cat., 1672); ?Moscardo family, Verona (1681–1785); ?Teresa Moscardo, Verona (in 1785); ?Miniscalchi (later Miniscalchi-Erizzo) family, Verona (from 1785); conte Marcantonio Miniscalchi-Erizzo, Verona (by 1881–d. 1906); his son, conte Mario Miniscalchi-Erizzo, Verona; [Giuseppe Grassi, Rome]; [conte Alessandro Contini Bonacossi, Rome, as by Antonello da Messina, until 1922; sold to Agnew]; [Agnew, London and New York, 1922–27; sold to MMA]
Verona. location unknown. "Arte antica e moderna nella occasione della fiera di beneficenza in Verona," February 19–23, 1881, unnumbered cat.? (p. 8, as "Madonna col Bambino e San Giovanni," by an unknown artist [style of Carpaccio], lent by conte Marco Miniscalchi) [see Guzzo 2006].
Palm Beach. Society of the Four Arts. "Early European Paintings," January 7–30, 1949, no. 3.
Verona. Palazzo della Gran Guardia. "Mantegna e le arti a Verona: 1450–1500," September 16, 2006–January 28, 2007, no. 129.
Note overo memorie del museo del conte Lodovico Moscardo nobile veronese. Verona, 1672, part 2, p. 470, under "Di varie pitture, che in questo museo si conservano" lists it as "La Vergine Madre con il Bambino, e S. Giovanni, mano di Francesco Moron Veronese," possibly this picture.
Tancred Borenius. Madonna and Child with the Infant St. John by Antonello da Messina. , pp. 5–7, attributes it to Antonello, noting the influence of Giovanni Bellini.
Bernard Berenson. "Un possibile Antonello da Messina ed uno impossibile." Dedalo 4 (1923), pp. 3, 14–44, ill. p. 13 [reprinted in English in "Three Essays in Method," Oxford, 1927, pp. 87, 92–113, fig. 100], rejects the attribution to Antonello, assigning it to a follower of Giovanni Bellini and dating it after 1500.
Bernard Berenson. "Un possibile Antonello da Messina ed uno impossibile—II." Dedalo 4 (1923), pp. 99–121 [reprinted in English in "Three Essays in Method," Oxford, 1927, pp. 114–30].
Lionello Venturi. "Un Antonello." L'arte 26 (1923), pp. 270–76, fig. 5, attributes it to Antonello.
B[ernard]. Berenson. "Nove pitture in cerca di un'attribuzione." Dedalo 5 (1925), p. 716 [reprinted in "Three Essays in Method," Oxford, 1927, p. 45].
W[ilhelm von]. Bode. Letter to Agnew. September 23, 1926, attributes it to Antonello.
Walter Pach. "A Problem of Modern Criticism." New York Herald Tribune Books (July 10, 1927), pp. 1, 6, ill., accepts Berenson's arguments against attributing the picture to Antonello.
Bryson Burroughs. "Antonello da Messina." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 22 (March 1927), pp. 77–79, ill. [reprinted in Art News 25 (March 26, 1927), pp. 1–2, ill.], attributes it to Antonello and dates it 1475–79.
"Lots of News—at the Metropolitan." Art Digest 1 (April 1, 1927), p. 8.
Alan Burroughs. "X-raying the Veronese and the Antonello." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 22 (July 1927), pp. 192–94, ill. (overall and x-ray detail), discusses changes in the composition revealed in the x-ray.
G[iuseppe]. Fio[cco]. inEnciclopedia italiana di scienze, lettere ed arti. Vol. 8, [Rome], 1930, p. 116, attributes it to Giovanni Buonconsiglio.
Lionello Venturi. Pitture italiane in America. Milan, 1931, unpaginated, pl. CCLXXXI.
Bernhard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Oxford, 1932, p. 592, lists it under unknown Venetian painters of the fifteenth century, ascribing it to an artist between Bellini and Cristoforo Caselli and dating it about 1510.
W. G. Constable. Letter to Harry B. Wehle. January 14, 1932, rejects the attribution to Antonello, and adds that Charles Holmes was also unconvinced by it when he saw the picture in London; feels that the work combines the influence of Giovanni Bellini with that of Antonello.
Lionello Venturi. Italian Paintings in America. Vol. 2, Fifteenth Century Renaissance. New York, 1933, unpaginated, pl. 376.
Johann Lauts. "Antonello da Messina." Jahrbuch der kunsthistorischen Sammlungen in Wien, n.s., 7 (1933), pp. 74–75, fig. 63, as close to the school of the Bellini, about 1500, perhaps by Caselli.
Raimond van Marle. The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting. Vol. 15, The Renaissance Painters of Central and Southern Italy. The Hague, 1934, p. 538 n. 1, rejects the attribution to Antonello.
Bernhard Berenson. Pitture italiane del rinascimento. Milan, 1936, p. 510.
F. Mason Perkins. Letter. March 24, 1938, rejects the attributions to Antonello and Michele, ascribing it to a north Italian artist influenced by Antonello and Giovanni Bellini.
Alan Burroughs. Art Criticism from a Laboratory. Boston, 1938, pp. 96–101, rejects the attribution to Antonello; discusses the possibility that it might be a late work by Caselli.
Stefano Bottari. "Aggiunte al primo Antonello." Le arti 1 (October–November 1938), p. 75, fig. 4, attributes it to a Vicentine painter of the fifteenth century, close to Montagna.
Harry B. Wehle. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Italian, Spanish, and Byzantine Paintings. New York, 1940, p. 135, ill., attributes it to Michele da Verona and dates it about 1490.
Ruth Wedgwood Kennedy. "Review of Wehle 1940." Art Bulletin 24 (June 1942), p. 195, accepts the attribution to Michele da Verona.
Erwin Panofsky. Albrecht Dürer. Princeton, 1943, vol. 1, p. 113; vol. 2, fig. 158, notes the attribution to Michele da Verona and the fact that the theme is central Italian rather than Venetian.
Bernard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Venetian School. London, 1957, vol. 1, p. 61, pl. 526, tentatively lists it as by Caselli.
Fritz Heinemann. Giovanni Bellini e i Belliniani. Venice, , vol. 1, p. 33, no. 123j; vol. 2, fig. 400, considers it derived from a lost painting by Giovanni Bellini and attributes it to Pasqualino Veneziano, influenced by Antonello.
Carlo Del Bravo. Architetti Verona no. 19 (1962), pp. 3–4 [see Ref. Zeri and Gardner 1986], dates it probably 1515–20.
Franco Barbieri, ed. Il Museo Civico di Vicenza: dipinti e sculture dal XIV al XV secolo. Venice, 1962, p. 98, as by Giovanni Buonconsiglio.
Lionello Puppi. "Review of Barbieri 1962." Arte lombarda 8 (1963), p. 303, states that Fiocco's [see Ref. 1930] attribution to Buonconsiglio, taken up by Barbieri, must have been a mistake, since the Museum's catalogues do not record a picture by Buonconsiglio.
Lionello Puppi. "Giovanni Buonconsiglio detto Marescalco." Rivista dell'Istituto Nazionale d'Archeologia e Storia dell'Arte, n.s., 8–9 (1964–65), p. 364 n. 28.
Gabriele Mandel. L'opera completa di Antonello da Messina. Milan, 1967, p. 88, no. 11, ill.
David Alan Brown. "Correggio's 'Virgin and Child with the Infant St. John'." Museum Studies 7 (1972), pp. 11, 13, fig. 9, as attributed to Michele da Verona.
Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 142, 330, 607.
L. Saccomani. "Michele da Verona." PhD diss., Università degli Studi di Padova, 1973–74, pp. 34–48, 138–40 [see Ref. Guzzo 2006].
Carlo Volpe. "Una Madonna di Cristoforo Caselli e un prototipo di Piero per il Veneto." Notizie da Palazzo Albani 12, nos. 1–2 (1983), p. 35 n. 3, attributes it to Michele da Verona.
Ellen Callmann. "Romantic Proclivities in Some Cassoni." Interpretazioni veneziane: studi di storia dell'arte in onore di Michelangelo Muraro. Ed. David Rosand. Venice, 1984, p. 145, figs. 2, 3 (overall and detail), attributes it to an unknown Veronese painter and dates it about 1500; compares it with a tondo of Perseus and Andromeda (Fondazione Giorgio Cini, Venice).
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. 38–39, pl. 32, date it several years earlier than the Brera Crucifixion of 1501.
Sergio Marinelli inLa pittura nel Veneto: il Quattrocento. Ed. Mauro Lucco. Vol. 2, Milan, 1990, p. 645.
Andrea Bacchi inPinacoteca di Brera: scuola veneta. Milan, 1990, p. 356, under no. 190, mentions it as an early work by Michele.
Giorgio Fossaluzza. "Pittori friulani alla bottega di Alvise Vivarini e del Cima." Saggi e memorie di storia dell'arte 20 (1996), pp. 57, 86–87 n. 55.
Enrico Maria Dal Pozzolo. Giovanni Bonconsiglio detto Marescalco: l'opera completa. Cinisello Balsamo (Milan), 1998, p. 210, no. R15, ill., includes it among rejected paintings, attributing it to Michele da Verona.
Enrico Maria Guzzo inMantegna e le arti a Verona: 1450–1500. Ed. Sergio Marinelli and Paola Marini. Exh. cat., Palazzo della Gran Guardia, Verona. Venice, 2006, pp. 384–86, no. 129, ill. (color).
Mattia Vinco. "Gli inizi di Michele da Verona." Proporzioni, n.s., 9–10 (2008–9), p. 44, fig. 47, dates it about 1495.
Mattia Vinco inThe Alana Collection. Ed. Miklós Boskovits. Vol. 2, Italian Paintings and Sculptures from the Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century. Florence, 2011, p. 192.
Mattia Vinco. "Medioevo e Rinascimento veronesi di Roberto Longhi." Predella no. 36 (2014), pp. 19, 25 n. 22, fig. 5 (color) [www.predella.it].