Among the most celebrated painters of his day, Michelino da Besozzo worked for the ruler of Milan as well as in Venice. This is one of only two panel paintings certainly by him. The surface is damaged. The packed composition is laid out much like his work in illuminated manuscripts, and the comical reactions of the rejected suitors reveal the humorous vein of his art that captivated contemporaries.
Beneath a curiously distended double arch of the nave of a church illuminated with bottle glass windows, the Virgin demurely extends her hand, on which a bearded Joseph places a ring rendered in raised, gilded pastiglia—the same technique used for the collar of the officiating priest and for the haloes decorated with pseudo-Kufic lettering. According to the Golden Legend, all of the Virgin’s suitors had been obliged to deposit their staffs in the Temple; Joseph’s alone flowered and he thereby gained the privilege of marrying the Virgin. He holds his staff, on which—in unprecedented fashion—the dove of the Holy Spirit is perched. Michelino was celebrated for his depiction of animals and the dove is rendered in decisively more naturalistic terms than the figures. Younger, rejected suitors express their frustration and anger with intentionally comic gestures and actions, such as the one who bites his staff. We know from the writing of fifteenth-century humanists how much such details were appreciated. The space is inconsistent: while the figural group clearly stands behind the right hand pilaster supporting the arch, they are in front of its matching column. Moreover, above the smaller arch the roofline drops to reveal a rectangular area of gold. These conventions are similar to traditions of illuminated manuscripts, which is not surprising since it was as an illuminator that Michelino was above all famous; there are comparisons for the style of the MMA panel in a book of hours in the Morgan Library, New York (Ms. 944; see Eisler 1981). The MMA picture and another showing the Madonna and Child with Saints Catherine, Anthony Abbot, and John the Baptist (Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena) are the only two extant panel paintings by Michelino, who enjoyed a reputation as the most famous painter of his day: he was extravagantly praised by the Milanese court humanist, Umberto Decembrio, and the Duke of Berry’s agent declared him to be "the most excellent painter among all the painters of the world". Michelino’s center of activity was in Milan, but he also worked in Venice, where he is documented in 1410 and 1414, and the Veneto, where, in Vicenza, he decorated with frescoes the tombs of Marco and Giovanni Thiene in the church of Santa Corona. Few works are documented and his chronology is therefore uncertain. Opinions about the date of the MMA panel vary, but most scholars date it to the 1430s; it is almost certainly later than the panel in Siena. Whether it was painted in Milan or in Venice or the Veneto cannot be established with certainty. The figure of the Virgin was copied into an album—a taccuino di viaggio (for which see, inter alias, Degenhart and Schmitt 1960 and Fossi Todorow 1966). Keith Christiansen (Gentile da Fabriano, Ithaca, N.Y., 1982, p. 148) believes the Bacri drawing comes from an album by a pupil of Pisanello.
The condition is seriously compromised by abrasion due to harsh cleanings in the past.
[Keith Christiansen 2011]
[Luigi Grassi, Florence, ?in 1924]; ?[conte Alessandro Contini Bonacossi, Rome]; Maitland F. Griggs, New York (by 1926–d. 1943)
New York. Century Association. "Italian Primitive Paintings," February 15–March 12, 1930, no. 25 (lent by Maitland Fuller Griggs) [see Zeri and Gardner 1986].
Milan. Palazzo Reale. "Arte lombarda dai Visconti agli Sforza," April 1–June 30, 1958, no. 156.
Milan. Palazzo Reale. "Arte lombarda dai Visconti agli Sforza: Milano al centro dell'Europa," March 12–June 28, 2015, no. III.6.
Raimond van Marle. The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting. Vol. 7, Late Gothic Painting in North Italy. The Hague, 1926, p. 136, calls it close to Michelino, but not by him; notes that it was for sale in Florence in April 1924.
Mary Logan Berenson. Letter. January 18, 1927, citing her husband's opinion, writes that "the 'Sposalizio' would be by Stefano da Zevio if it were quite certainly Italian, but it has a more Northern look".
Raimond van Marle. "Un quadro di Michelino da Besozzo; due miniature di Nicolò da Bologna." Cronache d'arte 4 (September–October 1927), pp. 398, 403, fig. 2, as in the Griggs collection; attributes it to Michelino and notes the influence of Franco-Flemish art.
Lionello Venturi. Pitture italiane in America. Milan, 1931, unpaginated, pl. CVII.
Bernhard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Oxford, 1932, p. 550, attributes it to Stefano da Zevio.
Lionello Venturi. Italian Paintings in America. Vol. 1, Romanesque and Gothic. New York, 1933, unpaginated, pl. 130.
P[ietro]. Toe[sca]. inEnciclopedia italiana di scienze, lettere ed arti. Vol. 23, Rome, 1934, p. 200, ill., as formerly in the Grassi collection, Florence.
Roberto Longhi. Lecture. 1935–36 [published in Ref. Longhi 1973], attributes it to Michelino and notes the odd detail of the dove of the Holy Spirit perched on the blooming staff of Saint Joseph.
Bernhard Berenson. Pitture italiane del rinascimento. Milan, 1936, p. 473.
Alfred M. Frankfurter. "The Maitland F. Griggs Collection." Art News 35 (May 1, 1937), p. 156, ill. p. 42.
Charles Sterling. La peinture française: Les primitifs. Paris, 1938, p. 64, fig. 61, dates it to the beginning of the fifteenth century; notes the influence of Franco-Flemish painting.
Arthur van Schendel. Le dessin en Lombardie jusqu'à la fin du XVe siècle. Brussels, 1938, p. 73.
Francis Henry Taylor. "The Maitland F. Griggs Collection." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 2 (January 1944), ill. p. 156.
Bernhard Degenhart. "Eine lombardische Kreuzigung." Proporzioni 3 (1950), p. 65, fig. 12, erroneously as still in the Griggs collection.
C[ostantino]. Baroni and S[ergio]. Samek Ludovici. La pittura lombarda del Quattrocento. Messina, 1952, p. 51, question the attribution to Michelino.
Franco Mazzini. "Un affresco inedito e il primo tempo di Michelino da Besozzo." Arte lombarda 1 (1955), pp. 44, 50 nn. 14, 19, fig. 10, dates it to the mid-1430s.
Mario Salmi inStoria di Milano. Vol. 6, Il Ducato Visconteo e la Repubblica Ambrosiana (1392–1450). [Milan], 1955, p. 804, ill. p. 807, calls it a late work.
Rosy Schilling. "Ein Gebetbuch des Michelino da Besozzo." Münchner Jahrbuch der bildenden Kunst, 3rd ser., 8 (1957), pp. 70, 80 n. 28, compares it with Michelino's illumination of the Presentation in the Temple (now Morgan Library, New York); doubts that it is a late work.
Roberto Longhi. "Una cornice per Bonifacio Bembo." Paragone 8 (March 1957), pp. 8, 10, notes the influence of Giusto de' Menabuoi's Marriage of the Virgin in a triptych in the National Gallery, London.
Roberto Longhi inArte lombarda dai Visconti agli Sforza. Exh. cat., Palazzo Reale. Milan, 1958, p. XXVIII [repr. in 'Aspetti dell'antica arte lombarda,' "Paragone" 9 (May 1958), p. 15].
Franco Mazzini inArte lombarda dai Visconti agli Sforza. Exh. cat., Palazzo Reale. Milan, 1958, pp. 53–54, no. 156, colorpl. opp. pl. LXIV, dates it to the 1430s.
Franco Mazzini. "Pittori del Tre e Quattrocento alla mostra 'Arte lombarda dai Visconti agli Sforza'." Arte lombarda 3, no. 1 (1958), p. 84.
Maria Luisa Gengaro. "Breve percorso tra gli anonimi lombardi del Quattrocento." Arte lombarda 3, no. 2 (1958), p. 73.
Luigi Coletti. "La mostra da Altichiero a Pisanello." Arte veneta 12 (1958), p. 245.
Roberto Longhi. "Aspetti dell'antica arte lombarda." Paragone 9 (May 1958), p. 15.
Introduction by Gian Alberto Dell'Acqua inArte lombarda dai Visconti agli Sforza. Milan, 1959, pp. 57–58, 60, pl. 68, dates it to the late 1430s, comparing it with frescoes in the Palazzo Borromeo, Milan.
Edoardo Arslan. Le pitture del duomo di Milano. Milan, , p. 13, mistakenly calls it the Presentation in the Temple.
Bernhard Degenhart and Annegrit Schmitt. "Gentile da Fabriano in Rom und die Anfänge des Antikenstudiums." Münchner Jahrbuch der bildenden Kunst, 3rd ser., 11 (1960), p. 84, fig. 37 (detail), identify a copy after the figure of the Virgin in a drawing (Bacri collection, Paris) they attribute to Pisanello.
Angela Ottino della Chiesa. Pittura lombarda del Quattrocento. Bergamo, 1961, pp. 26, 30, dates it about 1440.
Millard Meiss. "An Early Lombard Altarpiece." Arte antica e moderna nos. 13/16 (1961), pp. 125, 131 n. 3.
Roberto Longhi. "Qualche aggiunta antologica al 'Gotico internazionale' in Italia." Paragone 13 (November 1962), pp. 77–78, notes the poor condition.
Franco Mazzini. "Note di pittura lombarda tardogotica: Un contributo a Michelino da Besozzo." Arte lombarda 7 (1962), p. 33.
Franco Mazzini inAffreschi lombardi del Quattrocento. Milan, 1965, pp. 423, 425–27.
Annegrit Schmitt. Disegni del Pisanello e di maestri del suo tempo. Exh. cat., Fondazione Giorgio Cini. [Venice], 1966, p. 21, under no. 3, calls it a late work.
Maria Fossi Todorow. I disegni del Pisanello e della sua cerchia. Florence, 1966, p. 142, under no. 215, p. 152, under no. 258, does not think the figure of the Virgin in the Bacri drawing [see Ref. Degenhart and Schmitt 1960] is by Pisanello.
Stella Matalon. Michelino da Besozzo e l''ouvraige de Lombardie'. Milan, 1966, unpaginated, ill. (overall and detail), colorpls. XVI–XVII (detail on cover), calls it a late work.
Liana Castelfranchi Vegas revised by D. Talbot Rice inInternational Gothic Art in Italy. Leipzig, 1966, pp. 23, 169, fig. 27 (color), calls it "the last certain work of Michelino that we have," dating it about 1420–30.
Bernard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Central Italian and North Italian Schools. London, 1968, vol. 1, p. 274, lists it as a late work by Michelino.
Mirella Levi d'Ancona. The Wildenstein Collection of Illuminations: The Lombard School. Florence, 1970, p. 11.
Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 27, 300, 608.
Roberto Longhi. Opere complete di Roberto Longhi. Vol. 6, Lavori in Valpadana dal Trecento al primo Cinquecento: 1934–1964. Florence, 1973, pp. 138, 239, 257, 259, 263–64, reprints text of Refs. 1935–36, 1957, 1958, and 1962.
Carlo Pirovano. La pittura in Lombardia. Milan, 1973, p. 48, dates it about 1440.
Liana Castelfranchi Vegas. "Il Libro d'Ore Bodmer di Michelino da Besozzo e i rapporti tra miniatura francese e miniatura lombarda agli inizi del Quattrocento." Études d'art français offertes à Charles Sterling. Ed. Albert Châtelet and Nicole Reynaud. Paris, 1975, p. 95, agrees with Schilling [see Ref. 1957] that it is not a late work.
Piero Torriti. La Pinacoteca Nazionale di Siena: I dipinti dal XII al XV secolo. Genoa, 1977, p. 238, under no. 171, considers it earlier than the Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine (Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena), which he dates about 1420.
Colin Eisler. The Prayer Book of Michelino da Besozzo. New York, [1981?], p. 12.
Filippo Todini. "Dipinti su tavola del primo Quattrocento in Lombardia." Il polittico degli Zavattari in Castel Sant'Angelo: Contributi per la pittura tardogotica lombarda. Exh. cat., Castel Sant'Angelo, Rome. Florence, 1984, p. 58–59, fig. 44.
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. 39–40, pl. 7, state that it is generally called a late work and relate it to a fresco in the Palazzo Borromeo of about 1445 [see Ref. Dell'Acqua 1959]; connect the oval haloes with Kufic lettering to contemporary Veronese art; discuss the poor state of preservation.
Giuliana Algeri inLa pittura in Italia: il Quattrocento. Ed. Federico Zeri. revised and expanded ed. [Milan], 1987, vol. 1, p. 55; vol. 2, p. 711, dates it after Michelino's stay in Venice, which she believes extended from 1404 to 1414.
Robert Gibbs. "Catarino Veneziano and Michelino da Besozzo: Two New Attributions in Prague." Burlington Magazine 132 (July 1990), p. 486.
Marco Tanzi inLa pittura in Lombardia: il Quattrocento. Ed. Valerio Terraroli. Milan, 1993, p. 118, fig. 111.
Andrew Ladis. "Sources and Resources: The Lost Sketchbooks of Giovanni di Paolo." The Craft of Art: Originality and Industry in the Italian Renaissance and Baroque Workshop. Ed. Andrew Ladis and Carolyn Wood. Athens, Ga., 1995, p. 49.
Giuliana Algeri. "Un 'Boccaccio' pavese del 1401 e qualche nota per Michelino da Besozzo." Arte lombarda 116, no. 1 (1996), p. 48.
Miklós Boskovits. "Le milieu du jeune Pisanello: Quelques problèmes d'attribution." Pisanello. Paris, 1998, vol. 1, p. 99 n. 24, in discussing the chronology of Michelino's works, associates the MMA painting with the book of hours in the Bibliothèque Municipale, Avignon, which he dates to the end of the fourteenth century or the beginning of the fifteenth century.
Miklòs Boskovits. "Pisanello e gli altri: Un bilancio delle ricerche sulla pittura tra Lombardia e Veneto all'inizio del Quattrocento." Arte cristiana 87 (September–October 1999), p. 342 n. 25 [rev. version of Ref. Boskovits 1998].
Keith Christiansen et al. inGentile da Fabriano and the Other Renaissance. Ed. Laura Laureati and Lorenza Mochi Onori. Exh. cat., Spedale di Santa Maria del Buon Gesù, Fabriano. Milan, 2006, p. 26, fig. 9 (color).
Mauro Minardi inGentile da Fabriano: studi e ricerche. Ed. Andrea De Marchi, Laura Laureati, and Lorenza Mochi Onori. Milan, 2006, p. 176.
Jacqueline Marie Musacchio inArt and Love in Renaissance Italy. Ed. Andrea Bayer. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2008, p. 100, fig. 62.
Stefania Buganza. Palazzo Borromeo: la decorazione di una dimora signorile milanese al tramonto del gotico. Milan, 2008, pp. 163–64, 189 n. 139.
Emanuela Daffra and Francesca Tasso. "Filippo Maria Visconti e il corso ininterrotto del gotico in Lombardia." Arte lombarda dai Visconti agli Sforza. Ed. Mauro Natale and Serena Romano. Exh. cat., Palazzo Reale. Milan, 2015, p. 174, ill. p. 190 (color).
Emanuela Daffra inArte lombarda dai Visconti agli Sforza. Ed. Mauro Natale and Serena Romano. Exh. cat., Palazzo Reale. Milan, 2015, p. 225, no. III.6.
Marco Rossi. "Milano 1400." Arte lombarda dai Visconti agli Sforza. Ed. Mauro Natale and Serena Romano. Exh. cat., Palazzo Reale. Milan, 2015, p. 111.
A fine parcel-gilt walnut frame of the sixteenth century with a bead-and-reel decorative motif on the inner molding.
Artist: Circle of Michelino da Besozzo (Michelino de Mulinari) (Italian, Lombardy, active 1388–1450)Date: early 15th centuryMedium: Tip of the brush and brown, gray (both in various shades), and black ink; contours with metalpoint (?or black chalk?); touches of white chalk; brown and light brownish gray wash; on vellum.Accession: 1975.1.402On view in:Not on view