The young Florentine artist Franciabigio shared a workshop near the Palazzo della Signoria with Andrea del Sarto from around 1506. This delicate, fragmentary head of the Madonna relies closely on a painting by del Sarto of the Madonna and Child with the Young Saint John the Baptist that was probably painted around 1508 and hung in the Giustiniani collection in Rome in the seventeenth century. It is a demonstration of the close working relationship between one of the greatest Florentine artists of the sixteenth century and this talented painter. The frame is seventeenth century, probably Bolognese.
This delicately painted fragment of the Madonna’s head has recently been attributed to the Florentine painter Franciabigio (Francesco di Cristofano Giudicis). He and Andrea del Sarto set up a workshop together sometime between 1506 and 1509, and it is to this period, or slightly later, that the painting probably belongs. It closely follows a painting by del Sarto of The Madonna and Child with the Young Saint John the Baptist. Indeed, our painting had long been thought to be a fragment of that work, part of the Giustiniani collection in Rome by 1638 and recorded in an engraving by Cornelis Bloemaert, leading to an attribution to del Sarto himself (Shearman 1964 and 1965, Zeri and Gardner 1971, and Danesi Squarzina 2003 for the Giustiniani inventories). However, it has now been demonstrated that del Sarto’s original exists intact in the Museum of Fine Arts, Perm (Bliznukov 1999). Franciabigio’s version of the Madonna is very close to this example, although the position of the head is slightly shifted and a lacy collar has been added at the neckline (it is possible that the collar is a later addition; see Delahaye 2008). The painting is a demonstration of the close working relationship between del Sarto, one of the greatest of all Florentine artists, and the talented and sensitive painter Franciabigio around the end of the first decade of the sixteenth century. 
?Morisey, Paris; [Kleinberger, Paris and New York, until 1924, as by Franciabigio; sold to Friedsam]; Michael Friedsam, New York (1924–d. 1931)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Michael Friedsam Collection," November 15, 1932–April 9, 1933, no catalogue.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Florentine Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum," June 15–August 15, 1971, no catalogue.
Bernard Berenson. Letter to Mr. Kleinberger. December 28, 1924.
Adolfo Venturi. Storia dell'arte italiana. Vol. 9, part 1, La pittura del cinquecento. Milan, 1925, pp. 430, 432, fig. 315, attributes it to Franciabigio and titles it "Bust of a Female Saint".
Bernard Berenson in The Michael Friedsam Collection. [completed 1928], p. 41, attributes it to Franciabigio and calls it "Head of a Femal Saint"; states that it came from the Morisey collection in Paris.
Bernhard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Oxford, 1932, p. 210, lists it as by Franciabigio and calls it "Head of Madonna".
Bernhard Berenson. Pitture italiane del rinascimento. Milan, 1936, p. 180, erroneously gives the location as Brooklyn.
Harry B. Wehle. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Italian, Spanish, and Byzantine Paintings. New York, 1940, p. 64, ill., attributes it to Franciabigio; identifies it as "Head of a Saint".
Bernard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Florentine School. London, 1963, vol. 1, p. 65.
S[ydney]. J. Freedberg. Andrea del Sarto. Cambridge, Mass., 1963, text vol., fig. 8; catalogue raisonné vol., p. 7, no. 5, lists it as "Female Saint"; notes that, despite damage and abrasion, the "vocabulary of form" is clearly Andrea del Sarto's and may be the result of Andrea's exposure to Franciabigio; dates it about 1508.
Fiorella Sricchia Santoro. "Per il Franciabigio." Paragone 14 (July 1963), p. 22 n. 25, attributes it to the early period of Andrea del Sarto, rejecting the attribution to Franciabigio.
John Shearman. Letter. January 1, 1964, identifies it as a fragment of the work formerly in the Giustiniani collection and engraved by Cornelis Bloemaert; dates it about 1510.
John Shearman. Andrea del Sarto. Oxford, 1965, vol. 1, pp. 28, 35–36, 42, pl. 17b; vol. 2, pp. 202–3, no. 12, notes the Raphaelesque, pyramidal qualities that the original composition had; associates it with Raphael's "Cardellino Madonna" (Uffizi, Florence) observes that our painting represents a period when Andrea's figures become more fluid in articulation and monumental in form, but still shows the hallmark of a young artist; dates it about 1510–11; notes that a "Madonna and Child with Saint John" attributed to Michel Coxcie (sale, Hotel Druout, Paris, May 23, 1903, no. 10) appears to derive from this picture.
Raffaele Monti. Andrea del Sarto. 1981 ed. Milan, 1965, p. 112, fig. 329, considers it a fragment of Andrea's early picture once in the Giustiniani collection and observes similarities to Raphael's work.
Everett Fahy. Letter to Theodore Rousseau. May 29, 1966, notes that a drawing attributed to Sassoferrato in the Royal Library at Windsor is a copy of the complete painting and that there is a painted copy in the British Institute in Florence.
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. 197–98, ill., consider it a fragment of a picture belonging in the seventeenth century to the marchese Vincenzo Giustiniani in Rome, known through an engraving by Cornelis Bloemaert; identify it as from Andrea's early period, reminiscent of the work of both Piero di Cosimo and Franciabigio; date it 1510 or slightly earlier.
Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 8, 546, 607.
Laurence B. Kanter. Unpublished Memo. 1979, rejects the attribution to Andrea del Sarto, arguing instead for re-attribution to Franciabigio based on stylistic grounds; dates it 1507/8, between Franciabigio's "Madonna del Pozzo" and the Ranieri "Holy Family".
Antonio Natali and Alessandro Cecchi. Andrea del Sarto: catalogo completo dei dipinti. Florence, 1989, p. 27, no. 7, ill., links the fragment with the painting of the Madonna with the Christ Child and Young Saint John the Baptist in the Giustiniani collection; concedes that the attribution to Andrea del Sarto is not without doubts since the relationship between Franciabigio and Andrea was very close during their early careers, but points out that the 1638 Giustiniani inventory's attribution to Andrea argues for attributing the painting to him.
Andrei Bliznukov. "Un dipinto ritrovato di Andrea del Sarto." Paragone, 3rd ser., 50 (January 1999), pp. 43–46 n. 13, attributes it to Franciabigio, noting that it was inspired by the painting by Andrea del Sarto formerly in the Giustiniani collection, which he identifies with a work now in the Perm State Art Gallery.
Giulia Fusconi and Angiola Canevari inI Giustiniani e l'Antico. Ed. Giulia Fusconi. Exh. cat., Palazzo Fontana di Trevi. Rome, 2001, p. 423, reject the association of this picture with the painting formerly in the Giustiniani collection, which they identify with the picture in the Museum of Fine Arts, Perm (Russia).
Silvia Danesi Squarzina. La collezione Giustiniani. Turin, 2003, vol. 1, pp. 103–4, publishes the Giustiniani inventories, identifying the "Head of the Madonna" by Andrea del Sarto cited in them as the picture in the Perm State Art Gallery, not the MMA work.
Rose Leroy-Delahaye. E-mail to Keith Christiansen. April 19, 2007, notes that the type of lace on the collar belongs to the late sixteenth or early seventeenth century and cannot be contemporary with the picture.
Marie-Rose Delahaye. "Can We Always Trust Our Eyes? The 'Quest' for Del Sarto's Original Madonna." The Bulletin: International Old Lacers, Inc. 28 (Summer 2008), pp. 12–14, ill. (color, inside front cover).
The frame is from Bologna and dates to about 1600 (see Additional Images, figs. 1–4). This diminutive cassetta frame, never resized, is made of pine. Its carving is softened by the heavy, original water gilded gesso. A laurel leaf sight edge lies within the flat frieze, ornamented with carved rosettes at the corners and paterae flowers encircled with Sansovinesque petals at the centers. Punchwork caliculi arabesques with backgrounds of stars further decorate and texture it. Acanthus leaves delineate the raking rustication carving on the top edge which, after a step, falls back to a hollow at the back edge. It has framed the painting since 1989.
[Timothy Newbery with Cynthia Moyer 2016; further information on this frame can be found in the Department of European Paintings files]