This tenderly poetic picture reveals a side of Poussin not otherwise represented by the Museum’s splendid holdings of this artist. During the 1620s Poussin was especially attracted by Venetian painting, studying Titian’s great mythological compositions, some of which were in aristocratic collections in Rome. He took the inspiration for the fruit-gathering cherubs and the landscape from Titian’s Bacchanals.
This small painting dates from about 1627, several years after Poussin's arrival in Rome in 1624. During the 1620s Poussin was particularly drawn to Venetian painting and the influence of Titian is dominant here. The dramatic alternations of light and shade as well as the hills and sky at the right reflect an awareness of Titian's Bacchanal of the Andrians, and the playful swarms of putti must have been inspired by the remarkable Worship of Venus (both works, in the Aldobrandini collection, Rome, at the time, are now in the Museo del Prado, Madrid).
Poussin produced several related compositions and our picture was long identified with a work recorded in early inventories as in the Filomarino/Duca della Torre collection in Naples, acquired by Cardinal Ascanio Filomarino in 1627. The Filomarino composition, however, known from a drawing by Fragonard and an engraving after it, appeared at Christie's, London, July 11, 2001, as no. 54 (50 x 60 3/4 in.). Other early paintings of this subject are in the Reinhart Collection, Winterthur (34 5/8 x 26 3/8 in.) and in the Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe (39 3/8 x 29 1/2 in.).
Ruotolo (1982) lists two copies of this painting (Museo di Capodimonte, Naples, and Museo Correale di Sorrento) and what appears to be a third replica was in a private collection, Rome, in 1999.
[Mary Sprinson de Jesús 2010]
Giovanni Francesco Salernitano, barone di Frosolone, Naples (by 1648; inv., 1648, no. 8, as "La Madonna con diversi puttini di Munsù Possini D[ucati]. 40.0.0"; probably sold to De Castro); ?Giacomo de Castro, Naples (by ca. 1652; probably sold to Roomer); ?Gaspar Roomer, Naples (probably from 1653–d. 1674; bequeathed to Van den Eynden, son of his former business partner); Ferdinand van den Eynden, Palazzo van den Eynden, Naples (d. 1674; estate held by his widow until 1688 when their three daughters reached marriageable age; inv., 1688, listed in the "Seconda portione delli quadri . . .: Un altro di palmi 2 e 3 in circa con cornice indorata una Madonna che siede sotto un albero, S. Giovanni e puttini che scherzano mano di Monsù Posino fatto con gusto. 500 [ducati]"); his daughter, Giovanna van den Eynden, Palazzo van den Eynden, later called the Palazzo Colonna di Stigliano, who in 1688 married prince Giuliano Colonna di Galatro (from 1688); Colonna di Galatro, later Colonna di Stigliano collection, Naples; private collection, Italy; [Arnold Seligmann, Rey & Co., New York, by 1937–at least 1942]; [Rudolf J. Heinemann, New York, by 1958–d. 1975]; Mrs. Rudolph J. Heinemann, New York (1975–d. 1996)
San Francisco. California Palace of the Legion of Honor. "Seven Centuries of Painting," December 29, 1939–January 28, 1940, no. L-40 (as "The Holy Family," lent by Arnold Seligmann, Rey and Company, New York).
Buffalo. Albright Art Gallery. "Masterpieces of Art," March 20–April 20, 1942, unnumbered cat. (lent by Arnold Seligmann, Rey & Co.).
Paris. Musée du Louvre. "Exposition Nicolas Poussin," May–July 1960, no. 27 (lent by Dr. et Mme Rudolf Heinemann, New York).
Fort Worth. Kimbell Art Museum. "Poussin: The Early Years in Rome," September 24–November 27, 1988, no. 36 (as from a private collection, New York).
Giacomo de Castro. Inventory of Giovanni Francesco Salernitano, barone di Frosolone, 1648. November 16, 1648, no. 8 [Archivio di Stato di Napoli, Marco Antonio Lazzerani, scheda 268, prot. 7, ff. 15–48v; published in G. Labrot, "Italian Inventories, I, Collections of Paintings in Naples, 1600–1780," Munich, 1992, p. 80; Getty no. I-171], as "La Madonna con diversi puttini di Monsù Possini D.40.0.0," apparently this picture.
Luca Giordano. Van den Eynden Estate Inventory. 1688 [Archivio di Stato di Napoli, Notaio Gennaro Palomba, sec. XVII, scheda 648, prot. 42; published in Ref. Ruotolo 1982, pp. 27–39, see p. 31 for mention of the present work], lists "Un altro di palmi 2 e 3 in circa con cornice indorata una Madonna che siede sotto un albero, S. Giovanni e puttini che scherzano mano di Monsù Posino fatto con gusto. 500".
Helen Comstock. "The Connoisseur in America: Loan Exhibition of Old Masters." Connoisseur 109 (July 1942), p. 143, ill., as by Poussin, from about 1635; associates it with his painting of the same subject in the Reinhart collection, Wintherthur, and sees Titian's influence in the figures of the playing putti; notes that the picture comes from a remote private collection in Italy and has never been engraved or even recorded.
Anthony Blunt. "Poussin Studies VII: Poussins in Neapolitan and Sicilian Collections." Burlington Magazine 100 (March 1958), pp. 80–83, 86, ill., dates it about 1630; suggests incorrectly that it may have been one described in several early guidebooks as in the collection of the ducs della Torre, Naples [the della Torre picture, however, has recently come to light, see Notes]; observes that an engraving after Fragonard of the della Torre picture appears in Saint Non's "Voyage Pittoresque," comments on differences between this composition and that of the Heinemann picture and suggests that Fragonard took liberties in reproducing it.
Anthony Blunt inExposition Nicolas Poussin. Exh. cat., Musée du Louvre. Paris, 1960, pp. 65–66, no. 27. ill., dates it about 1630–31, after the Holy Family formerly in the Thyssen collection at Schloss Rohoncz; reiterates his hypothesis that this was the picture in the della Torre collection; remarks that a copy of the MMA picture by an Italian hand (Museo di Capodimonte, Naples, no. 924; 77.5 x 63 cm) confirms the Neapolitan provenance.
Denis Mahon. "Poussin's Early Development: An Alternative Hypothesis." Burlington Magazine 102 (July 1960), p. 297, rejects Blunt's (1960) dating of 1630–31 and includes it with a group of small pictures, painted during 1627 when Poussin veered towards a baroque point of view; considers its composition "rather breathlessly and charmingly incoherent, in the manner of the Louvre 'Triumph of Flora'" and finds similar passages in the handling of the two pictures.
Denis Mahon. "Poussiniana: Afterthoughts Arising from the Exhibition." Gazette des beaux-arts, 6th ser., 60 (July–August 1962), p. 52, reiterates its early dating to about 1627.
Anthony Blunt. The Paintings of Nicolas Poussin: A Critical Catalogue. [London], 1966, p. 45, no. 63, ill., disagrees with Mahon's dating early in 1627 and places it near and probably before the "Death of Germanicus" (Minneapolis Institute of Arts), which he places about 1631.
Doris Wild. "Charles Mellin ou Nicolas Poussin." Gazette des beaux-arts, 6th ser., 68 (October 1966), pp. 202–3, ill., attributes it to Poussin's contemporary, Charles Mellin; notes that a copy of it, which came from a private collection in Naples, is in the Capodimonte.
Anthony Blunt. Nicolas Poussin. New York, 1967, vol. 1, p. 73: vol. 2, pl. 21a, places it in a group of small paintings similar in style to and executed about the same time as Poussin's "Death of Germanicus," which he now dates 1627; notes that its hills and sky are based on Titian's "Bacchanal of the Andrians," its putti on his "Feast of Venus" (both paintings in the Prado, Madrid), while the white veil and blue cloak of the Virgin are painted in the manner invented by Titian and used by many Venetian painters in the early and mid-sixteenth century.
Jacques Thuillier. L'opera completa di Poussin. Milan, 1974, pp. 91–92, 114–15, 127, nos. 57, B19a, ill., rejects Wild's (1967) attribution to Mellin and dates it about 1629; considers Saint Non's engraving too different in composition to be based on this painting.
Renato Ruotolo. "Aspetti del collezionismo napoletano: il Cardinale Filomarino." Antologia di Belle Arti 1, no. 1 (March 1977), pp. 73–74, 77, rejects Blunt's identification of this picture with the one in the Filomarino/duc della Torre collection, and doubts that Fragonard would have significantly altered the composition; mentions the faithful copy of the MMA picture by a seventeenth-century Neapolitan artist in the Museo di Capodimonte, and wonders if it was the painting, similar in dimensions, described in the 1688 Van den Ey[n]den inventory.
Doris Wild. Nicolas Poussin: Leben, Werk, Exkurse. Zürich, 1980, p. 211, no. M11, reiterates her attribution to Charles Mellin.
Renato Ruotolo. "Mercanti—collezionisti fiamminghi a Napoli: Gaspare Roomer e i Vandeneynden." Richerche sul '600 Napoletano (1982), pp. 14, 24 n. 51, p. 31, publishes Luca Giordano's 1688 inventory of pictures in the Van den Eynden estate and identifies a "Madonna con diversi puttini" by Poussin as this work; mentions copies in the Capodimonte and in the Museo Correale, Sorrento.
Christopher Wright. Poussin Paintings: A Catalogue Raisonné. New York, 1985, pp. 165–66, no. 59, ill., accept's Wild's (1980) attribution of this painting to Charles Mellin, but remarks that its "composition is clearly by Poussin, even if the handling of the paint is not"; compares its style with Poussin's "Holy Family with St. John the Baptist" (Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe) and finds it very close on the whole to his "Inspiration of the Poet" (Niedersächsische Landesgalerie, Hanover).
Pierre Rosenberg and Barbara Brejon de Lavergnée. Panopticon italiano: un diario di viaggio ritrovato, 1759-1761. Rome, 1986, p. 342 (under no. 29), reject Blunt's hypothesis that Fragonard's drawing (Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena) was made after this picture.
Konrad Oberhuber. Poussin: The Early Years in Rome. Exh. cat., Kimbell Art Museum. New York, 1988, pp. 135–38, 140, 269, no. 36, ill. (color), calls Titian's Bacchanals the most important source for both its putti and landscape.
Alain Mérot. Nicolas Poussin. New York, 1990, pp. 176, 261, ill., notes it is usually dated about 1627, but elsewhere in the text dates it about 1629; places it in a group of early works, all of upright format and rather loose in structure.
Jacques Thuillier. Nicolas Poussin. Paris, 1994, pp. 250–51, 267, 277, no. 78, ill.
Sebastian Schütze. "Exemplum Romantitatis: Poussin e la pittura napoletana del Seicento." Poussin et Rome: Actes du colloque à l'Académie de France à Rome et à la Bibliotheca Hertziana, 16–18 novembre 1994. Ed. Olivier Bonfait et al. Paris, 1996, p. 183, agrees with Ruotolo (1977) that the identification of this painting with the one in della Torre collection is no longer tenable.
Diane De Grazia. "Poussin's 'Holy Family on the Steps' in Context." Cleveland Studies in the History of Art 4 (1999), pp. 32–33, ill., discusses the iconographical significance of the scene, interpreting the children adoring Christ as the innocents martyred for his sake, while the Holy Family fled to Egypt; considers numerous details, such as the child swimming in the nearby lake, the crown of flowers on one of the children, to be symbolic references to their baptism and martyrdom, and sees the drapery casually strewn on the ground as a reference to Christ's Passion.
Loredana Lorizzo. "Cardinal Ascanio Filomarino's Purchases of Works of Art in Rome: Poussin, Caravaggio, Vuet and Valentin." Burlington Magazine 143 (July 2001), p. 408.
Stephen D. Borys. The Splendor of Ruins in French Landscape Painting, 1630–1800. Exh. cat., Allen Memorial Art Museum. Oberlin, Ohio, 2005, pp. 115–16, ill., places it in the early 1630s and compares the setting with that of La Hyre's 1648 painting of the subject (J. B. Speed Museum, Louisville, Kentucky).
Loredana Lorizzo. La collezione del cardinale Ascanio Filomarino: pittura, scultura e mercato dell'arte tra Roma e Napoli nel Seicento, con una nota sulla vendita dei beni del cardinal Del Monte. Naples, 2006, pp. 44, 52 nn. 40–41, notes that it is not the version owned by Filomarino.
Aidan Weston-Lewis. "The Early Provenance of Ribera's 'Drunken Silenus'." Burlington Magazine 149 (November 2007), pp. 783–84, ill. (color), believes it passed, along with Ribera's "Drunken Silenus" (and through the agency of Giacomo di Castro), from the Salernitano collection on March 1, 1653, to Gaspar Roomer, who bequeathed them to Ferdinand van den Eynden (son of his former business partner) in 1674, as part of a group of 90 paintings; identifies the MMA painting as the Poussin "Madonna che siede sotto un albero . . ." listed in the Van den Eynden estate inventory (1688).
Dominique Jacquot. "Charles Mellin: Nancy and Caen." Burlington Magazine 149 (October 2007), p. 726, correctly identifies R52 in Malgouyres's Mellin exhibition catalogue (2007) with the present work.
Philippe Malgouyres. Charles Mellin: Un Lorrain entre Rome et Naples. Exh. cat., Musée des Beaux-Arts de Caen. Paris, 2007, p. 285, no. R52, seems unaware of this picture's present location; rejects its earlier attribution to Mellin.
Christopher Wright. Poussin: Paintings, a Catalogue Raisonné. rev. and updated ed. London, 2007, pp. 94, 302, no. 59, ill.
Renato Ruotolo inArtemisia Gentileschi: storia di una passione. Ed. Roberto Contini and Francesco Solinas. Exh. cat., Palazzo Reale, Milan. Pero (Milan), 2011, pp. 121–23, 129 n. 16, fig. 1 (color) [English ed., "Artemisia Gentileschi: The Story of a Passion", pp. 122–23, 129 n. 16, fig. 1 (color)], is unconvinced by Weston-Lewis's (2007) proposed Salernitano/Roomer provenance.
Nicola Spinosa. Grazia e tenerezza "in posa": Bernardo Cavallino e il suo tempo, 1616–1656. Rome, 2013, pp. 120, 125, 128–29, fig. 142 (color).