This exquisite picture was painted for Cardinal Benedetto Giustiniani (1554–1621), when papal legate to Bologna. It is a paradigm of Ludovico’s mature style—so different from his early experiments in a naturalistic style. The pose of the Madonna evokes Michelangelo’s sibyls in the Sistine Chapel, while the emphasis on elegance echoes the work of Parmigianino. The stalks of wheat held by the Christ Child are emblems of the Eucharist. The saints are: Bernard, Peter (with the keys to heaven), Andrew (with a cross), Paul (holding a sword), Catherine of Alexandria (with a broken wheel), and an unidentified virgin saint.
As indicated by the inscription on the reverse of the copper plate (see Additional Images), this exquisite picture was painted in 1607 for Cardinal Benedetto Giustiniani during his term as papal legate to Bologna. It is unquestionably among the most beautiful small-scale works by Ludovico and is, as well, in excellent condition. Its exquisite facture, imaginative design, and elevated sentiment are hallmarks of Ludovico's work.
The left half of the composition is dominated by the majestic figure of the Virgin, her gaze lowered modestly, her hands extended over a brick ledge on which have been placed some stalks of wheat, forming a sort of improvised altar. She holds an open prayer book. Next to her is seated the infant Christ, who places one hand over his mother's womb (a reference to the Gospel of Luke 11:27: "Blessed is the womb that bore thee"); in the other he holds some wheat, symbol of the Eucharist. On the right, their heads arranged in a descending diagonal that defines the space of the picture, are the following saints: Bernard, Peter (wearing a cope and holding a key), Andrew (with his cross), Paul (holding a sword), Catherine of Alexandria (wearing a crown and kneeling behind a broken wheel, her emblem of martyrdom), and a virgin saint (holding a palm branch). The kneeling saint in a white habit in the foreground was identified by Jameson (1844) as Romuald, and this has been repeated in all the subsequent literature. However, the seventeenth-century Giustiniani inventories identify him as Bernard and this identification is preferable. Bernard was one of the strongest advocates of the devotion to the Virgin.
A preparatory drawing for the composition is in the British Museum (inv. 1972-7-22-10). Ludovico made a brief trip to Rome in 1602, at which time he must have studied the work of Raphael and Michelangelo. The pose of the Virgin in this picture consciously recalls Michelangelo's sibyls in the Sistine Chapel—in particular, the Delphic Sibyl—but Ludovico employs an abstracting visual language inspired by Parmigianino, the sixteenth-century artist he most admired. It was this highly personal formulation of a grand manner that later artists, such as Sir Joshua Reynolds, found so notable.
A copy of the picture, in the Samuel Rogers collection in the nineteenth century, was sold at Sotheby's, New York (January 25, 2001, no. 185); another copy is in the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon (inv. ca 651).
Ludovico Carracci was the older cousin of Annibale and Agostino Carracci and, like them, was one of the outstanding painters of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. The Metropolitan Museum owns two works by the artist: an early Lamentation (2000.68), conceived in a revolutionary naturalistic style, and this later picture, conceived in Ludovico's Grand Manner.
[Keith Christiansen 2010]
Inscription: Signed, dated, and inscribed (reverse): Ludouicus Carraccius / Bononien´ faciebat / anno Dni 1607.
Cardinal Benedetto Giustiniani, Bologna and Rome (1607–d. 1621; inv., 1621, no. 70); his brother, marchese Vincenzo Giustiniani, Rome (1621–d. 1637; inv., 1638, no. 57); Andrea Giustiniani, later (from 1644) principe di Bassano, Rome (1637–d. 1667; inv., 1667, no. 251); Giustiniani family, Rome (1667–about 1790s); Sir William Hamilton, Palazzo Sessa, Naples (from about 1790s); his nephew, Hon. Charles Francis Greville, London (by 1803–d. 1809; his estate sale, Christie's, London, March 31, 1810, no. 90, for £393.15 to Lansdowne); Henry Petty-FitzMaurice, 3rd Marquess of Lansdowne, Bowood, Calne, Wiltshire (1810–d. 1863); Marquesses of Lansdowne, Bowood (1863–about 2001; cat., 1897, no. 131); [Simon Dickinson, London, until 2001; sold to Fisch]; Mark Fisch, Livingston, N.J. (2001–7)
London. Burlington Fine Arts Club. "Italian Art of the Seventeenth Century," 1925, no. 5 (lent by the Marquess of Lansdowne).
London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Works by Holbein & Other Masters of the 16th and 17th Centuries," December 9, 1950–March 7, 1951, no. 324 (lent by The Lady Nairne).
London. Thomas Agnew & Sons, Ltd. "Loan Exhibition of the Lansdowne Collection," December 8, 1954–January 29, 1955, no. 26.
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. "Italian Art from the 13th Century to the 17th Century," August 18–October 2, 1955, no. 32 (lent by the Most Hon. the Marquess of Lansdowne).
Bologna. Palazzo dell'Archiginnasio. "Mostra dei Carracci," September 1–October 31, 1956, no. 34 (lent by the Marquess of Lansdowne, London).
Inventarium bonorum bonae memoriae illustrissimi et reverendissimi Domini Cardinalis Benedicti Iustiniani. March 31, 1621, fol. 1356v, no. 70 [Archivio di Stato, Rome, Notai del tribunale AC, uff. 8, Vol. 1302, Rainaldo Buratti; published in Danesi Squarzina 1997; Getty no. I-2932], as "Un quadro piccolo in rame della Madonna con molti santi, con cornicette piccole indorate".
Inventory of the paintings and sculpture in the collection of Vincenzo Giustiniani. February 9, 1638, no. 57 [Archivio di Stato, Rome, Archivio Giustiniani, Busta 10; published in Squarzina 2003; Getty no. I-2933], as "Un quadretto picciolo d'una Madonna, che tiene un Libro in mano e Christo bambino con Spighe di grano in mano S.Bernardo S.Pietro S.Paolo S.Andrea et altre Santine figurine picciole dipinti in rame alto palmi 1.1/2 Largo 1. incirca con cornice dorata" [A second version of the inventory, dated February 9 and published in Salerno 1960, with slightly different wording, includes artist attributions and gives this picture to Ludovico Carracci.].
Inventory of the collection of Andrea Giustiniani. June 13, 1667, no. 251 [Archivio di Stato, Rome, Notai del Tribunale dell'A.C., prot. 3911, notaio Lollius Bernardinus; published in Danesi Squarzina 2003; Getty no. I-4058], as "Un quadretto piccolo con una Madonna, che tiene un libro in mano, e Christo Bambino, con spiche di grano in mano, S. Bernardo, S. Pietro, S. Paolo, et altre Santine, e S. Andrea, figurine piccole, dipinte in Rame alto palmi 1 1/2 largo 1. in circa, di mano di Ludovico Caracci, con la sua Cornice dorata".
Mrs. Jameson. Companion to the Most Celebrated Private Galleries of Art in London. London, 1844, p. 300, no. 8, as in the Lansdowne collection, acquired at the Charles Greville sale, and bought in Italy by Greville's uncle Sir William Hamilton; lists the saints as Agnes, Catherine, unidentified, Romuald, Peter, and Andrew; sees a resemblance to the work of Correggio; mentions a copy in the Rogers collection.
[Gustav Friedrich] Waagen. Treasures of Art in Great Britain. London, 1854, vol. 3, p. 158, lists it in the drawing room at Bowood, the seat of the marquess of Lansdowne; calls it the Virgin and Child adored by four [sic] saints.
George E. Ambrose. Catalogue of the Collection of Pictures Belonging to the Marquess of Lansdowne, K.G., at Lansdowne House, London, and Bowood, Wilts. [London], 1897, p. 16, no. 131, states that Lord Lansdowne bought it at the Greville sale.
Heinrich Bodmer. Lodovico Carracci. Burg b[ei]. Magdeb[urg]., 1939, pp. 86–87, 137, no. 82, pl. 81, as in the collection of the marquess of Lansdowne, London; dates it about 1605–8.
Denis Mahon. Mostra dei Carracci: disegni. Exh. cat., Palazzo dell'Archiginnasio. Bologna, 1956, p. 31, under no. 17, mentions it in the catalogue entry for the drawing in the Ellesmere collection [see Notes]; agrees with Bodmer's dating of 1605–8 for the painting and finds that the style of the drawing supports a similar dating, but states that Francesco Arcangeli has proposed a somewhat later date for the painting.
Denis Mahon. "Afterthoughts on the Carracci Exhibition." Gazette des beaux-arts, 6th ser., 49 (April 1957), p. 206, notes that "the early nineteenth century frame [on the picture] bears the date 1607 painted on it, and this corresponds so exactly with what the writer would suppose on stylistic grounds that he is tempted to wonder if it was not derived from an authentic inscription on the front or back of the original frame".
Gian Carlo Cavalli et al. Mostra dei Carracci. Exh. cat., Palazzo dell'Archiginnasio. Bologna, 1958, pp. 138–39, no. 34, ill., date it about 1616–17.
Luigi Salerno. "The Picture Gallery of Vincenzo Giustiniani III: The Inventory, Part II." Burlington Magazine 102 (April 1960), p. 137, identifies it as no. 57 in the Giustiniani inventory of 1638.
Catalogue of the Ellesmere Collection of Drawings by the Carracci and Other Bolognese Masters. Sotheby's, London. July 11, 1972, p. 43, under no. 14.
Marguerite Guillaume. Catalogue raisonné du Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon: Peintures italiennes. Dijon, 1980, p. 19, under no. 29, mentions it in the entry for the copy after this picture in the Dijon museum.
Nicholas Turner. Italian Baroque Drawings. London, 1980, p. 92, under no. 37, dates it 1605–8, mentioning it in the entry for the drawing formerly in the Ellesmere collection.
Sydney J. Freedberg. Circa 1600: A Revolution of Style in Italian Painting. Cambridge, Mass., 1983, p. 105, fig. 138, dates it about 1607.
Gail Feigenbaum. "Lodovico Carracci: A Study of His Later Career and A Catalogue of His Paintings." PhD diss., Princeton University, 1984, pp. 416–17, no. 121, fig. 190, agrees on stylistic grounds with a date of about 1607; states that the picture probably entered the Giustiniani collection through Benedetto Giustiniani, noting that Benedetto was papal legate to Bologna from 1606 to 1611 and that Carracci wrote of working for him in a letter of 1608.
Sydney J. Freedberg inLudovico Carracci. Ed. Andrea Emiliani. Exh. cat., Museo Civico Archeologico-Pinacoteca Nazionale. [Bologna], , pp. LXXX–LXXXI.
Giovanna Perini inLudovico Carracci. Ed. Andrea Emiliani. Exh. cat., Museo Civico Archeologico-Pinacoteca Nazionale. [Bologna], , p. 281, mentions it as a work commissioned from Ludovico by Benedetto Giustiniani while he was papal legate to Bologna from 1606 to 1611.
Silvia Danesi Squarzina. "The Collections of Cardinal Benedetto Giustiniani: Part 1." Burlington Magazine 139 (November 1997), pp. 775, 785, fig. 71, mistakenly states that it is in a private collection in California; publishes Benedetto Giustiniani's inventory of 1621, identifying this picture as no. 70.
Anne Summerscale. Malvasia's Life of the Carracci: Commentary and Translation. University Park, Pa., 2000, p. 230 n. 314, lists it as one of three paintings by Ludovico included in Benedetto Giustiniani's inventory of 1621 that could be the work mentioned in a letter of 1609, in which Ludovico writes that he is working on a picture commissioned by Giustiniani.
Important Old Master Paintings. Christie's, New York. May 26, 2000, p. 70, under no. 52, mentions it as the original of no. 52, a copy attributed to the Studio of Ludovico and confused with the Rogers version.
Alessandro Brogi. Ludovico Carracci. Bologna, 2001, vol. 1, pp. 192–93, no. 79; vol. 2, fig. 170, dates it about 1607; rejects the attribution of the Rogers version to Ludovico.
Silvia Danesi Squarzina. "La collezione Giustiniani: Benedetto, Vincenzo, Andrea nostri contemporanei." Caravaggio e i Giustiniani: toccar con mano una collezione del Seicento. Ed. Silvia Danesi Squarzina. Exh. cat., Palazzo Giustiniani, Rome. Milan, 2001, pp. 41, 45 n. 127.
Caterina Volpi inCaravaggio e i Giustiniani: toccar con mano una collezione del Seicento. Ed. Silvia Danesi Squarzina. Exh. cat., Palazzo Giustiniani, Rome. Milan, 2001, p. 266, fig. 1, under no. C5.
Important Old Master Paintings. Sotheby's, New York. January 25, 2001, p. 166, under no. 185, attributes the Rogers version to Ludovico; states that "it remains uncertain whether it was the present lot or the Lansdowne picture" that was recorded in the Giustiniani collection.
Silvia Danesi Squarzina. La collezione Giustiniani. Turin, 2003, vol. 1, pp. 77, 128–29, 413, fig. 46; vol. 2, p. 65, publishes the Giustiniani inventories of 1621, 1638, and 1667; records the inscription on the back of the copper plate.
Silvia Danesi Squarzina. E-mail to Keith Christiansen. September 16, 2007, agrees that the foreground figure in white is Saint Bernard, and notes that the painting depicts his ecstatic vision of the Madonna.
James Gardner. "Finding Value in the Void." New York Sun (October 3, 2007), p. ?, discusses it as an example of International Mannerism: "the latest, laziest, and most languid flowering of mannerism".
Keith Christiansen in "Recent Acquisitions, A Selection: 2007–2008." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 66 (Fall 2008), p. 20, ill. (color), compares the Madonna's statuesque pose with Michelangelo's sibyls on the Sistine ceiling, and her elegance and refinement with Parmigianino's female figures.
Keith Christiansen inPhilippe de Montebello and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1977–2008. New York, 2009, p. 37.
Keith Christiansen. "La création tardive d'une collection de peintures baroques au Metropolitan Museum of Art / Creating a Baroque Collection at the Metropolitan Late in the Game." Aux origines d'un goût: la peinture baroque aux États-Unis / Creating the Taste for Baroque Painting in America. Paris, 2015, pp. 67, 72.