This picture and its companion panel (also in this gallery) illustrate episodes from the life of Saint John the Baptist, who preached about the coming of Jesus. Architecture and landscape are used to frame and divide the individual scenes, enabling the viewer to follow the story from the miraculous annunciation of his conception to his father Zacharias (far left) to his birth. Painted to decorate a room in the Tornabuoni family palace in Florence, the panels are by more than one artist. Figures in the scene of Saint John bearing witness have reminded some scholars of the work of Michelangelo, who was a friend of Granacci’s (they had been fellow pupils in the workshop of Domenico Ghirlandaio), and he may have been involved in some capacity.
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Title:Scenes from the Life of Saint John the Baptist
Artist:Francesco Granacci (Francesco di Andrea di Marco) (Italian, Villamagna 1469–1543 Florence)
Medium:Tempera, oil, and gold on wood
Dimensions:30 9/16 x 59 1/2 in. (77.6 x 151.1 cm)
Credit Line:Purchase, Gwynne Andrews, Harris Brisbane Dick, Dodge, Fletcher, and Rogers Funds, funds from various donors, Ella Morris de Peyster Gift, Mrs. Donald Oenslager Gift, and Gifts in memory of Robert Lehman, 1970
This picture and its pendant (1970.134.2) formed a series of possibly five panels illustrating the life of Saint John the Baptist. In the first panel is depicted, beneath a tabernacle in the upper left, an angel announcing to Zacharias the birth of his son, John the Baptist. Beneath the arched openings of the building in the foreground are shown the Visitation (the meeting of the pregnant Elizabeth with the Virgin Mary, the future mother of Jesus, who was John the Baptist's cousin) and the birth of John the Baptist (Elizabeth is in bed while Zacharias warms himself by the fire). A painting in the Cleveland Museum of Art (44.91) shows the infant Saint John the Baptist being carried to Zacharias. Yet another panel, in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool (2783) shows scenes from the youth of John the Baptist, while the second panel in The Met (1970.134.2) shows Saint John in a landscape bearing witness to Christ as the lamb of God. Additionally, Federico Zeri (see Zeri and Gardner 1971) has suggested that a Baptism of Christ (formerly Gerini collection, Florence; destroyed 1944) also formed part of the series, which may have included further scenes usually included in such cycles, such as the dance of Salome and the beheading of the Baptist.
The series may well have decorated a bedchamber in a Florentine palace. The Met and Walker Art Gallery paintings are said to come from the Tornabuoni family, and it has been proposed (Fahy 2009) that the series was commissioned in preparation for the marriage of Giovanni di Lorenzo Tornabuoni to Caterina di Alamanno Salviati in January 1507. Both were from prominent Florentine families that supported the Medici regime: Giovanni's great-aunt was the mother of Lorenzo the Magnificent; his grandfather was papal banker and manager of the Medici bank in Rome; his father was executed in 1497 for his support of the Medici following their exile in 1494.
The pictures are clearly by several hands. 1970.134.1 is a typical work by Francesco Granacci while its companion (1970.134.2) is by another, superior, artist. Collaboration was common in Florence in projects of this sort and was done to expedite work. Normal practice would have been to commission a work from one artist, who would then engage other painters to assist him. He might provide drawings and supervise the entire ensemble closely, or he might allow a great deal of freedom. In this case, the second artist seems not to have worked from Granacci's designs. Who he is remains uncertain. In the past, attributions to Raffaellino del Garbo (before 1479–1524 or later) and Raffaello Botticini (1477; still active in 1520) have been made. Neither seems able to have painted a work of this quality. Similarities with the style of Michelangelo have also been noted, particularly when one compares the figures in the scene with those in the background of the Doni Tondo in the Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence. On the basis of this comparison it has been suggested that Michelangelo either provided drawings for the painting or may even have painted the panel himself (Fahy 2009). It should be noted that Granacci was close friends with Michelangelo. He was six years older and introduced the great painter-sculptor to the workshop of Ghirlandaio in 1487. The two remained close: writing from Rome to his father and his favorite brother in the late 1490s, Michelangelo frequently asked to be remembered to Granacci, and in 1508, while he was preparing to paint the Sistine Ceiling, he asked Granacci to obtain pigments in Florence and to hire some painters experienced in fresco painting to assist him. Throughout his career, Michelangelo provided drawings to painters, so it would not be out of character if he helped his friend Granacci in this way. A technical investigation has revealed that the underdrawings are done in very different styles and that whereas the first panel is painted in tempera, the second employs an oil technique.
Keith Christiansen 2010
Observations on the underdrawing of the two pictures in The Met visible with infrared reflectography (see figs. 1–3 above):
The manner and function of the underdrawing in The Met's two Saint John paintings is quite different. Scenes from the Life of Saint John the Baptist has extensive underdrawing, carried out with a brush in a very fluid medium that is striking in its bold, calligraphic character. The underdrawing describes not only the outlines of the figures but also the volume and structure of the bodies beneath the draperies. Areas of shadow are indicated with hatching that varies in weight from fine strokes to broad washes. Boldly hatched shadows, abbreviated strokes indicating facial features, and calligraphic handling (such as flourishes to indicate folds in drapery) reflect aspects of the artist's graphic work.
By contrast, the underdrawing of the later panel is brief and schematic, focusing on placement and contours, applied by brush in careful but confident shorthand. Unlike Scenes from the Life of John the Baptist, where there are many small adjustments made in the underdrawing and it appears that the artist was to some degree composing on the panel, the schematic nature of the drawing in Saint John the Baptist Bearing Witness suggests that this artist was drawing from another model.
[Extracted from the Condition and Treatment Report by Charlotte Hale, 2010]
Inscription: Inscribed (in spandrels, left to right, beneath and beside sculptural vignettes): . . . ; S C (abbreviation for ex Senatu consulto [by decree of the Senate]); . . . ; VICTORIA (victory); S C; PACOS ([the establishment of] peace); ROMA (Rome); S C; FIDES (faith)
the Tornabuoni family, Florence; [Samuel Woodburn, London, until after 1850; bought from a descendant of the Tornabuoni family; sold to Ashburnham]; Bertram Ashburnham, 4th Earl of Ashburnham, Ashburnham House, London (after 1850–d. 1878; inv., 1878, as by Ghirlandaio); Bertram Ashburnham, 5th Earl of Ashburnham, Ashburnham House (1878–at least 1894; sold to Donaldson); [Sir George Donaldson, London; sold to Robinson]; Sir Joseph B. Robinson, Cape Town (by 1923–d. 1929; his sale, Christie's, London, July 6, 1923, no. 40, as by Ghirlandaio, bought in); his daughter, Ida Louise Robinson, Princess Labia, Cape Town (1929–d. 1961); her sons, Prince and Count don Giuseppe Labia and Count don Natale Antonio Labia (1961–70; sale, Sotheby's, London, June 24, 1970, no. 39, as by Francesco Granacci, to MMA)
London. New Gallery. "Exhibition of Early Italian Art from 1300 to 1550," 1893–94, no. 150 (as "The Birth of St. John the Baptist," by Ghirlandaio, lent by the Earl of Ashburnham).
London. Royal Academy of Arts. "The Robinson Collection," 1958, no. 21 (as "The Story of St. John Baptist," by Francesco Granacci, lent by the Princess Labia).
Cape Town. National Gallery of South Africa. "The Sir Joseph Robinson Collection," 1959, no. 6 (lent by the Princess Labia).
Kunsthaus Zürich. "Sammlung Sir Joseph Robinson, 1840–1929: Werke europäischer Malerei vom 15. bis 19. Jahrhundert," August 17–September 16, 1962, no. 4 (lent by Count Natale Labia and Dr. Joseph Labia).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Masterpieces of Fifty Centuries," November 14, 1970–June 1, 1971, no. 188a.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Florentine Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum," June 15–August 15, 1971, no catalogue.
Catalogue of the Very Celebrated & Valuable Series of Capital Pictures . . . Formed . . . by . . . the late Samuel Woodburn, Esq. . . . . Christie's, London. June 9 and 11, 1860, p. 19, under no. 77, mentions the series of three works in the entry for the panel now in Liverpool [see Notes], which is attributed to Domenico Ghirlandaio; states that the Liverpool panel was "obtained from a descendant of the Tornabuoni family, for whom it was painted"; identifies the series with three works described by Vasari, and calls them "finished models for . . . large frescoes".
Inventory of Ashburnham House, Dover Street, London. 1878 [typed copy in National Gallery library, London], as by Ghirlandaio, with a comment, probably of later date, that Miss F[f]oulkes attributes it to Granacci.
Costanza Jocelyn Ffoulkes. "Le esposizioni d'arte italiana a Londra." Archivio storico dell'arte 7 (1894), p. 166, fig. 8a, accepts the attribution to Granacci, which she says was first made by Jean Paul Richter.
Bernhard Berenson. The Florentine Painters of the Renaissance. New York, 1896, p. 115, lists the two MMA panels as early works by Granacci in the collection of Lord Ashburnham, London.
Bernhard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Oxford, 1932, p. 266, lists the two MMA panels as in the Joseph Robinson collection, Capetown.
Bernhard Berenson. Pitture italiane del rinascimento. Milan, 1936, p. 228.
E[llis]. K. Waterhouse. The Robinson Collection. Exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts. London, 1958, pp. 15–16, no. 21, gives provenance details and information on the unpublished Ashburnham catalogue of 1878; attributes all three panels to Granacci and states that "all three are somehow connected with Domenico Ghirlandajo's frescoes in Sta Maria Novella of 1486/90, in whose execution Granacci was involved".
Horace Shipp. "Treasures of the Robinson Collection: Some Problems of Attribution." Apollo 68 (August 1958), p. 40, ill. p. 39, doubts that the two MMA panels are by the same artist.
Alfred Scharf. "The Robinson Collection." Burlington Magazine 100 (September 1958), p. 300, fig. 2, believes that the two MMA panels are by different artists, assigning 1970.134.1, along with the Liverpool panel, to a follower of Ghirlandaio, and tentatively attributing 1970.134.2 to Granacci.
"The Robinson Pictures." Connoisseur 142 (November 1958), p. 96, no. 21.
Bernard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Florentine School. London, 1963, vol. 1, pp. 98–99, calls them cassone panels.
Foreign Schools Catalogue. Vol. 1, Text. Liverpool, 1963, pp. 83–84, under no. 2783, attributes the three panels to Granacci, with probably some help from assistants accounting for the slight differences in style; states that they were probably made to decorate the walls of a private room, and that the series must originally have included at least two more scenes depicting the baptism of Christ, the imprisonment of the Baptist, the dance of Salome, and the beheading of the Baptist; notes that a label on the back of the Liverpool panel attributes it to Ghirlandaio, states that it was painted for the Tornabuoni family, and identifies it as a sketch for the frescoes in Santa Maria Novella; rejects all three statements.
Christian von Holst. "Francesco Granacci als Maler." PhD diss., Freie Universität, Berlin, 1968, p. ?, accepts the attribution to Granacci; includes the panel in Cleveland as part of the series [see Notes].
Christian von Holst. Letter to Everett Fahy. August 3, 1970, states that in 1966 he identified the Cleveland panel as an early work by Granacci and belonging to the same room decoration as the MMA and Liverpool paintings.
Christian Von Holst. "Three Panels of a Renaissance Room Decoration at Liverpool and a New Work by Granacci." Annual Report and Bulletin of the Walker Art Gallery Liverpool 1 (1970–71), pp. 32–37, figs. 11, 15, states that the series was made as a decorative cycle for a Florentine palace and dates it to the first years of the sixteenth century.
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. 180–83, 185, ill., date both MMA panels about 1510 or earllier; attribute this panel to Granacci, the Cleveland panel to the Master of the Spiridon Story of Joseph, and MMA 1970.134.2 and the Liverpool panel to different anonymous assistants of Granacci; state that the series was made for the chapel or oratory of a private home in Florence; agree that the Cleveland panel is part of the series but do not believe that it was originally directly attached to this painting; mention a panel attributed to Granacci depicting the baptism of Christ which may also have formed part of the series (formerly Gerini collection, Florence; destroyed 1944); identify the statues appearing on the tabernacle at left and the monochrome reliefs in the spandrels above the arches of the portico at right, noting that they are based on classical prototypes.
Everett Fahy. "Florentine Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum: An Exhibition and a Catalogue." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 29 (June 1971), p. 438, ill.
Edmund P. Pillsbury. Florence and the Arts: Five Centuries of Patronage. Exh. cat., Cleveland Museum of Art. Cleveland, 1971, unpaginated, under no. 12.
Christian von Holst. "Florentiner Gemälde und Zeichnungen 1480–1580." Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz 15 (1971), p. 9, fig. 10 (detail), considers the statue on the right of the roof of the tabernacle at left to be derived from Michelangelo's lost bronze David.
Christian von Holst. Francesco Granacci. Munich, 1974, pp. 24–25, 132–35, 175, 194, 199, no. 7, figs. 15, 19–24 (overall and details), does not believe this panel was cut at the right; discusses its connection to works by Ghirlandaio and to the Codex Escurialensis; agrees that the Baptism formerly in the Gerini collection [see Zeri and Gardner 1971] probably originally formed part of the series.
Anthony M. Clark inThe Metropolitan Museum of Art: Notable Acquisitions, 1965–1975. New York, 1975, p. 89, ill.
Myra Nan Rosenfeld. "A Florentine Quattrocento Altarpiece: Witness to Artistic, Religious Trends." M: A Quarterly Review of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts 7, no. 2 (1975), p. 8, fig. 8.
Edward Morris and Martin Hopkinson. Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool: Foreign Catalogue. [Liverpool], 1977, text vol., pp. 86–87, under no. 2783, date the series about 1505–10; consider the traditional Tornabuoni provenance credible; believe that the landscape in this picture and in the Liverpool panel are probably by the same artist and that both paintings reveal more than one hand.
M. E. D. Laing. "Francesco Granacci and Some Questions of Identity." Metropolitan Museum Journal 24 (1989), pp. 153–66, figs. 1, 6, 15 (overall and details), notes the differences in style and quality between the panels; identifies the narrative at right as the warming of the child's swaddling clothes; suggests that the woman at center holding out her arms for the baby might be Mary, but notes that the figure does not have a halo; suggests various symbolic meanings for the fire at right.
Anne B. Barriault. "Spalliera" Paintings of Renaissance Tuscany: Fables of Poets for Patrician Homes. University Park, Pa., 1994, pp. 87, 96–97, 156–57, no. 16.1, fig. 16.1, suggests that the series was commissioned by a younger member of the Tornabuoni family as a tribute to Giovanni, the paterfamilias; dates it about 1510.
Katharine Baetjer. European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Artists Born Before 1865: A Summary Catalogue. New York, 1995, p. 28, ill.
Lucinda Hawkins Collinge inThe Dictionary of Art. Ed. Jane Turner. Vol. 13, New York, 1996, p. 280.
Graham Hughes. Renaissance Cassoni, Masterpieces of Early Italian Art: Painted Marriage Chests 1400–1550. Alfriston, England, 1997, pp. 223, 232.
Everett Fahy in "Recent Acquisitions, A Selection: 2006–2007." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 65 (Fall 2007), p. 19, refers to it as a wainscot panel.
Everett Fahy. "An Overlooked Michelangelo?" Nuovi studi 15 (2009), pp. 51–67, colorpl. XX (detail), figs. 59–60, 68 (overall and details), attributes 1970.134.1 to Granacci, 1970.134.2 to Michelangelo, the Cleveland panel to the Pseudo-Granacci, and the Liverpool panel to Granacci, Bugiardini, and Michelangelo; suggests that the series was commissioned to decorate the bedchamber of Giovanni di Lorenzo Tornabuoni upon the occasion of his marriage to Caterina di Alamanno Salviati in January 1507.
Keith Christiansen. "The Earliest Painting by Michelangelo." Nuovi studi 15 (2009), pp. 43, 46 nn. 25, 27.
Milton Esterow. "Why It's a Michelangelo." Art News 109 (June 2010), pp. 85–87, ill. p. 89 (color).
Charlotte Hale, Julie Arslanoglu, and Silvia A. Centeno. "Granacci in The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Aspects of Evolving Workshop Practice." Studying Old Master Paintings: Technology and Practice. London, 2011, pp. 59–62, 64 nn. 3, 6, figs. 1 (color), 3ab (infrared reflectogram details), 5 (cross-section of paint layer), discuss the differences in the underdrawing of the two panels, calling the first "extensive" with a "bold, calligraphic character" and the second "brief and schematic . . . applied in careful but confident shorthand"; note that the medium also varies between the two panels, the first being painted in egg tempera with some drying oil and the second in pure drying oil.
Carmen C. Bambach inMichelangelo: Divine Draftsman & Designer. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2017, p. 318 n. 55.
James Hall. "The ‘Manchester Madonna’ and Its Influence on Granacci and Raphael." Burlington Magazine 162 (June 2020), pp. 485–86, fig. 8 (color).
Nicholas Penny. "The Fate of the 'Lawrence Gallery': Samuel Woodburn and the National Gallery." Burlington Magazine 164 (December 2022), p. 1251 n. 140.
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