Beautifully preserved, this small picture epitomizes the finest works produced in Bellini’s workshop for private devotion. The landscape derives from one by Bellini himself. The metaphorical contrast between the two halves of the landscape, with a dead tree and one in foliage, are intentional and remind the viewer of the consequences of the choices we make during our pilgrimage of life. The poet Bembo reported that "it is [Bellini's] practice . . .to always wander at will in his paintings so that in a like fashion they satisfy those who look at them."
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Title:Madonna and Child
Artist:Workshop of Giovanni Bellini (Italian, Venice, active by 1459–died 1516 Venice)
Medium:Oil on wood
Dimensions:Overall 13 1/2 x 10 7/8 in. (34.3 x 27.6 cm); painted surface 12 3/4 x 10 1/8 in. (32.4 x 25.7 cm)
Credit Line:The Jules Bache Collection, 1949
This exceptionally well-preserved picture is characteristic of the finest products of Bellini’s workshop after ca. 1500. Interestingly, in the eighteenth century it was attributed to Cima da Conegliano, and this attribution to an artist closely associated with Bellini predominated until around 1930, when a direct attribution to Bellini was proposed. However, Dussler (1935) was surely correct that the picture is a product of Bellini’s workshop, and his view has, indeed, gained broad acceptance. Mazzotta (2012) has suggested the possibility that it is an early work by Andrea Previtali (ca. 1480–1528), with an implied date of about 1500. The softness of the forms do recall aspects of Previtali's work, but the attribution remains no more than a conjecture. Among Bellini's autograph paintings, the closest analogy for the style of the picture—the delicate, soft modeling of the figures and the exquisite, atmospheric rendering of the landscape—is with a Madonna and Child in the Galleria Borghese, Rome, that is usually dated ca. 1510. In that work one of the hands of the Virgin is almost identical, in reverse, to one in The Met’s picture, underscoring the ways in which motifs from autograph pictures were recycled, possibly through the use of templates that could be reversed and adapted or through an album of studies. No such album by Bellini survives and, indeed, there are few extant drawings by him, but it was common practice for Renaissance painters—both north and south of the Alps—to make detailed studies of heads and hands as part of their workshop repertory and to maintain templates and cartoons to facilitate the production of devotional images. The buildings in the landscape derive from Bellini’s Madonna of the Meadow in the National Gallery, London, which is generally dated to around 1505. Examination of the picture with infrared reflectography—not yet carried out—may help resolve whether a cartoon was employed or whether the composition was adapted free-hand.
Somewhat unusually, the child holds a swallow rather than the traditional goldfinch. The contrast between the barren tree on the left and the tree in foliage on the right is a conventional allusion to death and Resurrection. The body of water in the distance with a boat on it may well allude to the Virgin as the Star of the Sea (Stella Maris) and the Port of Salvation.
Keith Christiansen 2014
private collection, Venice (until about 1770); John Strange, Venice and London (about 1770–99; his anonymous sale, 125 Pall Mall, London, December 10ff., 1789, no. 141, as by Cima da Conegliano, bought in; sale, European Museum, London, May 27, 1799, no. 179, as by Cima); William Beckford, Fonthill Abbey, Tisbury, Wilts., and Lansdown Tower, Bath (by 1822–d. 1844; his sale, Christie's, Fonthill Abbey, September 24, 1822, no. 41, as by Cima, bought in; sale, English and Fasana, Bath, January 4ff., 1841, no. 14, bought in); Duchess of Hamilton (Susan Euphemia Beckford), Hamilton Palace, Lanark (1844–d. 1859); William Alexander Anthony Archibald Douglas, 11th Duke of Hamilton, Hamilton Palace (1859–d. 1863); William Alexander Louis Stephen Douglas, 12th Duke of Hamilton, Hamilton Palace (1863–82; his sale, Christie's, London, June 17–July 20, 1882, no. 395, as by Cima, for £651 to Agnew); [Agnew, London, 1882]; Sir Michael Robert Shaw-Stewart, Ardgowan, Greenock (by 1894–d. 1903); his son, Walter Richard Shaw-Stewart, Fonthill Abbey, Tisbury, Wilts. (1903–27; sale, Sotheby's, London, December 7, 1927, no. 44, as by Cima); [Paterson, London, 1927]; [Duveen, London and New York, 1927; sold for $200,000 to Bache]; Jules S. Bache, New York (1927–d. 1944; his estate, 1944–49; cats., 1929, unnumbered; 1937, no. 2; 1943, no. 2)
London. New Gallery. "Venetian Art," 1894–95, no. 146 (as by Cima da Conegliano, lent by Sir Michael Shaw Stewart).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Bache Collection," June 16–September 30, 1943, no. 2 (as by Giovanni Bellini).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Gerard David: Flanders's Last Medieval Master," April 1–May 9, 1972, no catalogue?
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Venetian Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum," May 1–September 2, 1974, no catalogue.
Edinburgh. Royal Scottish Academy Building. "The Age of Titian: Venetian Renaissance Art from Scottish Collections," August 5–December 5, 2004, no. 5 (as by Follower of Giovanni Bellini).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Art in Renaissance Venice, 1400–1515: Paintings and Drawings from the Museum's Collections," November 8, 2011–February 5, 2012, no catalogue.
G[ustav]. F[riedrich]. Waagen. Works of Art and Artists in England. London, 1838, vol. 3, p. 118, as in the collection of William Beckford, Lansdown Tower, Bath; attributes it to Cordelle Agi (Andrea Previtali).
G[ustav]. F[riedrich]. Waagen. Kunstwerke und Künstler in England und Paris. Vol. 2, Kunstwerke und Künstler in England. Berlin, 1838, p. 328.
Bernhard Berenson. The Venetian Painters of the Renaissance. 3rd ed. New York, 1894, p. 82 [3rd, illustrated ed., 1897, p. 74], lists it as by Marco Basaiti, in the collection of Sir Michael Shaw-Stewart, London.
Salomon Reinach. Répertoire de peintures du moyen age et de la renaissance (1280–1580). Vol. 1, Paris, 1905, p. 114, ill. (engraving).
Walter Heil. "The Jules Bache Collection." Art News 27 (April 27, 1929), p. 3, ill. p. 9.
A Catalogue of Paintings in the Collection of Jules S. Bache. New York, 1929, unpaginated, ill.
Georg Gronau. Giovanni Bellini: Des Meisters Gemälde. Stuttgart, 1930, p. 216, ill. p. 168, attributes it to Giovanni Bellini; compares the landscape with one in a Madonna (Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan) that he dates 1510; states that there is an old copy in the Ca' d'Oro, Venice.
August L. Mayer. "Die Sammlung Jules Bache in New-York." Pantheon 6 (December 1930), p. 541, attributes it to Giovanni Bellini.
Bernhard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Oxford, 1932, p. 71, lists it as a late work by Giovanni Bellini.
Luitpold Dussler. Giovanni Bellini. Frankfurt, 1935, pp. 148–49, attributes it to the shop of Giovanni Bellini, dating it after 1510; notes the similarity of the castle in the background to that in the "Madonna of the Meadow" (National Gallery, London).
Raimond van Marle. The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting. Vol. 17, The Renaissance Painters of Venice. The Hague, 1935, p. 330, attributes it to Giovanni Bellini and dates it between 1510 and 1516.
Bernhard Berenson. Pitture italiane del rinascimento. Milan, 1936, p. 62.
Carlo Gamba. Giovanni Bellini. Milan, 1937, p. 160, fig. 175, attributes it to Giovanni Bellini, placing it between works he dates 1505 and 1507; calls the picture in the Ca' d'Oro a studio work.
A Catalogue of Paintings in the Bache Collection. under revision. New York, 1937, unpaginated, no. 2, ill.
Duveen Pictures in Public Collections of America. New York, 1941, unpaginated, no. 92, ill., as by Giovanni Bellini; dates it about 1510.
Vittorio Moschini. Giambellino. Bergamo, 1943, p. 33, calls it a work by Bellini in collaboration with his workshop.
Harry B. Wehle. "The Bache Collection on Loan." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 1 (June 1943), p. 285, calls it a late work by Bellini.
Walter Heil. "The Bache Paintings at the Metropolitan." Art News 42 (June–July 1943), p. 15.
A Catalogue of Paintings in the Bache Collection. rev. ed. New York, 1943, unpaginated, no. 2, ill.
Herbert Friedmann. The Symbolic Goldfinch: Its History and Significance in European Devotional Art. Washington, 1946, p. 83, attributes it to Bellini and notes that the Christ Child is holding a swallow.
Luitpold Dussler. Giovanni Bellini. Vienna, 1949, p. 101, pl. 140, calls it a late workshop product, executed after a drawing by Bellini; observes that the Child is similar to the one in a Madonna and Child in the Detroit Institute of Arts.
Martin Davies. The Earlier Italian Schools. London, 1951, p. 45, mentions it as one of several paintings with a castle similar to that appearing in the National Gallery picture.
Edoardo Arslan. Letter. April 21, 1952, calls it a school work, perhaps by a Veronese pupil.
Albert Ten Eyck Gardner. "Beckford's Gothic Wests." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 13 (October 1954), p. 48, ill. p. 45, notes that it was in the William Beckford collection, and that it was then attributed to Cima.
Josephine L. Allen and Elizabeth E. Gardner. A Concise Catalogue of the European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1954, p. 8.
Bernard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Venetian School. London, 1957, vol. 1, p. 32, pl. 245.
Rodolfo Pallucchini. Giovanni Bellini. Milan, 1959, pp. 105, 155, fig. 210 [English ed., London, (1962), pp. 109, 160, fig. 210], tentatively agrees with Dussler's [see Ref. 1949] suggestion that it is "a workshop product based on an authentic cartoon"; discusses it with works from about 1506–9.
Fritz Heinemann. Giovanni Bellini e i Belliniani. Venice, , vol. 1, p. 21, no. 64b; vol. 2, fig. 230, calls it a copy of a lost original dating from about 1510; considers it totally repainted and perhaps a forgery.
Stefano Bottari. Tutta la pittura di Giovanni Bellini. Milan, 1963, vol. 2, p. 40, pl. 168, lists it among attributed works, and considers it a school product, based on a model by Bellini that Pietro de Saliba also used.
Terisio Pignatti inL'opera completa di Giovanni Bellini. Milan, 1969, p. 108, no. 198, ill. p. 109.
Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 22, 327, 608, as by a follower of Giovanni Bellini.
Federico Zeri with the assistance of Elizabeth E. Gardner. Italian Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Venetian School. New York, 1973, pp. 7–8, pl. 8, attribute it to Bellini's workshop and date it about 1510.
Federico Zeri. Italian Paintings in the Walters Art Gallery. Baltimore, 1976, vol. 1, p. 252, suggests that this picture and one in the Walters (37.1039) depend from a lost prototype by Bellini.
Colin Simpson. Artful Partners: Bernard Berenson and Joseph Duveen. New York, 1986, p. 292 [British ed., "The Partnership: The Secret Association of Bernard Berenson and Joseph Duveen," London, 1987].
Jean Paris. L'atelier Bellini. Paris, 1995, pp. 194, 209, dates it 1510.
Katharine Baetjer. European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Artists Born Before 1865: A Summary Catalogue. New York, 1995, p. 72, ill.
Meryle Secrest. Duveen: A Life in Art. New York, 2004, pp. 288–89, 411.
Peter Humfrey inThe Age of Titian: Venetian Renaissance Art from Scottish Collections. Exh. cat., Royal Scottish Academy Building. Edinburgh, 2004, pp. 66–67, 428, no. 5, ill. (color), attributes it to a follower of Giovanni Bellini, "probably a former pupil," and dates it about 1510.
Antonio Mazzotta. E-mail to Everett Fahy. April 23, 2009, writes that "judging from a photograph, . . . [this picture] seems to me very close to Previtali's style of the first decade of the sixteenth century".
Old Master & 19th Century Paintings, Drawings & Watercolours: Evening Sale. Christie's, London. July 6, 2010, p. 103, under no. 36, as "by a close follower of the artist".
Antonio Mazzotta. Giovanni Bellini's Dudley Madonna. London, 2012, pp. 26, 44, 46, 90 n. 70, fig. 25 (color), proposes that it is an early work by Previtali of about 1500.
There is another example of this composition, with a different background, in the Ca' d'Oro, Venice, where it is attributed to the workshop of Giovanni Bellini.
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