A gifted artist much employed by the Este dukes in Ferrara, Girolamo da Carpi was an architect as well as a painter. His family hailed from the town of Carpi, north of Modena, whence his conventional name. He was trained by his father, who—like Girolamo—worked for the Este court, but he also spent time in the workshop of Garofalo (17.190.23
)—perhaps the most Raphaelesque of the Ferrarese painters—and later, as an associate, he worked with Garofalo as well as with Battista Dossi at the Este’s villa at Belriguardo (1536–37). He seems to have visited Rome in the mid-1520s and traveled as well to Bologna, Parma, and Modena. Bologna was important for the opportunity it afforded to study the work of Parmigianino, who arrived from Rome in 1527. Another major influence on his art was Giulio Romano, who became the court artist—painter as well as architect and designer—to the Gonzaga at Mantua in 1524. Girolamo doubtless studied Giulio’s work in Rome and probably knew his work in Mantua; Giulio was also occasionally in Ferrara in the 1530s. In 1549 Girolamo entered the employ of the cultivated Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este (1509–1572), accompanying him to Rome to work on the cardinal’s villa on the Capitoline and to advise him on his collection of antiquities, which Girolamo drew incessantly (see 34.114.1,2
). So admired were his talents that he was employed by Pope Julius III on architecture at the Vatican before returning to Ferrara in 1553. Unfortunately, little survives of his frescoes. His altarpieces and allegorical paintings are always inventive and reveal a strong classical bias. Girolamo was much in demand as a portraitist, and he also produced a large number of small, jewel-like pictures suitable for private collectors, like the picture catalogued here. The Picture:
In the foreground two shepherds have arrived, dropping to their knees in adoration of the newborn Jesus in a manger, whose advent they busily discuss. Opposite them, Mary also kneels in front of a cave opening transformed into a stable. Joseph stands behind her and behind him is a youth—perhaps another shepherd. In the distance can be seen an angel appearing in the sky, his radiance illuminating the rocky landscape, in which one sees a farm building or mill and a distant town. Two shepherds in the middle ground gesticulate toward the miraculous apparition. All of this is in conformity with the narrative found in the Gospel of Luke (2:8–16), which specifies that the event took place at night. The cave or grotto is a holdover from Byzantine and medieval practice and, famously, formed part of the vision of the fourteenth-century mystic, Saint Bridgit of Sweden (1303–1373) during her pilgrimage to Bethlehem in 1373.
Like a number of other works by Girolamo, this picture was at first ascribed to Dosso Dossi (26.83
). It is, however, a characteristic work and can be dated around 1537–40, when the influence of Giulio Romano—notable especially in the blockish forms and brilliant palette—was dominant. There is an analogy of style as well as composition with a drawing by Giulio for an Adoration of the Magi
in the Harvard University Art Museums (1938.61), often dated to the late 1520s. (For a good example of Giulio’s draftsmanship in the 1530s, see 1970.176
in The Met’s collection). Close in date to the Adoration of the Shepherds
is a Crucifixion
(Banca Popolare dell’Emilia Romagna, Modena), in which Girolamo’s interest in ancient sculpture, as seen in his many drawings, is particularly clear. That work has been dated to ca. 1535–40.
A poor copy of the picture in the Bonnefantenmuseum, Maastricht.
Keith Christiansen 2017
 See Alessandra Pattanaro,"La vocazione raffaellesca di Girolamo da Carpi e il confronto con Giulio Romano," Nuovi studi
7 (1999), pp. 77–104.
 Pattanaro 1999, pp. 87–88; and Ibid., "'Seguitando le pedate di Maestro Biagio': riflessione e nuove proposte per Girolamo da Carpi disegnatore," in Studi sul disegno padano del rinascimento
, ed. V. Romani, Verona, 2010, p. 122.
 Pattanaro 1999, pp. 86, 100-101 n. 82.