Siena, second half of 16th century
Holy Family with the Infant St. John
oil on panel, diameter 74 cm
The Virgin sits smilingly with the Child in her lap; the latter gives the Infant St. John a warm welcome. Joseph is shown on the other side of the painting, his thoughtful gaze aimed at the two children’s meeting. The curtain which hangs behind the Holy Family opens to reveal a glimpse of a landscape in the background: a river winds towards the mountain ridges, which gently fade into the horizon. An imaginary city lies by the river; the contours of ancient buildings and temples stand out, barely visible in the hazy atmosphere of the morning mist.
Although the complex pose of Saint Joseph and the marked foreshortening of the Madonna’s face, as well as the painterly rendition of this tondo all indicate that it is the work of an artist who has been subject to later influences, the landscape with its delicately shaded hues, combined with the dense shades embracing the bodies, bring to mind the work of Leonardo da Vinci. The Tuscan master was to dominate the art of Northern Italy for a long time, and this was especially true in Lombardy where Leonardo spent many years at the service of the Sforza family, and where his followers as Bernardino Luini kept his style alive for many decades. The influence of Leonardo was also very strongly felt in Siena, where it arrived in the wake of Giovanni Antonio Bazzi, painter of Piedmontese origin also known as Il Sodoma.
It is precisely to the Tuscan school and the influence of the northern master that we must retrace this work, according to Sandro Bellesi, author of a study on the painting, who observes the “close affinities with the Sienese figurative culture, mainly linked to the experiments conducted in the wake of Il Sodoma”, dating the tondo to the last quarter of the Sixteenth century.