Giovanni Giuseppe Albertoni
(1806 - Varallo - 1887)
The Madonna and Child, with the infant Saint John the Baptist
27 1/2 x 21 inches (70 x 53.5 cm)
Giovanni Albertoni was born on 28 November 1806 in Varallo Sesia (Piedmont) and trained at the art academies of Milan and Turin. His artistic education began at the Varallo School of Drawing under the guidance of the painter Giovanni Avondo, where he stayed for two years, before moving to Milan’s Accademia di Brera to study under Pompeo Marchesi. Between 1829 and 1848 Albertoni worked at the Accademia Albertina in Turin and met a number of important Neoclassical sculptors, including Bertel Thorvaldsen and Pietro Tenerani. He then followed Thorvaldsen to Rome, becoming his pupil and remaining in the city for sixteen years.
Albertoni was attracted back to Turin to work for the royal family there, carrying out Maria Adelaide’s commissions between 1856 and 1858, including the funeral monument of Queen Maria Cristina in the Abbey of Altacomba. These prestigious commissions appear to have made Albertoni’s reputation in the city and he went on to carve monuments to Eusebio Bava and to Vincenzo Gioberti (1859), and the statue of Agriculture for the new façade of Palazzo Carignano (c. 1869). Other notable public monuments by Albertoni include those for Laurent Cerise at Aosta in 1872, for Alessandro Riberi in 1867 and the monumental fountain at Sacro Monte di Varallo. Albertoni also undertook many works for the churches of Turin, examples of which can be seen on the façade of the cathedral of the city. His works are preserved in the atrium of the Academy of Sciences of Turin and in the Royal Palace. He exhibited a relief and a bust of the Virgin Mary at the Promotrice di Belle Arti di Torino in 1884. Albertoni died in 1887, in Gioberti, near Turin, regarded as one of the great Italian sculptors of the nineteenth century.
This finely carved marble relief is a wonderfully sensitive depiction of the Madonna and Child embracing with great love and affection, whilst the infant St John the Baptist (identified by his goatskin cloak) looks on, gently resting his hand on the knee of the Virgin. This image represents the beautiful and caring Virgin as the ideal mother; her close, physical proximity to the Christ Child emphasizes their humanity, vulnerability and the deep nature of their love.
There is another version of the present relief by Albertoni in the Castle of Agliè in Turin, a holiday residence frequented by Carlo Felice and Maria Teresa, King and Queen of Sardinia and Duke and Duchess of Savoy, respectively. Sculpture in Piedmont during the first half of the nineteenth century was notable for its debt to the work of the great Danish sculptor Berthel Thorvaldsen, and his impact upon the art of the region is reflected in the composition of these two reliefs. Albertoni, a pupil of Thorvaldsen, was greatly influenced by his master’s style and indeed the present work takes its inspiration from a relief Thorvaldsencarved of the same subject between 1805 and 1807. Thorvaldsen designed his relief for one side of a baptismal font in the Church of Brahetrolleborg, Denmark (fig. 1) and it was reproduced for further baptismal fonts at the church of the Holy Ghost, Copenhagen, and at the Cathedral of Reykjavik, Iceland. The Thorvaldsen Museum is in possession of the original model in plaster and, interestingly, a small preparatory sketch for it that appears in the lower left-hand corner of Thorvaldsen’s drawing of Diomedes with the Palladium and Ulyses (fig. 2).