PIER FRANCESCO DI JACOPO
Madonna and Child with Two Angels
Oil on panel
37 ¼ x 29 3/8 inches (94.5 x 74.5 cm)
Private European collection.
By Simone Giordani:
The Madonna and Child with Two Angels under study here is without question to be given to the Florentine painter Pierfrancesco Foschi (1502-1567). He was the son of Simona Compagni, a collateral descendent of an illustrious aristocratic Florentine family, and Jacopo di Domenico, a student of Botticelli’s so closely associated with his master that he was called by Vasari, and so designated in some documents, as “Jacopo di Sandro.” Foschi’s artistic education began in the workshop of Andrea del Sarto, with whom he would remain associated up until Sarto’s death in 1530. Although Vasari had intended to devote a biography to Foschi --as indicated by his inclusion in an autograph list of artists (now in the British Museum) compiled during the preparation of the 1568 second edition of the Lives—he never did so, but he did mention the artist several times, noting that he had collaborated with Pontormo on the lost fresco cycles of the Villa at Careggi, commissioned in 1535 by Duke Alessandro de’Medici, and the Villa at Castello, commissioned by Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici the following year. Vasari further noted that Foschi took part in two of the principal collective artistic projects at the Medici Court: the ephemeral decorations for the marriage of Cosimo I with Eleanora de Toledo in 1539, and those for the wedding of Prince Francesco I and Giovanna d’Austria in 1565. And finally, and here one is dealing with evidence of the eminent position which Foschi enjoyed in the Florentine artistic community, Vasari tells us that Foschi was one of the founding members of The Accademia del Disegno in 1563 – a group which, besides Vasari himself, included Bronzino, Montorsoli, Francesco da Sangallo and Michele di Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio– and that he participated in the creation of the imposing funeral decorations for Michelangelo in the Basilica of San Lorenzo in 1564 --the first project undertaken by the newly created Academy.
In his long and prolific career Foschi was employed in the creation of several monumental altarpieces for churches in Florence and Tuscany. Among these are the Altarpiece of the Oratorio di San Sebastiano dei Bini, commissioned by Bernardo Bini, the banker and fiduciary agent for Pope Leo X, and completed around 1525 in collaboration with Baccio d’Agnolo and the Master of Serumido; and three altarpieces depicting the Resurrection, Immaculate Conception, and Transfiguration, all painted in the second half of the 1540s for family chapels in the Church of Santo Spirito in Florence (those of the Bettoni, the Torrigiani, and again the Bini).
But, otherwise Foschi was, in the words of Luigi Lanzi a “pittor di private cose,” a painter of private works, and in fact a significant number of religious paintings intended for patrician homes can be attributed to him, not to mention portraits of wealthy patrons, such as the aristocratic but still unidentified Portrait of a Lady in a Pink Dress (ca. 1535; Madrid, Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection), Cardinal Antionio Pucci (1540; Florence, Corsini Gallery), and the artist’s distant relative, the merchant and diplomat Bartolomeo Compagni (1549; Jacksonville, Cummer Art Gallery).
Only slightly seduced by the formal experimentations and stylistic aberrations of Rosso Fiorentino and Pontormo, and completely resistant to the mannerist innovations coming from Salviati and Vasari in the 1550s and 60s, Pierfrancesco Foschi kept the works of Andrea del Sarto as paradigms throughout his entire career. His paintings offer variations of these models, occasionally close to replicas, in which Andrea’s chiaroscuro effects and miraculous naturalism yield to a more uniform palette of often brilliant colors, at times enhanced by iridescent effects, that serve to articulate volumes as artificial and monumental forms.
In this regard the painting under examination is a typical example of Foschi’s manner. The Virgin is presented in a pose as if sliding off of a mound of clouds, following a composition that Andrea del Sarto had originated in the 1520s, both in the Panciatichi Assumption of the Virgin and the altarpiece of the same subject commissioned by Margherita Passerini, mother of Cardinal Silvio (both today in the Galleria Palatina of the Pitti Palace). At the same time the tender gesture of the Virgin holding the Christ Child who balances himself on his little legs, extending one hand towards the viewer, derives, although with some variations, from Andrea’s design for the tondo figures in the gold brocade altar frontal given by Cardinal Passerini to the Cathedral of Cortona in 1526. Also the two playful angels that emerge from the clouds demonstrate their dependence on prototypes employed several times by the master. That on the left seems to derive, although in reverse, from the Child that amuses himself in the arms of the Virgin in the Madonna and Child with Sts. Elizabeth, Catherine and the Infant John the Baptist (ca 1513; St. Petersburg, Hermitage Museum), while the one that hugs the Madonna’s thigh descends almost literally from the angel that peeks out from the darkness of the shadowy niche in the Madonna of the Harpies (ca. 1517; Florence, Uffizi Gallery).
To this day we knew of four paintings that follow this intricate composition of Sartesque origin: that in the Galleria of the Ospedale degli Innocenti in Florence, perhaps the earliest in date, roughly coming from the middle of the 1530s, but suffering from areas of old repaint; the present painting, which would date shortly afterward and which we can consider the best preserved example; and another in the Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea in Vittorio Veneto (firstly recognized as Foschi by by Roberto Longhi) probably painted somewhat later. Another version, somewhat damaged and difficult to judge from photographs, appeared on the art market a decade ago.