(Cesena 1639 – 1677 Pesaro)
Madonna and Child
Oil on canvas, 103 x 80 cm
Lodovico Ugolini, lawyer, d. Cesena 1736 (recorded in an inventory in his will drafted 20 May 1720); Ruffo della Scaletta family; In 1879 Antonio Ruffo della Scaletta married Ludovica Borghese; on this occasion, the Borghese family gave, as a gift, a plot of land in Rome, adjacent to the Villa Borghese, as well as part of their collection of art; Alessandra di Castro Antichità, Rome.
In this arresting unfinished painting by Cristoforo Savolini the highly refined figures of the Madonna and Child materialize from a bare backdrop of umber ground. Savolini died in a horse riding accident at the fairly young age of thirty-eight in 1677, at the height of his career, leaving several works unfinished in his studio. The present canvas is one of four such paintings that were acquired by a loyal patron and collector, a lawyer named Ludovico Ugolini, who managed to collect thirty-one of the artist’s paintings, sketches and drawings before his own death in 1736. Two of the other non finito paintings purchased by the lawyer featured heads of elderly men and the third represented the Expulsion of Hagar (Fig. 1). In addition to the four unfinished paintings purchased after the artist’s death, Ugolini bought an important altarpiece depicting St. Anne with St. Bonaventure (later destroyed in World War II). Our painting is described in Ugolini’s will, drafted 20 May 1720:
An unfinished Madonna with the Child holding her hand in such a way that she may impart a blessing, more than half a figure in height, by the hand of the above mentioned Mr. Savolini, with a frame fully gilded with various leaves and a small panel overhead to keep out the dust, and with a Sengalla green curtain to keep it covered.
With strong ties to Rome, Cesena was an important city in the Papal States and Savolini consequently received a number of religious commissions from 1670 onwards. Many of his works can be found in churches throughout the Emilia-Romagna region – in Cesena, Faenza, Pesaro, Rimini and Bologna. One of the most highly skilled painters of the late Emilian School, along with Cristoforo Serra, Savolini followed in the footsteps of Guercino and Domenichino. The work of his slightly older contemporary Guido Cagnacci, whose influence is evidenced in Savolini’s figural types and dark subtle tonalities, made a considerable impact on the Emilian painter as well.
A finished painting of the Holy Family with an almost identical Christ Child (fig. 2), presents us with an idea of Savolini's conception for our fragmentary work, had his life not been cut short. The Madonna figure, too, is nearly the same as she holds her standing infant, though her gaze in this case is directed towards Joseph rather than the child. Additionally, a drawing of the Madonna and Child with the Infant St. John the Baptist reveals similarities to the present painting, although the poses of the figures vary (Fig. 3). This drawing was donated to the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera by painter Carlo Bianconi (Bologna 1732 – 1802 Milan), the first secretary of the institution, as a masterly example of draughtsmanship, intended for emulation by younger students.
“Una Madonna non finita col Bambino che le tiene la mano, acciò dia la benedizione, di grandezza di più di mezza figura, di mano del sud.o Sig.r Savolini con cornice tutta dorata con soprafoglie riverse, et una tavoletta sopra per riguardo della polvere, e con sua tenda verde di Sengalla per tenerla coperta” (p. 71.) Now in the state archives in Cesena and published in an essay entitled Cristoforo Savoloini detto Cristofanino, pittore, in "Romagna Arte e Storia," 10, 1990, pg. 53 - 72.