Edited by Luca Fiorentino

This Holy Family, a composition consistent with the finest quality of 16th century Tuscany, has an intimate tone linked to its counter-reformation milieu.

The Virgin and Child are central to the semi-circular composition of the work that draws the other figures present towards the infant Christ and the young Saint John offering fruit. This polarised figuration guides the viewer’s gaze as well.

The artist used functional lines to create contours, and skilfully employed parallel lines and watercoloring to create a chiaroscuro that appears muted and subtle in folds, but generates more intense contrast in deeper shadow zones. The white bodycolour heightening enhances the range of tones only in the most important points. But it is noteworthy that the Virgin’s aureole is highlighted simply by leaving the bare paper untouched, suggesting a different, more delicate lighting effect.

The style is ascribable to the Florentine sphere, although it is still difficult to specify the artist. Similar compositions are found in the work of Giovan Battista Naldini (Florence 1535 – 1591), who also often used red chalk, but it is also essential to consider later artists who chose to reprise older canons in homage to their maestros and predecessors, such as Iacopo da Empoli (Florence, 1551 – 1640), Il Passignano (Tavarnelle val di Pesa 1559 – Florence 1638) and some of the work of Santi di Tito (Florence 1536 – 1603)1.

1 On Giovan Battista Naldini see at least: Christel Thiem, Das römische Reiseskizzenbuch des Florentiners Giovan Battista Naldini, München, 2002.

Regarding the artists cited, it seems most interesting to make some comparisons with Passignano, considered to be among those who created drawings and other works with numerous similarities to the one in question. On this point see:

Piera Giovanna Tordella, Domenico Cresti detto il Passignano (1559 – 1638): fonti e disegni preliminari inediti per la pala dell’altare maggiore della chiesa di San Michele di Badia a Passignano, in ‘Atti e Memorie dell’Accademia Toscana di scienze e Lettere La Colombaria’, Volume LXVIII, n.s. LIV, Florence, 2003, pp. 163-170;

Federico Berti, Domenico Cresti, il Passignano, “fra la nazione fiorentina e veneziana”. Viatico per il periodo giovanile con una inedita Sacra Famiglia, introduction by Riccardo Spinelli, Florence, 2013.

We thank Federico Berti who suggested a more or less iconographic relationship with Passignano’s painting on a wood panel in the Frascione collection, in which the young Saint John’s offering (loaves of bread in the drawing; a dove in the painting) is indicative, if not in terms of clear attribution, of a model that was popular in Florence.

For comparison with our drawing, see also the sheets held by the Département des Arts Graphiques of the Louvre, in particular: Birth of the Virgin and four Saints, pen, brown ink and red chalk, 318 x 212 mm, Inv. 11230; Preaching of Saint Stephen, red chalk on green paper, 222 x 333 mm, Inv. 1093.

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