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Recent Acquisitions: Sassoferrato, Madonna and Child, mid-17th century

Hood Quarterly, spring/summer 2011

Giovanni Battista Salvi, called il Sassoferrato (1609–1665), was born in the small town of that name in central Italy and apparently apprenticed in Rome with Domenichino (1581–1641), whose brilliant palette and clearly defined forms he was to incorporate in his work. The younger artist’s paintings have elements in common with other classically trained painters, but the single most powerful influence on Sassoferrato was Raphael (1483–1520). Few public commissions by Sassoferrato exist, and the large number of surviving pictures consist of portraits, particularly of ecclesiastic clients, and sacred subjects painted for private devotion. Of these he is perhaps most noted for depictions of the Virgin Mary, by herself or with the Christ Child.

The present composition was one favored by the artist and was derived from a lost painting by Pierre Mignard (1612–1695), which in turn seems to have been based on Raphael’s Madonna del Granduca in the Palazzo Pitti in Florence. However, in contrast to the sedate Christ of Raphael’s painting, we have here a more active, more human child, one who seems almost to be squirming as he holds on to his mother. So too does the Madonna engage the viewer with her direct gaze, in contrast to the averted downward glance in earlier examples. Sassoferrato has reinterpreted the model by depicting his subject in clear light and a range of bright colors, for which he is justly celebrated.

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