Colnaghi Foundation Journal 03 - Page 14

For Jennifer Fletcher
A Renaissance Madonna and Child with the
Infant Saint John the Baptist in Kirkcaldy
An attractive painting of the Madonna and Child with the
Infant Saint John the Baptist on a medium-sized, poplarwood panel (82.5 x 64.3 cm) has long preserved its secrets
away from the public gaze in the reserve collection of
the Kirkcaldy Museum and Art Gallery, Fife (fig. 1).1
It was transferred there from Anstruther Town Hall
between 1975 and 1984, and nothing earlier is known
about its provenance.2 However, an old strip of paper
on the back bears the name of the great Florentine
High Renaissance master, Andrea del Sarto (14861530), once viewed by the likes of Robert Browning
and Heinrich Wölfflin as the epitome of a Renaissance
artist. The picture is in reasonable condition, though
there is evidence of woodworm on the back of the panel
and there are scattered small paint losses on the front,
some of which have been filled in. Its rainbow palette
has been somewhat dimmed by discoloured varnish and
would benefit from a full conservation, which is currently
envisaged. Such an intervention might even further
elevate the picture’s quality.
Fig.1 / Circle of Domenico
Puligo, Madonna and Child
with the Infant Saint John
the Baptist, 1520s-1530s,
oil on panel, 82.5 x 64.3 cm,
Kirkcaldy (Fife), Museum
and Art Gallery.
The broad similarity with Andrea’s style is indisputable,
not least in its colouring, composition, and landscape
(figs. 2 and 3), and explains the old attribution.
However, neither the handling nor the characterization
betray Andrea’s immaculate finish, nor the deeply
engaged cast of thought of his figures. Indeed the
facial types are quite unlike Andrea’s. We are dealing,
rather, with a skilful work by one of his many pupils or
imitators, with an emphasis on prettiness (the Virgin’s
Hollywood face) and elegance (the Christ Child’s
Mohican quiff). It opens up the complex and underresearched area of Andrea’s studio and influence.3
Vasari refers to the many pupils who passed through
his workshop for varying lengths of time, sometimes
driven away by their lack of rapport with Andrea’s
allegedly domineering wife, Lucrezia del Fede, while
he also mentions other artists as close friends or
associates who worked alongside him. One of the latter
was Domenico Puligo (1492-1527) who, according to
Vasari, spent almost all his time painting Madonnas,
and whose works are to this day still sometimes
confused with Andrea’s.4 Andrea, it seems, “was never
so happy as when Domenico was in his workshop
learning from him.”5 Puligo’s facial types, poses, and
compositions bear especially close comparison with
the Kirkcaldy picture (see fig. 4), even if the Fife panel
seems somewhat harder in handling than Puligo’s
soft brushwork, and also rather more Mannerist,
possibly placing it in the 1530s rather than 1520s.
However, the contrapposto pose and splayed legs of
the Kirkcaldy Christ Child, as well as the picture’s
overall composition, are closer to Puligo’s Madonna and
Child with Saint John the Baptist in the Galleria Palatina
of Palazzo Pitti (fig. 4) than they are to Andrea’s
prototypes (see fig. 2). It is, therefore, tempting to view
the Kirkcaldy panel as emanating from Puligo’s circle,
or even studio, rather than that of Andrea, in so far as
they were distinct. Other works either by or attributed
to Puligo are also close in feel to the Kirkcaldy Virgin
and Child with the Infant Saint John. For example, the face
of the Christ Child in a panel attributed to Puligo,
now in Nantes (fig. 5), is very similar to that of the
Kirkcaldy Saviour. Likewise Puligo’s Holy Family with
the Infant Saint John in the Pitti (fig. 6) has several links
with the Kirkcaldy panel, from the now reversed pose


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