A group of Madonnas by Carpaccio and Bartolomeo Veneto
A group of Madonnas by Carpaccio and Bartolomeo Veneto
should be given chronological priority. What can be
confidently said, however, is that the arched (rather
than rectangular) form of the window in the Fogg
Madonna was a particular favourite of Alvise and makes
a frequent appearance in his work (see fig. 10). Perhaps,
therefore, the compositional similarity between the two
Madonnas may be explained by the hypothesis that they
are independently based on a lost prototype by Alvise.
Probably the least problematic work in the present group
in terms of attribution and date is the one that emerged
as recently as July 2019 (see fig. 4). Although traditionally
given to Cima, there can be little question that it is by
Bartolomeo Veneto, and that it should be added to
the series of five Virgin and Child paintings generally
accepted as this painter’s earliest known works.10 Of these
five, four follow a composition invented by Giovanni
Bellini, probably identifiable with the signed work of ca.
1495-1500 now in the Alana collection.11 Two of them
are signed and dated by Bartolomeo: the earlier, of
1502, is likewise now in the Alana collection;12 the later,
signed and dated 1505, is in the Accademia Carrara,
Bergamo (fig. 11). The fifth in the series, again signed by
Bartolomeo but carrying a date that is no longer legible, is
the Madonna in Ajaccio (see fig. 6), and is the only one
to depart from Bellini’s compositional type.
Fig. 11 / Bartolomeo Veneto,
Virgin and Child, signed and
dated 1505, oil on panel, 44
x 35 cm, Accademia Carrara,
Fig. 12 / Niccolò Rondinelli,
Virgin and Child, ca. 1495,
oil on panel, 63.5 x 50.5. cm,
Rome, Galleria Nazionale di
Palazzo Barberini.
Although the new Madonna attributable to
Bartolomeo corresponds fairly closely to that in
Ajaccio in terms of its figure composition, the colour
range of the Virgin’s draperies and the treatment
of the landscape background are not so obviously
similar as immediately to confirm that they are by
the same artist. Nevertheless, a comparison with
Bartolomeo’s Madonna in the Accademia Carrara
shows very strong similarities indeed, from the
packing of the grassy area immediately behind the
foreground group with figures, animals, and birds,
to the wooded hillside beyond, likewise packed with
houses and towers, to the undulating planes of the
distant mountains. Some of the background details are
even exactly repeated in the two paintings: the house on
tall stilts seen to the left of the Child’s shoulder in the
Sotheby’s picture, for example, reappears to the right
of his counterpart in Bergamo. In both works, however,
several of the other details belong to a repertory of
motifs current in the workshop of Giovanni Bellini,
whose pupil Bartolomeo declared himself to be.
Thus in the new Madonna, the turbaned figure
walking off in the left middle-ground derives from that
in Bellini’s Sacred Allegory (Uffizi); the pair of rabbits,
one brown and one white, appear frequently in the
works of Bellini and his followers; and the apparently
outsized goldfinch corresponds to the bird in a
Madonna by Rondinelli, another of Bellini’s pupils, in
Palazzo Barberini, Rome (fig. 12). This last work helps,
in fact, read the intended spatial relationships in the
new work by Bartolomeo, since it strongly suggests that
– as in the Florence Madonna by Carpaccio, although
following a different design – the bird is meant to be
tethered on a string that the Child is clutching in his
little fist. Finally, the group of rustic buildings with
steeply-pitched roofs on the right is borrowed directly
from Dürer’s Prodigal Son engraving of 1496.13
All this serves not only to confirm the attribution of the
recently emerged painting to Bartolomeo Veneto, but
to date it to ca. 1505 (or possibly to slightly earlier). In
turn, it may also serve to provide a tentative attribution
for the final Madonna in the group under discussion
(see fig. 3). Formerly in the Karner collection, Vienna,
this once also carried an unconvincing attribution to
Cima, and remains in search of an author.14
This too combines our familiar figure composition
(but no bird) with the Alvisesque motif of the arched
window; and the landscape background is likewise much
closer to that of the two Carpaccios than anything in
Bartolomeo’s known works, or indeed, anything by
Bellini. Yet it may be observed that the treatment of
the figures and draperies is near identical to that in the
new Bartolomeo, down to the folds in the Virgin’s veil,
robe and mantle. While it is clear from the foregoing
discussion that figure groups and motifs easily migrated
from one Venetian workshop to another in these years,
the closeness of this last correspondence prompts the
suggestion that the ex-Karner picture may be another
early work by Bartolomeo Veneto: perhaps the earliest in
his series of Madonnas, and dating from about 1500.


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