Virgin and Child c. 1516
(Andrea del Sarto)


One of Andrea del Sarto’s most celebrated masterpieces is The Madonna of the Harpies (Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence), which is signed and dated 1517. The altarpiece is as arresting in its simple austerity as it is complex in its iconographical meaning. The visual intricacy and emotional resonance that characterize The Madonna of the Harpies are also evident in Andrea’s small-scale works from this same period. Recently one such painting depicting The Madonna and Child has reappeared. Although its composition was known from another autograph version in the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, the new picture raises a number of interesting questions about Andrea’s working procedures. The Madonna stands before a pair of slightly parted, bottle green curtains and in front of a stone parapet. In her right hand she holds a book, while with her left she supports the Christ Child, whose classically proportioned body is revealed through a delicate piece of diaphanous drapery. With a taunting expression of laughter the young child looks away from his mother, yet simultaneously gestures towards her with a chubby finger. Just as in The Madonna of the Harpies, the stoic introspection of the Madonna is contrasted with the infant’s impish grin.
The picture is on a thick poplar support, which in a quite unusual manner has been prepared with gesso on both sides. On the verso there are a number of small sketches of nude figures, which may be by one of the members of the shop.
The Virgin’s finally chiselled features, high forehead and pointed chin were derived from a model consistently used by Andrea in the mid-1520s. It is generally assumed that the model was his wife, Lucrezia del Fede. A black chalk drawing (National Gallery of Art, Washington) of a woman has been identified as Lucrezia and associated with the panels in Ottawa and London. The drawing is the type of life-sketch that Andrea would combine with ideas from other studies to create larger compositions. These compositions would then be transferred to the panel by means of a cartoon. In the case of the London and Ottawa panels the schematic, somewhat irregular and broken outlines seen in the infrared reflectograms indicate that the design was transferred from the same cartoon by means of a stylus. However, different changes were made to the outlines of the cartoon on each panel. In the London panel the position of the book, the Virgin’s fingers, her collarbone and the Christ Child’s hand, were all modified. In the Ottawa panel the infant’s body was shifted further to the left. On the basis of the modifications to the underdrawings as well as the overall quality of the execution, it may be argued that the London and Ottawa pictures are both fully autograph works by Andrea completed perhaps side-by-side in his studio around 1516. There are also a least four other pictures based on the same cartoon that can be attributed to his workshop.

89 x 66.6 cm
Tempera on panel

Clara Winthrop, Boston; bequeathed to All Saints Episcopal church, West Newbury, Mass, in the 1930s
Sold Sotheby’s New York, 28 January 2000, lot 12


Brown 2001; and London 2001, pp. 19-20.

BROWN 2001
Beverly Louise Brown, A Del Sarto Rediscovered, exh. cat. Matthiesen
Fine Arts, Ltd., London, 2001.

Andrea del Sarto: The Botti Madonna, exh. cat. Courtauld Institute of Art, London, 2001.


Canberra and Melbourne The Italians: Three centuries of Italian Art 2002 No.5

Where is It?
Acquired from The Matthiesen Gallery by the National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo
Historical Period
High Renaissance to Mannerism - 1450-1530 & Mannerism & Cinquecento - 1530-1600
Religious: New Testament
Italian - Tuscan
Price band
Sold or not available