The Madonna and Child and the Infant St. John the Baptiste
(Pier Francesco Foschi)


The influence of Foschi’s master, Del Sarto, is evident in The Madonna and Child and the Infant St. John the Baptiste. The composition’s individual components each recall Del Sarto: there are strong reminiscences of the Medici Holy Family (Florence, Pitti Palace), and the Christ Child appears to derive partly from the Zanobi Bracci Holy Family (Florence, Pitti Palace), while also recalling the appearance of similar children in the work of Pontormo. Highly typical of Foschi’s manner is the sculptural treatment of drapery, rendered in crisp, flat folds parallel to the picture plane. The colour’s range and juxtaposition in the Madonna’s garments is characteristic of Florentine painting in the first flush of mature Mannerism during the mid-late 1520s, when Pontormo’s Sta. Felicita Deposition and Carmignano Visitation had made the shot, acid colour of the Sistine Ceiling frescoes fashionable in Tuscany. Similarly, the glimpse of brooding, almost nocturnal landscape recalls similar details in early Bronzino pictures, such as the Dead Christ with the Madonna and St Mary Magdalen in the Uffizi, almost certainly painted before 1530.

The Infant St. John proffers Christ a goldfinch, symbol of his future Passion, while Christ holds an apple, symbolising Man’s salvation. In contrast to the increasingly complex iconography being developed by his Tuscan contemporaries, Foschi here favours a straightforward approach which recalls High Renaissance principles, albeit with the stylishness of the maniera. The directness of the imagery in our picture relates Foschi to emergent Counter-Reformation ideals rather than to the deliberate perversity of much contemporary painting.

Foschi appears to have occupied a position of great importance for his contemporaries, and was singled out for praise by both Vasari and Borghini. His extensive portraiture is distinguished by its psychological acuity, albeit with debts to Pontormo, Bronzino and Salviati. Outstanding examples are his Portrait of a Lady (Madrid, Thyssen Collection) and Cardinal Antonio Pucci (Florence, Corsini Collection). It seems that he worked in Andrea del Sarto’s studio until the latter’s death in 1530, and his subsequent style shares certain features with Puligo’s. In 1536, he assisted Pontormo at the Medici Villa of Careggi and had already partly succumbed to the older master’s formal distortions. He established his reputation with St Peter and St Philip Benizzi (Pisa, San Frediano a Settimo) and a Madonna and Saint for San Barnaba, Florence, and in the 1540s consolidated his reputation as a painter of altarpieces. He rarely conformed entirely to Mannerist principles in spite of living through the style’s formation and maturity.

40 ¾ x 31 7/8 ins. (103.5 x 81 cm.)
Oil on panel

R. H. Wood. Christie’s, 25th February 1927 (withdrawn). Private Collection, Vienna.
Vienna, Dorotheum, 6th December 1989, Lot 457 (as Maso di San Friano).
Matthiesen Gallery and Piero Corsini Inc. 1993.
Christies New York 2001, Lot 91, not sold

Historical Period
Mannerism & Cinquecento - 1530-1600
Religious: New Testament
Italian - Tuscan
1993-Fifty Paintings 1535 - 1825.
To celebrate Ten Years of Collaboration between The Matthiesen Gallery, London, and Stair Sainty Matthiesen, New York. 216 pages, 50 colour plates, numerous black and white text illustrations £20 or $32 inc. p.& p.

(Click on image above)
Price band
$250,000 - $350,000