Foppa was the founder of Renaissance painting in Milan, where he worked for the dukes. In addition to major fresco cycles and altarpieces, he also painted touching images of the Madonna and Child for private devotion. This one dates to about 1480 and shows the Madonna and Child before a rose hedge—the Madonna was sometimes referred to as the "rose without thorns" (i.e., without sin). The finely drawn hands and gray flesh tones are typical of Foppa’s work, as is the delicate modeling with gold.
There is no record of this picture prior to its purchase between 1882 and 1884 by William Graham (1817–1885), a Glasgow merchant, major supporter of the Pre-Raphaelites, and notable collector of early Italian paintings. He ascribed it to the Lombard painter Bernardo Zenale (ca. 1460–1526) but it is, instead, a typical work by Vincenzo Foppa, the key painter in the introduction of Renaissance style to Milan, and was recognized as such by Berenson (unpublished opinion of 1893 recorded in departmental files). The Madonna and Child are shown against the sky with a hedge of roses, the flower that, together with the lily, is most closely associated with the Virgin. The hedge is a reference to the enclosed garden, or hortus conclusus of the Song of Solomon 4:12: "A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse; a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed up." The gold border is original, though like the haloes, has lost whatever glazes or decoration there may have been. The dating of Foppa’s work remains controversial and this picture has been thought to date as early as ca. 1465–70; to ca. 1480; or to sometime between between 1490 and 1515. This lack of agreement points to the essential consistency of Foppa’s art, which was formed on the basis of his early awareness of the painting of Jacopo Bellini, who in 1444 sent an altarpiece to Foppa’s native Brescia; the sculpture of Donatello and Mantegna’s youthful work in Padua; and Giovanni Bellini’s early work in Venice. The compositional formula—conceived according the Byzantine glykophilousa, or affectionate, type (with the child placing his cheek against his mother’s)—has been thought to derive from works Foppa saw in Genoa, possibly Netherlandish, and this has provided the strongest argument in favor of a date in the late 1460s (for a review of these views, see Natale 2003). A Madonna and Child by Bergognone in the Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milan—often dated to the 1480s—seems to be based on the MMA picture.
The gold border, over-painted in black at some time in the past, was revealed when the picture was cleaned in 1978–79.
[Keith Christiansen 2011]
William Graham, London (acquired between 1882 and 1884, d. 1885; inv., 1882–84, no. 477, as by Zenale; his estate sale, Christie's, London, April 9, 1886, no. 286, as by Zenale, for 26 gns. to Bridges); H. G. Bridges, Newport, R.I. (1886–93; sold for $650 to Davis); Theodore M. Davis, Newport, R.I. (1893–d. 1915; as by Vincenzo Foppa; his estate, on loan to the MMA, 1915–30)
Brescia. Santa Giulia, Museo della città. "Vincenzo Foppa: Un protagonista del Rinascimento," March 3–June 30, 2002, no. 39.
Catalogue of Pictures, Ancient and Modern, 35 Grosvenor Place. 1882, no. 477 [see Ref. Garnett 1982].
Bernhard Berenson. North Italian Painters of the Renaissance. New York, 1907, p. 220, lists it as by Foppa and calls it a late work.
Constance Jocelyn Ffoulkes and Rodolfo Maiocchi. Vincenzo Foppa of Brescia, Founder of the Lombard School: His Life and Work. London, 1909, p. 83 n. 1, pp. 88–89, 267, 272, ill. opp. p. 88, include it in a group of pictures that they date between about 1490 and 1515; erroneously state that Davis acquired it in 1904.
Wilhelm Suida. "Studien zur lombardischen Malerei des XV. Jahrhunderts." Monatshefte für Kunstwissenschaft 2, no. 10 (1909), p. 479, calls it an early work, from 1460 or before, while mentioning that it is only known to him from a photograph.
Francesco Malaguzzi Valeri. "Il Foppa in una recente pubblicazione." Rassegna d'arte 9 (May 1909), p. 85, calls it a repetition by Foppa of Madonnas he painted between 1460 and 1470, mentioning works in the Castello Sforzesco, the Berlin museum, the Trivulzio collection, and the Villa I Tatti, Florence.
"Fine Arts: Review of Ffoulkes and Maiocchi 1909." Athenæum no. 4300 (March 26, 1910), p. 375, believes that it was painted earlier than the dating given by most scholars; finds strong evidence of the influence of Jacopo Bellini.
Joseph Breck. "Dipinti italiani nella raccolta del Signor Teodoro Davis." Rassegna d'arte 11 (July 1911), p. 113, concurs with Ffoulkes' and Maiocchi's dating [see Ref. 1909].
J[oseph]. A[rcher]. Crowe and G[iovanni]. B[attista]. Cavalcaselle. A History of Painting in North Italy: Venice, Padua, Vicenza, Verona, Ferrara, Milan, Friuli, Brescia, from the Fourteenth to the Sixteenth Century. Ed. Tancred Borenius. 2nd ed. [1st ed. 1871]. London, 1912, vol. 2, p. 327 n., Borenius lists it as in the Davies [sic] collection.
G[ustav]. Pauli inAllgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler. Ed. Ulrich Thieme. Vol. 12, Leipzig, 1916, p. 196, concurs with Suida's dating [see Ref. 1909].
Lionello Venturi. Pitture italiane in America. Milan, 1931, unpaginated, pl. CCCXXIII, dates it not later than 1480.
Adolfo Venturi. North Italian Painting of the Quattrocento: Lombardy, Piedmont, Liguria. Florence, [1931?], p. 22, dates it slightly before Foppa's Madonna in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which he calls a late work.
Bernhard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Oxford, 1932, p. 199.
Lionello Venturi. Italian Paintings in America. Vol. 2, Fifteenth Century Renaissance. New York, 1933, unpaginated, pl. 434.
Bernhard Berenson. Pitture italiane del rinascimento. Milan, 1936, p. 172.
Harry B. Wehle. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Italian, Spanish, and Byzantine Paintings. New York, 1940, p. 132, ill., calls it typical of Foppa's work of the 1470s.
Fernanda Wittgens. Vincenzo Foppa. Milan, , pp. 70, 102, pl. LXXXII, dates it to the early 1470s; notes the influence of Giovanni Bellini and Mantegna.
C[ostantino]. Baroni and S[ergio]. Samek Ludovici. La pittura lombarda del Quattrocento. Messina, 1952, p. 165, do not recognize the hand of Foppa himself in this work.
Fernanda Wittgens inStoria di Milano. Vol. 7, L'età sforzesca dal 1450 al 1500. [Milan], 1956, p. 762.
Edoardo Arslan inEnciclopedia universale dell'arte. Vol. 5, Venice, 1958, col. 435, dates it possibly slightly later than the polyptych in the Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan, which he dates 1478–81 or possibly later.
Edoardo Arslan inStoria di Brescia. Vol. 2, La dominazione veneta (1426–1575). [Brescia], , p. 940 [reprinted as Edoardo Arslan, "Vincenzo Foppa," Brescia, (1963?)], dates it close in time to the Brera polyptych, between 1478 and 1481 [see also Ref. Arslan 1958].
Bernard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Central Italian and North Italian Schools. London, 1968, vol. 1, p. 137.
Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 72, 324, 607.
Mirella Levi d'Ancona. The Garden of the Renaissance: Botanical Symbolism in Italian Painting. Florence, 1977, p. 541.
Oliver Garnett. Letter to Sir John Pope-Hennessy. September 27, 1982, notes that it is listed in an unpublished inventory of William Graham's collection, as no. 477, by Zenale, explaining that the fact that the picture is added in Graham's handwriting at the end of the inventory indicates that it must have been acquired between 1882, the date of the printed inventory, and 1884, when the inventory was closed.
Mauro Natale. Museo Poldi Pezzoli: dipinti. Milan, 1982, p. 79, under no. 20, notes that a Madonna and Child by Bergognone of 1488–89 in the Poldi Pezzoli (inv. 1644/640) is based on this picture; states that the MMA composition is inspired more by Ligurian works by Barnaba da Modena and Taddeo di Bartolo, together with Netherlandish devotional pictures, than by Venetian models; mentions a Holy Family attributed to an unknown Lombard painter of about 1500 also based on this composition (sold, Christie's, London, 1955).
Federico Zeri with the assistance of Elizabeth E. Gardner. Italian Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, North Italian School. New York, 1986, pp. 18–19, pl. 20, date it to the 1480s and call it typical of the artist's small-scale devotional paintings; relate the composition to Mantegna and Bellini, and the hedge of roses to late Gothic art in Lombardy and Verona; discuss the state of preservation.
Mauro Natale inRestauri in provincia di imperia. Ed. Franco Boggero. Genoa, 1986, pp. 33, 35 n. 35, states that it was probably a Ligurian patron who specified the archaizing quality of the picture.
Mauro Natale inLa pittura in Italia: il Quattrocento. Ed. Federico Zeri. revised and expanded ed. [Milan], 1987, vol. 1, pp. 18, 28 n. 19, notes the poor state of conservation.
Anna De Floriani. "Verso il Rinascimento." La pittura in Liguria: il Quattrocento. Genoa, 1991, pp. 247, 275 n. 19, fig. 230, dates it to the 1460s.
Axel Klumpp. "Vincenzo Foppa (ca. 1430–1515/16)." PhD diss., Julius-Maximilians-Universität zu Würzburg, 1995, vol. 1, pp. 333–34; vol. 2, pp. 429, 600–601, no. D48, attributes it to Foppa's workshop and dates it to the 1490s.
E. Samuels Welch inThe Dictionary of Art. Ed. Jane Turner. New York, 1996, p. 293, fig. 2, dates it to the 1480s.
Maria Clelia Galassi. "Sul percorso di Vincenzo Foppa: Un avvio all'analisi del disegno sottostante." Commentari d'arte 2 (September–December 1996), p. 38.
Maria Grazia Balzarini. Vincenzo Foppa: La formazione e l'attività giovanile. Florence, 1996, pp. 76–77, fig. 48, calls it an early work.
Maria Grazia Balzarini. Vincenzo Foppa. Milan, 1997, pp. 15, 19–20, 41 n. 2, pp. 154, 211, no. 14, ill. p. 154 and pl. 16, finds it difficult to date the artist's little Madonnas precisely, but believes that the MMA picture is probably earlier than those in Florence, Berlin, and Raleigh.
Oliver Garnett. "The Letters and Collection of William Graham—Pre-Raphaelite Patron and Pre-Raphael Collector." Walpole Society 62 (2000), pp. 153, 315, no. d116, fig. 175, states that the purchase price at the 1886 Graham sale was 26 guineas.
Giovanni Agosti et al. inVincenzo Foppa, un protagonista del Rinascimento: Guida alla mostra. Exh. brochure, Santa Giulia—Museo della Città, Brescia. Milan, 2002, pp. 32, 92, no. 30, ill. (color), date it about 1460–65.
Andrea Bayer. "North of the Apennines: Sixteenth-Century Italian Painting in Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 60 (Spring 2003), pp. 7–10, figs. 1 (color), 2 (detail, infrared photograph), dates it probably about 1480; states that it is intentionally archaizing, relating it to a fourteenth-century Sienese painting called the Cambrai Madonna (Cambrai cathedral), which Foppa may have known about through Netherlandish paintings inspired by it.
Mauro Natale inVincenzo Foppa: un protagonista del Rinascimento. Ed. Giovanni Agosti et al. Exh. cat., Santa Giulia, Museo della città, Brescia. Milan, 2003, pp. 166–67, no. 39, ill. (color), fig. 39a (infrared reflectogram), dates it about 1465–70.
Catheline Périer-d'Ieteren. Dieric Bouts: The Complete Works. Brussels, 2006, pp. 222, 227 n. 45, sees the tenderness of this painting as stemming directly from Dieric Bouts's "Glykophilousa" Virgins.