Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest

Madonna and Child

Milanese School (Studio of Leonardo da Vinci, Anchiano, 1452-Amboise, 1519)
16th Century
38 x 28.5 cm (panel); 57.5 x 48.5 cm (framed)
Oil and tempera on panel
  • Collection of Emperor Alexander III of Russia (1845-1894; reign: 1881-1894)
  • Collection of Grand Duchess Marie Nikolaevna of Russia (1899-1918), daughter of Emperor Nicholas I of Russia (1796-1855) and Alexandra Fyodorovna (Princess Charlotte of Prussia) (1798-1860)
  • Collection of Prince Nicholas Maximilianovich de Beauharnais, 4th Duke of Leuchtenberg (1843-1891), son of Grand Duchess Marie Nikolaevna of Russia and Maximilian de Beauharnais, 3rd Duke of Leuchtenberg (through inheritance)
  • Collection of Prince George Maximilianovich Romanowsky, 6th Duke of Leuchtenberg (1852-1912), son of Grand Duchess Marie Nikolaevna of Russia and Maximilian de Beauharnais, 3rd Duke of Leuchtenberg (through inheritance)
  • Sold to Durand-Ruel, Paris, 1899
  • Collection of Charles H. Senff, U.S.A.
  • Sale by Auction, Anderson Galleries, New York, 28 March 1929, lot 11, as ‘Bernardino Luini’
  • Sale by Auction, Sotheby’s, New York, 27 May 1992, lot 283, as ‘Follower of Marco d’Oggiono’
  • Sale by Auction, Bonhams, London, 5 July 2017, lot 57, as ‘Milanese School’

The dark background offsets the warm light that softly sculpts the face of the Virgin Mary and the rotund Baby Jesus resting on a parapet or sill. In this intimate and quiet atmosphere, the half-length Madonna casts a tender look at her son whose attention is captured elsewhere. Her subtle smile reveals her maternal love and humility before the divine child whom she presents to the spectator with certain reverence. Overall, the smooth treatment of hair, drapery and skin is modelled by the delicate use of the sfumato technique and chiaroscuro effects, indeed the hallmark of an accomplished hand.

Throughout the past 100 years, this panel painting has been subject to different authorships. Despite that they have now been superseded, the artists who scholars have suggested are invariably linked with the Milanese School which was spellbound by the artistic innovations of the great Leonardo da Vinci who had worked in Milan from 1482 till 1499. There he founded a very active workshop and attracted an impressive following such that many artists made it their lifelong mission to carry on the Leonardesque gene in their paintings.

During his Milanese phase, Leonardo abandoned the dry and strictly linear 15th-century Florentine style in favour of imbuing his compositions with a holistic feel. This he succeeded in doing through his experimentation with the oil painting technique and by studying and emulating the natural behaviour of light on surfaces. His search for harmony and formal perfection, through his avid study of human anatomy and persistent research on optics and aesthetics, produced astounding results. Da Vinci’s working methods, sometimes unconventional for his times, gave rise to the idea of the artist as the intellectual, philosophical and creative thinker. His legacy was doubtlessly prodigious. Yet his direct pupils and followers were never able to truly and fully assimilate the artistic qualities of such a genius, without, of course, discrediting their own independent achievements.

A case in point is Bernardino Luini (1475-1532), a leading Milanese artist who became known for his Leonardesque graceful female figures and their general poignancy. Luini was the first artist whose name was attached to the ‘Madonna and Child’ panel painting in this exhibition. Comparisons with Luini’s ‘Madonna of the Rose Garden’ (c.1510, Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan), ‘Madonna of the Carnation’ (c.1515, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.) and especially the ‘Madonna and Child holding an apple’ (early 16th century, State Museums, Berlin) all hold water insofar as the feeling of sweet sentiment, the turning pose of the Infant Christ, the Madonna’s facial type and chiaroscuro modelling are concerned.

After Luini, Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio (1466/7-1516), was recommended as the possible artist of the ‘Madonna and Child’ painting. It was later attributed to Marco d’Oggiono (c.1470-c.1549) and possibly a follower of his, prior to its current authorship as ‘Milanese School (Studio of Leonardo da Vinci)’. Some of their paintings such as D’Oggiono’s ‘Holy Family’ (c.1475, Private collection) and a few of Boltraffio’s Madonna-and-Child works had offered some worthwhile similarities with the panel painting under discussion but remain on a superficial level.

What is most interesting to note is that both Boltraffio and D’Oggiono studied under Leonardo da Vinci while assisting him in his workshop. Considering that Luini too formed part of this core circle of Da Vinci’s pupil-apprentices, it is no wonder that the ‘Madonna and Child’ panel has in the past been assigned to them separately and now, as scholarly studies have permitted, been safely placed under the encapsulating title of Milanese School (not without tendering the slender possibility of this panel’s emergence from Da Vinci’s studio).

The indebtedness to Leonardo da Vinci in the ‘Madonna and Child’ is clear. Apart from the aforementioned features, the handling of the oil medium, the slight enigmatic smile of Mary and even the Christ Child’s attraction towards something that will never be seen can all be traced to the genius master’s oeuvre. Ultimately, the ‘Madonna and Child’ painting is by a highly skilled artist who was directly or indirectly familiar with Leonardo da Vinci’s artistic ways.


APOSTOLOS-CAPPADONA, Diane, Dictionary of Women in Religious Art, Oxford University Press, 1998 MURRAY, John, HALL’S Dictionary of Subjects & Symbols in Art, Albemarle Street, London, 1996 (Revised Edition) Bonhams: Milanese School, 16th Century The Madonna and Child – https://www.bonhams. com/auctions/24055/lot/57/?category=list&length=100&page=1
Condition Report, Bonhams, London, 2017

Audio Guide – Maltese

Audio Guide – English

Explore more works