An unidentified woman and boy kneel in prayer before the Virgin and Child with saints in a landscape. Saint Lucy, the bearer of light, holds a martyr’s palm and a burning oil lamp. The woman, wearing an ornamented dress and cloak, is probably the mother of the kneeling boy presented by Saint Joseph. The flowering rod Saint Joseph holds represents the staff that broke into blossom to show he was chosen to marry the Virgin Mary.
The light around the woman’s head suggests she is supposed to be a saint, but it may not be original. The mother and son are probably the donors of the painting.
This picture is possibly by Cariani although it is not entirely typical of his work. The composition is derived from Camillo Boccaccino’s altarpiece in Cremona Cathedral, commissioned in 1533, showing the Virgin and Child with Saints Martha, Mary Magdalene, James and Anthony Abbot, which is now lost.
An unidentified woman and boy kneel in prayer before the Virgin and Child with saints in a landscape. The white-bearded and bald saint on the right is Saint Joseph. The flowering rod he holds represents the staff that broke into blossom to show he was chosen to marry the Virgin Mary, as told in the Golden Legend. With his left hand he presents the kneeling boy, who looks up in prayer. The boy’s distinctive appearance, with rounded cheeks and a fuzz of chestnut curls, suggests that this is a portrait of a particular child.
On the left, Saint Lucy, the bearer of light, holds a martyr’s palm in one hand and a burning oil lamp in the other. She is more usually shown in paintings with her eyes on a small dish, as she is the protector of sight and, in some accounts of her martyrdom, had her eyes gouged out.
The woman in an ornamented dress and cloak kneels below Saint Lucy with her hands clasped in prayer, gazing at the infant Christ. She is probably the mother of the kneeling boy. The Virgin turns towards her, and places her right hand on the woman’s shoulder. The light around the woman’s head suggests she is supposed to be a saint, but it may not be original. The mother and son are probably the donors of the painting. The haloes rendered as glowing light with numerous concentric but broken lines are characteristic of paintings from Ferrara, but are not found in any signed or documented work by Cariani and may be later additions.
The composition is derived from Camillo Boccaccino’s altarpiece in Cremona Cathedral, commissioned in 1533, showing the Virgin and Child with Saints Martha, Mary Magdalene, James and Anthony Abbot. The altarpiece is now lost, but known from copies and a print. The artist’s dependence on this source may explain the features that are uncharacteristic of Cariani, such as the softness of the drapery, Christ’s sprawling pose and the facial appearance of Saint Joseph.
The Boccaccino altarpiece was taller than it was wide, whereas this painting is wider than it is tall. The horizontal format showing kneeling donors recommended by saints to the Virgin and Child in a landscape is typical of Venetian sixteenth-century painting. Although originally from Bergamo, Cariani lived in Venice from 1508, returning to work in Bergamo in 1517–21 and then again during periods in the 1520s and in about 1541. If the painting is by Cariani it must be a very late work, possibly from the 1540s.
Some of the colours in the painting have probably changed over time. The drapery over Saint Lucy’s shoulders which is now brown and brick red may originally have been green shot with rose, and the arabesque pattern of the dress of the praying woman which is now dark brown was probably once green. The painting was flattened and scorched when the picture was relined during restoration, possibly carried out during the eighteenth century, and much discoloured varnish was ingrained in the surface of the picture in the process.
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