A painting by Beccafumi for the Pinacoteca di Siena

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3/6/23 - Acquisition - Siena, Pinacoteca Nationale - Since February, this Italian museum, now run by a Frenchman, the former director of the Musée des Augustins in Toulouse, Axel Hémery (see the news item of 1/2/22), has been showing a new painting by the 16th-century Sienese painter Domenico Beccafumi.

1. Domenico Beccafumi (1486-1551)
Virgin and Child with Young Saint John the Baptist, c. 1508
Oil on panel - 72 x 58 cm
Siena, Pinacoteca Nazionale
Photo: Pinacoteca Nazionale di Siena
See the image in its page

This Virgin with Child and Young Saint John the Baptist (ill. 1) had come up for sale in 1974 at Sotheby’s in Florence as "Scuola senese del 500", which was accurate if not precise. It was acquired by a physician, Giorgio Giusti, a specialist in infectious diseases but also a great art lover and collector, who died in 2019. Although attributed to Beccafumi until the end of the 19th century, it had since lost this attribution, which was returned to it by Mina Gregori, before it was presented for the first time in Siena in 1990 in the major retrospective Domenico Beccafumi e il sur tempo by the art historian Fiorella Sricchia-Santo.
The museum was able to purchase the work directly from his heirs, as it had been notified that it could not leave Italy.

While this painting, as the museum points out, has affinities with works by Leonardo - the position of John the Baptist is comparable with that of Christ in the Leonardoesque Vierge aux fuseaux by the Duke of Buccleuch (ill. 2) - and of Raphael, whom he had seen in Florence, it seems even closer to the paintings of Fra Bartolomeo and Andrea del Sarto, artists of whom Domenico Beccafumi is almost the exact contemporary (as he is of Raphael). The softness with which Jesus and the young Saint John the Baptist are painted, the landscape in the background and the way in which the group of figures fits into it all hark back to Florentine painting of the early 16th century. This work, which can be dated to around 1508, is therefore a highly remarkable example - and, according to the museum’s press release, in an excellent state of conservation - of the painter’s early career.

2. Attributed to Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)
The Madonna with spindle
Oil on panel - 48.3 x 36.9 cm
Drumlanring Castle, Collection of the Duke of Buccleuch
Photo: Wikimedia (public domain)
See the image in its page

Although executed very early in the sixteenth century, this painting already bears witness to a Mannerist inspiration, making Domenico Beccafumi, sometimes wrongly considered a provincial follower, one of the main creators of this movement that would unfold in the second half of the century and into the early seventeenth.
Pictures by Domenico Beccafumi are rare outside Italy, as most of his work remained in Siena and Tuscany. The Pinacoteca is the best place to discover this painter, whose collection includes pieces from his entire career. Until now, however, it had no such early examples of his art.

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