Michele Tosini, called Michele di Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio

(Florence 1503-1577)

Madonna with Child and St. John the Baptist

106 x 86 cm. (41 ¾ x 33 7/8 in.)
oil on panel

Provenance:

Private collection, London.

Bibliography:

Capretti, Elena. “Michele Tosini detto Michele di Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio.” In Annamaria Bernacchioni, ed., Ghirlandaio. Una Famiglia di Pittori del Rinascimento tra Firenze e Scandicci. Florence: Edizioni Polistampa, 2010.

Comanducci, Rita. “Produzione Seriale e Mercato dell’Arte a Firenze tra Quattro e Cinquecento,” in The Art Market in Italy, 15th – 17th Centuries. Ed. Marcello Fantoni, Louisa Matthew and Sarah F. Matthews Grieco. Modena: F.C. Panini, 2003, 105-113.

Franklin, David. “Towards a New Chronology for Ridolfo Ghirlandaio and Michele Tosini.” In The Burlington Magazine, vol. 140, (July 1998), pp. 445-455.

Galassi, Maria Clelia. “The Re-use of Design-Models by Carta Lucida in the XVth Century Italian Workshops: Written Sources and an Example from Michele di Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio.” In La Peinture dans les Pays-bas au 16e Siècle. Pratiques d’Atelier Infrarouges at Autres Méthodes d’Investigation. Leuven: Uitgeverij Peeters, 1999, 205-12.

Hornik, Heidi J. “Michele di Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio (1503-1577) and the Reception of Mannerism in Florence.” PhD diss., Pennsylvania State University, 1990.

Hornik, Heidi. Michele Tosini and the Ghirlandaio Workshop in Cinquecento Florence. Portland, Or.: Sussex Academic Press, 2009.

Nesi, Alessandro. “Ombre e Luci su Francesco Brina.” In Arte Cristiana, XCIV, 2006, 261-276.

Vasari, Giorgio. Le vite de’ più eccellenti pittori, scultori ed architettori. Florence: Sansoni, 1906.

Show More

Catalogue Entry

The monumental figure of the Virgin Mary dominates the centre of this delicate painting. Dressed in a vivid rose-coloured gown with a changeant purple and yellow mantle, she sits directly on the ground, reminiscent of a Trecento Madonna of Humility. Her hair is carefully coiffed, adorned with a contemporary balzo – a ring of fake hair worn by fashionable sixteenth-century noblewomen – intertwined with a red ribbon, and covered by a skilfully rendered transparent veil. Mary cradles her sleeping son in her lap, gently holding his right arm. On the right of the painting is the infant St. John the Baptist, who serenely gazes downward, over the Virgin’s shoulder, on his cousin. A small cross next to him, he wears his distinctive red drape and holds a scroll with the letters ‘ECCE AGNVS’. They are the first two words of the sentence, which, according to John’s Gospel, the Baptist pronounced after meeting Christ on the Jordan (Ecce Agnus Dei qui tollit peccata mundi, John, I, 29.36). On the upper left side of the painting, the background opens up to a rocky landscape with perched buildings.

The present work was produced by Michele Tosini, also known as Michele di Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio.1 The Florentine painter started off his career in the bottega of Lorenzo di Credi and, in the mid-1520s, he became one of the most skilled pupils of Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio (1483-1561), inheriting his workshop after his death. Tosini’s early production was much dependent upon Ghirlandaio’s conservative style, but soon started to show the influence of Andrea del Sarto’s (1486-1530) painting. In the late 1550s and 1560s, the encounter with Agnolo Bronzino (1503-72), Francesco Salviati (1510-63) and Giorgio Vasari (1511-74) led him to develop a Mannerist style. Through his involvement in important Florentine confraternities and thanks to his master’s prestigious contacts, Tosini worked for the wealthiest patrons in the city, namely the Medici, Strozzi and Borghini families, along with the Dominicans. The artist participated in all the major public decorations of the 1560s, including the preparation of the apparati for the wedding of Francesco I and for Michelangelo’s memorial celebration. In 1562, Vasari, with whom Tosini collaborated on several occasions, selected him as one of the founders of the Florentine Accademia del Disegno.2

Fig. 1. Studio of Michele Tosini, Madonna and Child with the Infant St. John the Baptist, oil on panel, 87 x 67.3 cm., Private collection.

Fig. 2. Studio of Michele Tosini, The Madonna and Child with the Infant Saint John the Baptist, oil on panel, 106.7 x 79.3 cm., Private collection.

As recorded by Vasari in the “Life of Ridolfo Ghirlandaio,” published in the second edition of his Vite, Michele Tosini came to run one of the most thriving workshops in Florence.3 There, he was aided by a good number of assistants, who helped him satisfy the numerous commissions he received from both religious and private clients. As in most Florentine botteghe of the time, in that of Tosini, successful paintings were often produced in series for sale on the free market.4 The composition of the Madonna with Child and St. John the Baptist appears to have been one of the most frequently repeated in the artist’s workshop, as attested by numerous extant versions, differing one another for minimum variations. The present work can be closely compared to a Madonna and Child with the Infant Saint John the Baptist today in a private collection (Fig. 1). Although of slightly different dimensions, the two panels seem to be one the exact copy of the other, the only differences being a non-identical rendering of Jesus’ left hand and of St. John’s curls. Considering the use of carta lucida in Tosini’s workshop, it is likely that these two paintings were created with this technique rather than with a common cartoon.5 Only the carta lucida practice – which consisted in using a transparent sheet to trace and then transfer, by pouncing, the image preliminary observed through a glass sheet and fixed by drawing on that – would have allowed for such a precise reproduction of the same image. A very similar composition is echoed in another work executed in Tosini’s workshop (Fig. 2), where the landscape slightly variates, enriched on the left-hand side with a symbolic leafless shrub alluding to Christ’s death. In other versions of this subject, of which the most famous is a panel in the store room of the Uffizi Gallery (Fig. 3), the background landscape has been replaced by the figure of St. Joseph, who is alternatively depicted as an elderly or as a middle-aged man (Fig. 3 and Fig. 4). According to scholar Alessandro Nesi, a painting in the Hermitage Museum (Fig. 4) might be the prototype from which the other replicas and versions descend,6 possibly including the present work.7

Fig. 3. Michele Tosini, Madonna and Child with the Infant St. John the Baptist, oil on panel, 123 x 98 cm., Uffizi Gallery (store room).

Fig. 4. Michele Tosini, Holy Family with St. John the Baptist, oil on panel, 122 x 96.5 cm., Hermitage Museum.

In his volume dedicated to the artist, Tosini expert Heidi J. Hornik dated this Holy Family group to the early 1560s. Although the pyramidal structure of the Madonna with Child and St. John the Baptist recalls Ghirlandaio’s traditional schemes, stylistic features seems to visually confirm the scholar’s dating.  Tosini had started changing the style of Ghirlandaio’s workshop in the early 1550s, but only at the end of the decade and after his master’s death in 1561, he developed a mature Mannerist style. Tosini’s embrace of the Maniera is here evident in the elongation of the figures and their disposition close to the picture plane, directly before the viewer. The use of changeant colours is also a distinctively Mannerist feature, which Tosini developed after studying Salviati’s frescoes in the Sala dei Duecento in Palazzo Vecchio.8 Giorgio Vasari was also an important source of inspiration for Tosini’s compositional and iconographic choices. The figures pushed to the foreground, the Madonna’s elegant hair style and the sleeping Christ may reveal the influence of Vasari, possibly of his domestic panels, such as the Holy Family with the Infant St. John the Baptist and St. Francis (Fig. 5).

 

The iconography of the Madonna with the sleeping Child Christ is also a Mannerist motif, appearing, for example, in Parmigianino’s famous Madonna with the Long Neck (Fig. 6). As pointed out by Hornik in her analysis of Tosini’s Holy Family series, this iconography recalls that of the pietà, a popular Northern theme, which was spread in Italy by Michelangelo.9 In the present work, although Christ is alive and a baby, the ambiguity of his pose and the apparently lifeless look of his limbs prefigurate the moment when he would be laid down again on his mother’s lap after dying on the cross. As narrated in Luke’s gospel (Luke,II,19), the Virgin’s reflective expression suggests her private meditation upon her son’s destiny. The intimate tone of the work suggests it was produced for private devotion, aiming at encouraging piety in the viewer.10 In the Madonna with Child and St. John the Baptist, Michele Tosini created a tender yet meditative image, which confirms Vasari description of the artist as “a man of excellent character who executed his work with spirit and without effort.”11

Fig. 5. Studio of Giorgio Vasari, Holy Family with the Infant Saint John the Baptist and Saint Francis, after 1554, oil on panel, 100 x 77.5 cm., Davis Museum at Wellesley College.

Fig. 6. Parmigianino, Madonna with the Long Neck, 1534-1540, oil on panel, 216 x 132 cm., Uffizi Gallery.

 

 



























1 This name was invented by Giorgio Vasari in his Vite, in order to reinforce Tosini’s relationship with Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio. See Giorgio Vasari, Le vite de’ più eccellenti pittori, scultori ed architettori, (Florence: Sansoni, 1906), VI, 543: “non per altro cognome conosciuto, che per Michele di Ridolfo.” 
2 Elena Capretti, “Michele Tosini detto Michele di Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio,” in Annamaria Bernacchioni, ed., Ghirlandaio. Una famiglia di Pittori del Rinascimento tra Firenze e Scandicci, (Florence: Edizioni Polistampa, 2010), 92.
3 Vasari, Vite, 544.
4 For an overview on the serial production of artworks in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Florence, see Rita Comanducci, “Produzione Seriale e Mercato dell’Arte a Firenze tra Quatro e Cinquecento,” in The Art Market in Italy, 15th – 17th Centuries, ed. Marcello Fantoni, Louisa Matthew and Sarah F. Matthews Grieco, (Modena: F.C. Panini, 2003), 105-113. 
5 For a detailed study on the use of carta lucida in Michele Tosini’s workshop see Maria Clelia Galassi, “The Re-use of Design-Models by Carta Lucida in the XVth Century Italian Workshops: Written Sources and an Example from Michele di Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio,” in La peinture dans les pays-bas au 16e siècle. Pratiques d’Atelier Infrarouges at Autres Méthodes d’Investigation, (Leuven: Uitgeverij Peeters, 1999), pp. 205-12.
6 Alessandro Nesi, “Ombre e Luci su Francesco Brina,” in Arte Cristiana, XCIV, 2006, 263.
7 For the Holy Family paintings attributed to Tosini that have not been discussed here, see Hornik, “Michele di Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio (1503-1577) and the Reception of Mannerism in Florence,” (PhD diss., Pennsylvania State University, 1990), 227-231, 302-314. 
8 Heidi J. Hornik, Michele Tosini and the Ghirlandaio Workshop in Cinquecento Florence, (Portland, Or.: Sussex Academic Press, 2009), 67. 
9 Hornik, Michele Tosini, 70. 
10 Ibid., 67.
11 Vasari, Vite, 543: “giovane che conduceva le sue opere con fierezza e senza stento.”

 

 

Show More

Condition:

The work is in good condition. Its back has been restored from a previous woodworm attack. Some paint brushstrokes can be detected at bare eye over the woodworm holes and over some cracks on Mary’s face, the shaded sections of her drapery and Christ’s body. A wood lamp examination has then shown retouching along the contours of Christ’s left hand.

Related Works