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Nursing Madonna

Defendente Ferrari (Chivasso, Turin 1480 c. - 1540 c.)

B4 Giovanni Bellini
Tempera and oil on panel
75 x 48 cm
Contini Bonacossi, no. 8

Mary is sitting in front of a red curtain, on which a few decorative elements are just visible at the top. In her arms she is cradling the infant Jesus, who is moving aside the white cloth he is lying on, in search of his mother’s breast. The painting depicts a spontaneous gesture, perhaps inspired by the work of German painter, Albrecht Dürer, which accentuates the sense of intimacy between Virgin and Child. This iconography was widely acclaimed in Piedmont, and one example that testifies to its popularity is the monumental polyptych of the Compagnia dei Calzolai in Turin Cathedral, a work attributed to both Defendente Ferrari and Martino Spanzotti (c. 1455 – pre 1528). Not to mention the many copies painted by Defendente, including this one in the Contini Bonacossi collection, one of the earliest and most successful. The painting, now in the Uffizi, is distinctive because of the unique position of the Child. Instead of looking at the beholder, he is looking at his mother, a detail that accentuates the intimate, private mood of this holy image. The geometric folds of the robes and the painstaking attention to detail, such as the beautifully painted golden gallon and the pearls on the Virgin’s mantle, reveal the influence of Flemish painting.

This piece has been part of the Contini Bonacossi collection since at least 1930.

Text by
Daniela Parenti
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