The following article offers some new observations concerning the dating, iconography, and artistic context of an Italian painting that was purchased by the Gallery in 1961 (fig. 1). Prospero Fontana’s Holy Family with St Jerome, a female martyr, and the infant St John the Baptist.1 See Ursula Hoff, European Painting and Sculpture before 1800, 3rd ed . National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1973, p. 62; panel, 102–3 x 82.8 cm. 

Before turning to the picture itself, a few words are in order regarding Prospero’s background and training. The development of Prospero’s long career has been described with admirable succinctness by Professor Freedberg, and one cannot do better than quote from his account: 

The first among the Bolognese to make close contact with Maniera other than that of Parmigianino was Prospero Fontana (1512–97). A pupil at first of the Raphaelesque Innocenzo da Imola, Fontana had gone off young to Genoa, where he was employed as an assistant to Perino del Vaga in his decoration of the Palazzo Doria. Fontana afterwards found work with Giorgio Vasari’s rapidly expanding équipe, and assisted in Vasari’s schemes both in Florence and in Rome. In 1551, in Rome, he worked beside the young Taddeo Zuccaro in the Villa di Papa Giulio. About 1560 he was called to Fontainebleau by Primaticcio, but remained only briefly. In 1565 he again worked for Vasari among the artists of the apparato for the wedding of Francesco de’Medici. Fontana was thus early and repeatedly involved with the Maniera, in its Vasarian form particularly, from a relatively early time … It was only in the fifties that he turned his style into a near-counterfeit of the current Vasarian Maniera … He then maintained this style, with fair fidelity, throughout almost two decades. In the seventies . . . though his style remained within a Maniera, it became much less Vasarian, and it is strongly touched by a more natural mode of seeing and design, which seems to have been inspired in part from Venice and perhaps in part from Lombard art.2 S. J. Freedberg, Painting in Italy 1500–1600, Harmondsworth. 1971. pp. 389–90 See also H. Voss, ‘Fontana, Prospero’, in Thieme-Becker, Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler, 12, 1916, pp. 185–86; A. Venturi, Storia dell’arte italiana, IX, 6, pp. 682–89. A Emiliani, La Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna, Bologna, 1967, p. 36; L. Grassi’s critical comments in G. Vasari, Le Vite (ed. P. della Pergola et.al.), Novara, 1967, VII, p. 280; Bernice Davidson, ‘Perino del Vaga e la sua Cerchia: Addenda and Corrigenda’, Master Drawings 7, 4. 1969, pp 404–9. 

 

One of the characteristics of Prospero’s work that doubtless recommended him to Vasari was his prodigious speed of execution. This virtuoso facility earned him sharp criticism from the most inquisitive of his biographers, the 17th century Bolognese historian, Malvasia. While acknowledging Prospero’s virtues as an inventor of subjects and complimenting his ‘delicate, limpid and effortless’ style, Malvasia regretted his lack of care in the finishing of his works, referring to Prospero’s chronic impatience: Amò più la prestezza che la diligenza.3 C. C. Malvasia, La Felsina Pittrice, Bolgna, 1678, II, pp. 215–19, quotation p. 216. Malvasia also described Prospero’s works in Bologna according to location in his Le pitture di Bologna, Bologna, 1686 (ed. A. Emiliani, Bologna, 1969). In Prospero’s own lifetime the critics were less harsh, though scarcely enthusiastic. The most positive is Raffaello Borghini, habitually a stern critic of the compositional excesses of the mannerists. Writing in his dialogue II Riposo of 1584, Borghini clearly had little first-hand acquaintance with Prospero’s works, but he was confident enough to describe him as a pittore practico e diligente.4 R., Borghini, II Riposo, Milan, 1807, III, pp. 136–37. Borghini had probably searched Vasari’s Vite in vain for some specific comments on the artistic merit of Prospero. Vasari is laconic in the extreme about his Bolognese colleague, simply mentioning that he had done some works, one or two of which were considered beautiful, and listing him among the members of the Accademia del Disegno. Vasari’s lack of generosity towards Prospero may have been motivated by animosity, or jealousy, or even by the conviction that Prospero’s art was not worthy of comment. It is all the more interesting in view of the probability that Vasari himself, a notorious eclectic, had absorbed some of the features of Prospero’s style during the many years they worked together on commissions.5 Vasari, op. cit. IV, pp. 463–64; VII, pp. 45, 279 ff, 292; VIII, p. 42; for the probable influence of Prospero on Vasari, see Paola Barocchi, Vasari pittore, Milan, 1964. pp 30–31 Lanzi, in his Storia pittorica della Italia, 5th ed., Florence, 1834, V, p. 45. compared Prospero favourably with Vasari; ‘IΙ suo disegno è pilù trascurato che nel Vasari, le mosse più focose, i colori giallastri e interi consimilmente; ma di qualche maggiore delicatezza.’ 

To give the neglected Prospero his due, however, one must not overlook the information about his later career that Malvasia obtained by word of mouth from the Baroque painter Tiarini. According to Malvasia, Prospero in his old age enjoyed a role among the painters of Bologna that Vasari might well have envied, had he lived that long himself. Prospero was elected to a position as arbitrator in litigation and disputes between painters and between dilettanti. He was treated like an oracle and it was considered virtually sacrilegious to dispute or to disregard his decisions. ‘All the virtuosi of that century’ frequented his house, and particularly the noted scholars Aldrovandi and Bocchi. Prospero executed commissions for these illustrious gentlemen, and also made them gifts of portraits and drawings. Malvasia then uses Tiarini’s eyewitness testimony to identify Prospero as the maestro, first of Ludovico, then of Agostino Carraci, as also of Denys Calvaert and of Tiarini himself.6 Felsina Pittrice, II, p. 216. On Prospero’s formative role in connection with the Carracci, see A.W.A. Boschloo, Annibale Carracci in Bologna: Visible Reality in Art after the Council of Trent, 2 vols, The Hague, 1974. Parts of this evidence at least suggest that Prospero may have developed a more scholarly and learned disposition in his later years. For all we know, Vasari’s silence about Prospero could mask the fact that he had shown this tendency earlier, perhaps to Vasari’s own disadvantage. 

The Melbourne Holy Family is signed (lower right, PROSPER. FO[NT] ANEUS), and although such a composition is not listed by his early biographers, it is unquestionably by his hand. In 1965 Mr J. A. Gere used the Melbourne picture, along with other evidence, to identify Prospero (‘an inept provincial follower of Vasari’) as the painter of a cycle of frescoes in the North Room of the Villa Giulia which had previously been attributed to Taddeo Zuccaro. Mr Gere wrote: ‘We have only to put the head of the Martyr in the Melbourne picture alongside that of the satyress filling the cup of one of the revellers in the Villa Giulia Bacchanalian Feast to be struck immediately by their identity of facial type and psychology.’ Documents indicate that Prospero executed these frescoes between April 1553 and March 1555.7 J. A. Gere, ‘The Decoration of the Villa Giulia’, Burlington Magazine, CVII, 1965, pp. 199–206, quotation p. 202. Dr Hoff made the very reasonable deduction that the Melbourne Holy Family was probably ‘executed during the same period’.8 Hoff, op. cit., p. 62. 

There is, however, a significant fragment of evidence which may indicate that Prospero’s Holy Family could have been executed before he took up the commission in Rome in 1553. Malvasia records in his list of works by Prospero the following commission: 

An entire room of the delightful Palagio Ferrerio, called della Viola, where in three great narrative storie … he represented the deeds of Pope St. Silvester, and of Constantine, with a frieze above of sporting puttini with lions and tigers, so beautiful that they are commonly believed to be by Nicolò dell’ Abbate.9 Felsina Pittrice, p. 219. See M. Gualandi, ‘Pittura a buonfresco attributa a Prospero Fontana’, II Solerte, 47–48, 1839; G. Zucchini, ‘Opere d’arte inedite’, II Comune di Bologna, II, 1934, fasc. IV, pp. 13–15; G. Zucchini, La Palazzina della Viola in Bologna, Bologna, 1935, pp. 27–30; also G. Zucchini, Edifici di Bologna, Rome, 1931, p. 148. 

These works in the Palazzina della Viola (now the Instituto di Meccanica Agraria of Bologna University) are certainly by Prospero, and can be dated on documentary evidence to 1552.10 R. Galli, ‘Alcuni documenti sul pittore Prospero Fontana’, L’Archiginnasio, July–Dec. 1923, pp. 199–206. It appears that Prospero took on the work after it was left to him by Nicolò, who returned to France in that year. Restoration began on the frescoes in 1969,11 Mentioned in C.C. Malvasia, Le pitture di Bologna, p. 52: ‘Sono in corso restauri, effetuati dalla Soprintendenza alle Gallerie con il contributo della Cassa di Risparmio, degli affreschi di Prospero Fontana.’ but even the pre-restoration photographs allow us to identify another female head that bears an extremely close resemblance to the head of the Madonna and of the Female Martyr in the Melbourne painting. The head belongs to a young woman who is seated in a group of women and children occupying the centre of the fresco from the life of St Silvester which depicts the Emperor Constantine revoking his execution order for the children.12 The main textual source for the frescoes is Jacopo da Voragine’s Life of St Silvester in the Golden Legend; see The Golden Legend or the Lives of the Saints as Englished by William Caxton, London, 1900, II, pp. 198–201. The broad oval face, with its snub nose and bow lips, and the spacious forehead and wide parting in the hair (fig. 2) are echoed in the Madonna and the Female Martyr in the Melbourne Holy Family. A slightly wider spectrum for the dating of the Holy Family is of no great consequence in itself, but the comparison with the Bolognese fresco does afford further evidence of the autographic nature of the Gallery’s picture. 

The subject matter of the Melbourne painting has been described as follows by Dr Hoff: 

The composition is of the type known as ‘Santa Conversazione’. A feature more usually associated with the Annunciation is the workbasket on the lower right, containing a ball of purple wool, a white cloth, the edge of which is embroidered in purple, a yellow cushion; a pair of shears is leaning against the basket on the left The contents of the basket characterize the Madonna as one of the Virgins entrusted with the task of producing a new curtain for the Temple at Jerusalem.’13 Hoff, op. cit., p. 62. 

There are indeed several texts familiar to Renaissance artists that include the motif of the Madonna weaving her share of a new veil for the Temple. The fullest version occurs in the apocryphal Protoevangelium of James. Mary and six other ‘pure Virgins of the tribe of David’ are brought to the Temple, where they are instructed by a priest: 

Cast me lots, which of you shall weave the gold and the undefiled (the white) and the fine linen and the hyacinthine, and the scarlet and the true purple. And the lot of the true purple and the scarlet fell unto Mary, and she took them and went unto her house. 

Shortly thereafter, while she begins to weave the scarlet and the purple, an angel appears to her and announces her impending role as mother of the Saviour. Mary then completes her share of the veil and takes it to the Temple.14 M. R. James, The Apocryphal New Testament, Oxford, 1924, p. 43 (Chs X–XII). The infancy gospel of Pseudo-Matthew refers to Mary wearing only the purple thread, the colour of which was logically associated with the kingship of Christ from early Christian times.15 Ibid., p. 73 (Chs VIII–IX); on the development of the concept of royal and imperial purple, see Eva Wunderlich, Die Bedeutung der roten Farbe im Kultus der Griechen und Römer, Griessen, 1925; W. T. Avery, ‘The Adoratio Purpurae and the Importance of the Imperial Purple in the Fourth Century of the Christian Era’, Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome, 17. 1940, pp. 66–80. 

The question that arises out of the presence of the basket and sewing implements in the Melbourne picture is whether they are intended to refer to the circumstances that precede the Annunciation, or whether they might have some other significance. A closer look at the literature bearing on the infancy of Christ that was available to Renaissance artists brings to light a text that suggests that Prospero might have had a different narrative context in mind when he composed his Holy Family. The Meditationes vitae Christi, a popular late 13th century text composed by a Franciscan monk from Tuscany, describes at length the details of the daily life led by the Holy Family during their sojourn in Egypt. We are told by the imaginative writer that the Holy Family settled at Huiusmopolis (Heliopolis) and lived in a small rented house ‘for seven years as pilgrims and strangers, poor and needy’. 

Here there comes a beautiful, pious, and compassionate meditation. Make careful note of the following things. How did they live all this time, or did they beg? We read that she provided the necessities for herself and the Son with spindle and needle; the Lady of the world sewed and spun for money, for love of poverty … Did she not go from house to house asking for cloth or spinning work? It was necessary to make it known in the neighbourhood otherwise she would remain without this work, since the other women could not guess. But when they found out they gave her sewing and spinning to do. When the child Jesus was five, did He not become His mother’s messenger, asking whether there was any work she could do? 

The writer then invites the reader’s contemplation of the Madonna at work in her house: 

Look at her as she works at sewing and spinning with constancy, humility, and promptness, and is not the less diligent in the care of her Son and ever intent in vigils and prayers with all her power. Have pity on her with great affection and consider that after all the Lady of the world did not receive the world as a gift … The old Saint Joseph practiced the art of the carpenter. On every side is material for compassion.16 Meditations on the Life of Christ: An Illustrated Manuscript of the Fourteenth Century, transl. and ed. Isa Ragusa and Rosalie Green, Princeton, 1961, pp. 68 ff.   

 

I suggest, then, that in Prospero’s painting the sewing basket and its contents could refer directly to Mary’s humble labour in Egypt. The ball of wool, of which only a few strands remain, has been exhausted on the embroidering of the small white garment in the basket, perhaps a shirt that Mary is making for the yet-unclothed Child. The theme of Mary preparing a garment for the Christ Child, or dressing him in one, is uncommon in Italian painting. But the examples that I have found from the 16th century are, significantly, from Emilia and the Veneto, perhaps developing there under the influence of Dürer’s prints17 Dürer’s woodcut was from the Life of the Virgin series which he published in 1511, but which was copied by Marcantonio during Dürer’s Italian journey a decade earlier (Bartsch, XIV, 633 (13)); see H. Delaborde, Marc-Antoine Raimondi, Paris, 1888, nos. 235–51; E. Panofsky, Albrecht Dürer, II, London, 1945, no. 310, pp. 38–39 and 165. Panofsky and Stechow (Art Bulletin XXVI, 1944, pp. 197 ff.) refer only to the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew as a possible source for the main theme, whereas the Meditationes would be just as worthy of consideration. Cf. G. F. Caroto, The Virgin Sewing with the Holy Children, Galleria Estense, Modena (Berenson, Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Central Italian and North Italian Schools, III, London, 1968, fig. 1875); Andrea Meldolla, Holy Family with SS. Elizabeth and Catherine (sewing basket in foreground), Bartsch, XVI, 1, p. 60, from the Metropolitan Museum’s Mariette Scrapbook of Parmigianino. The lost original of Leonardo’s Madonna with the Yarn Winder may have shown a basket containing spindles in the foreground; see E. Müller, Burlington Magazine, XLIX, 1926, pp. 61–88; Angela Ottino della Chiesa, The Complete Paintings of Leonardo da Vinci, London, 1967, no. 32, p. 106. The seamless tunic of Jesus, made by the Virgin, was also known to Renaissance scholars from patristic sources. Filippo Foresti da Bergamo comments as follows in his Supplemento delle Croniche del Reverendo Padre Frate lacopo Philippo de Bergamo, Venice, 1540, p. CLXXXIII verso: ‘La vesta inconsutile del nostra signore Gesu Christo (secondo alcuni) fatta della gloriosa vergine Maria, in questi tempi [i.e. the late 6th century] fu trovata in una certa Arca marmoro, nel castel Saphat appresso à Hierusalem incorrotta e integra senza alcuna macula, da Gregorio Antiocheno, da Tomaso hierosolimitano & Giovanni Constantinopolitano Vescovi preclarissimi, la qual fu tenuta con riverenza grandissima, & da loro fu portata in Hierusalem, & messerla in una cassa d’Avolio [sic] digissima questa è quella Vesta di laquel si fa mentione nel sacro evangelio, niente quel che di lei intervenisse non trovo.’ (fig. 3).       

                                                                                                                                                               A work of crucial importance in connection with the Melbourne painting is Correggio’s Madonna of the basket of about 1525,18 See C. Gould, The Paintings of Correggio, London, 1976, pp. 89 ff., Cat. pp. 219–22, fig. 97A. in the National Gallery, London (fig. 4). I believe that Correggio’s little picture, which enjoyed a wide popularity during the later 16th century through engravings, shows us an imaginative gloss on the Meditationes. Mary is dressing Jesus in a shirt that she has made for him during their exile in Egypt, while in the background ‘old Saint Joseph practices the art of the carpenter’. There can be little doubt that Prospero knew and admired this painting. It was certainly available for study at Parma, for Vasari mentions that Girolamo da Carpi made a copy of it there.19 Vasari, Le Vite, ed. cit., V.I, p. 331. Diana Mantuana’s print after Correggio’s painting (Bartsch, XV, 19, p. 440) was executed in 1577, and is therefore not a relevant source for Prospero’s Melbourne Holy Family. In the Melbourne Holy Family Prospero, in his own less assured manner, has transferred the tenderly observed Mother and Child, along with the basket, into a larger and more complex composition, but without abandoning Correggio’s meaning. 

   

                                                                                                                                                            The angular figure of St Jerome, which moves strongly forward from the left and thus shares in the intimate gathering of protagonists at the right side of the Melbourne picture, obviously owes much to Correggio’s St Jerome in the Madonna of St Jerome (fig. 5) (Galleria Nazionale Parma).20 Gould, Correggio, p. 115, Cat. pp. 262–63, fig. 157. But the almost inappropriate dynamism of Prospero’s saint, together with his exaggerated musculature, suggests that Vasari’s maniera has been an intervening factor. In fact, Prospero’s dependence on Vasari in the creating of this particular figure can, I think, be demonstrated beyond question. Vasari himself was much taken with Correggio’s Madonna of St Jerome (‘a St Jerome of such marvellous and stupendous colouring’),21 Vasari, Le Vite, ed. cit., Ill, p. 432. and did his best to emulate the Emilian master in a number of his own paintings. Of special interest to us is Vasari’s Temptation of St Jerome (Pitti Gallery, Florence) of 1541.22 Barocchi, Vasari pittore, p. 22; Evelina Borea, La Quadreria di Don Lorenzo de’ Medici, Florence, 1977, pp. 64–65, no. 36. Here the kneeling St Jerome intently studies the crucifix (fig. 6), the shaft of which he holds with his left hand, shown protruding awkwardly through the folds of his cloak. This device of the hand emerging from the cloak to steady the crucifix at a slight angle and close to St Jerome’s Face is adopted by Prospero in the Melbourne Holy Family, where it is given at once a more delicate and a more convincing anatomical treatment. It is possible that both Vasari and Fontana were influenced by Parmigianino’s Holy Family with SS. Margaret and Jerome and others (Pinacoteca, Bologna) of 1527 (fig. 7), which also uses the rather rare motif of St Jerome holding the crucifix before his face.23 The motif occurs also in the print by Enea Vico (Bartsch, XV, 10, p, 285), which is dated 1542 and engraved after Ant. Salamanca, and in the title-page woodcut to the Transito, Vita & Miracoli di S. Hieronymo, printed at Venice by Guglielmo de Fontaneto on 4 April 1519: see Prince d’Essling, Les livres a figures venetiens, I, Florence & Paris, 1907, no. 127, p. 116. See also School of Filippo Lippi, St Jerome Penitent, Longhi Collection; A. Boschetto, La collezione Roberto Longhi, Florence, 1971, fig. 23; Vincenzo Foppa, St Jerome Penitent, Bergamo, Accademia Carrara, and Milan, Brera; A. Venturi, L’arte e San Girolamo, Milan, 1924, figs. 90 and 91.  

   

                                                                                                                                                              It was characteristic of the Santa Conversazione that St Jerome, the young St John the Baptist, and other saints ranging from the early Christian period to the artist’s own century, should be brought together with the Holy Family into an artistic and devotional unity. It is a pity that the Female Saint in the Melbourne picture cannot be securely identified, beyond the fact that she was a martyr,24 The palm frond denoted the martyr’s ‘victory’ over death. The crucifix held in her left hand is not normally associated with martyrdom, and may be either an attribute identifying her as a particular martyr or merely a symbol of Christ’s Passion to come. But the latter is usually encompassed by the staff of St John. since all the other protagonists properly belong in a Near Eastern locale (St Jerome tames his lion in a monastery at Bethlehem). If the Female Martyr were St Catherine of Alexandria,25 See my comments below on the Luxembourg and Verona paintings. St Catherine’s primary attribute is the wheel with blades, but a spiked and jewelled tiara is often taken as sufficient evidence of her identity. Neither is visible in the Gallery’s picture. then the Egypto-Palestinian context of the picture would be consistently followed through in the composition. Such topographical awareness was not beyond the capabilities of an artist like Prospero. 

Dr Hoff justly comments that the Melbourne painting ‘bears a distant resemblance’ to Correggio’s Madonna of St Jerome in its overall composition. Certainly the figure of St Jerome and the framing device of the curtain at the back, through which the landscape is visible, are suggestive prototypes for Prospero. And it scarcely requires demonstrating that Prospero sought to rival the great Emilian masters, Correggio and Parmigianino, in composing a Santa Conversazione that depicted the sensitive human interaction of selected saints with the Holy Family, in a timeless paradisial landscape. One should not, however, overlook the formative role played by Prospero’s teacher, Innocenzo Francucci, in the development of this particular kind of compostion. The curtain motif was used by Innocenzo in his early Santa Conversazione at the Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe, and in his Holy Family, formerly in a private collection at Imola. The Mother and Child from the Melbourne Holy Family owe much to the same group in the upper register of Innocenzo’s altarpiece from S. Michele in Bosco, the Virgin and Child in Glory, with the Archangel and SS. Paul and Augustine, now in the Pinacoteca, Bologna.26 See R. Buscaroli, La pittura romagnola del Quattrocento, Faenza, 1931, pp. 405, 410, 418, 426–27, 447. On the Karlsruhe picture see J. Lauts, Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe, Katalog Alte Meister, Karlsruhe, 1966, no. 437, p. 155 and pl. 210. And it is also likely that the Raphaelesque elements of the Melbourne painting are at least partly absorbed through Innocenzo, though the resemblance of the pose, the tilt of the head, and the treatment of the hair of St John on the right, is close enough to Raphael’s infant St John in his La Belle Jardinière (Louvre, Paris) to suggest that Prospero had copied directly from the picture before it went to France, Alternatively, he may simply have worked from a copy in Innocenzo’s possession. 

Dr Hermann Voss, in his article on Prospero in Thieme and Becker’s Lexikon in 1916, referred to two paintings that have a significant relationship to the Melbourne Holy Family. The first is a small panel in the Staatliche Gemäldegalerie at Dresden,27 Voss, p. 186: ‘ungewöhnlich intim behandelte hl. Familie’; K. Woermann, Catalogue of the Royal Picture Gallery, Dresden, 1905, p. 29, no. 115; H. Posse, Die Staatliche Gemäldegalerie zu Dresden. Vollständiges beschreibendes Verzeichnis der älteren Gemälde, I, Berlin, 1929, no. 115, panel, 75 x 63 cm. a Holy Family with St Cecilia and a female martyr (fig. 8). This picture has been given to Prospero since the mid-18th century, and although at first impression the physiognomic types might suggest the work of a Flemish mannerist after Prospero, there is no reason to doubt the accuracy of the traditional attribution. The motif of the Madonna nursing the Child while he grasps her wrist with his left hand was developed earlier in the century by Raphael. The engraving of the subject by Marcantonio28 Bartsch, XIV, 60, p. 67: cf. XIV, 61, by Marco Dente (?). (fig, 9), which is probably based on Raphael’s drawing now in the Musée Bonnat, Bayonne,29 Reproduced by O. Fischel, Raphael, II, London, 1948, pl. 50 B. is a likely source for Prospero, although Innocenzo may once again have intervened.    

In connection with the Dresden panel, I should like to draw attention to the even smaller panel in the Wallace Collection, London, a Holy Family (fig. 10) that has not found a secure home in any Italian school of the 16th century.30 Wallace Collection Catalogues, Pictures and Drawings, 16th ed., London, 1968, no. Ρ 553, pp. 280–81: as Roman (or Florentine) School. ‘Attributed at Bethnal Green and in the Inventory to Giulio Romano, but catalogued ever since under Roman School. It shows, however, less of the influence of Raphael than of Andrea del Sarto, whom the landscape, the types of the Virgin and Child and the drapery clumsily reflect.’ Christopher Wright, Old Master Paintings in Britain, London, 1976, p. 101, is, I believe, closer to the answer in attributing the work to ‘Italian School (Parmese) 16th century’. It seems reasonable to suggest that the panel may be by or after Prospero Fontana, given the close proximity of the facial types to those of the Melbourne Holy Family, together with the similarity of the Madonna’s headdress, the hair and halo of the Christ Child, and the angular, Vasarian type used for Joseph. 

                                                                                                                                                           The second painting alluded to by Voss is the small picture (fig. 11) in the Museo Civico at Verona, the Holy Family with the infant St John the Baptist, and a female martyr.31 Voss, in Thieme-Becker, Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler, ‘eine verscheidenen Meistern zugeteilte S. Conversazione im Museum zu Verona (No. 153, jetzt als “Bernard. India”) so verwandt, dass sie ebenfalls F[ontana] zugeschreiben werden muss (aus der früheren raffaelisch beeinflussten Zeit).’ This work, which is now excellently restored, still retains its attribution to the Veronese painter, Bernardino India. Voss was of the opinion that the picture may be from an ‘early Raphaelesque phase’ of Prospero’s work, a view shared later by Venturi.32 Venturi, Storia, IX, 6, p, 489. A recent inspection of the picture has convinced me that there is much to recommend the attribution to Prospero, especially with respect to technique and colouring. Moreover, the strongly Vasarian physiognomy of Joseph and the precious gesture of the Female Martyr holding the palm frond, and particularly the tight, almost claustrophobic arrangement of the figures, are surely characteristics of Prospero’s work. 

 

                                                                                                                                                       

There is also the Holy Family with St Catherine of Alexandria that was published by W. Suida in the journal Crisopoli in 1935.34 W. Suida, ‘Opere sconoscuite di pittori parmesi’, Crispoli, III, 1935, pp. 105–13, esp. p.7, and fig. 3. I should like to thank M. Jean Luc Koltz, Musées de l’Etat, Luxembourg, who kindly searched for information on this picture. It is possibly the same panel that was mentioned in the 1698 inventory of the Casa Ranuzzi, Bologna: ‘Un quadro con una B.V. col puttino in braccio, S. Catherine e S. Giuseppe in tavola di legno, con cornice oro e porfido intagliata, di Prospero Fontana, L, 180’; G. Campori, Raccolta di cataloghi ed inventari inediti, Modena, 1870, p. 415. This painting (fig. 13), which was then in a private collection at Luxembourg, seems not to have surfaced again in the last forty years. Suida attributed it to Gerolamo Mazzola Bedoli, the follower of Parmigianino, but I think that there is a strong case for the authorship of Prospero Fontana. The facial types of St Catherine and St Joseph are remarkably similar to those in the Melbourne Holy Family, and the Child and Madonna are obviously within Prospero’s range of types.35 The following pictures should also be noted, although they raise thorny problems of attribution: the Holy Family in the Palazzo del Comune, Bologna, see G. Zucchini, Catalogo delle collezioni comunali d’arte di Bologna, Palazzo del Comune, II Piano, Bologna, 1938, p. 106. Cf. the picture in the Accadèmia di Belle Arti, Ravenna: A Martini, La Galleria dell Accadèmia di Ravenna, Venice, 1959, no. 114, p. 60. The Madonna and Child with SS. Francis of Assisi and Catherin of Alexandria in the Budapest Museum (A. Pigler, Katalog der Galerie alter Meister, I, Tübingen, 1968, no. 57, pp. 450–51) was included among Innocenzo’s late works by Pouncey in 1964, but could well be an early work of Prospero’s. 

Viewing these paintings as a group gives us a rather better appreciation of the genesis of the Gallery’s picture, and at the same time, I would hope, a deeper understanding of Prospero’s artistic aims. While Prospero was in every sense of the term a ‘minor’ master, he clearly satisfied his patron’ demands for intimate and charming devotional pictures, using to good effect the advances in compositional arrangement of the Santa Conversazione that had been introduced by Raphael and the leading Mannerists. Even the lucid chromatic brilliance of Prospero’s finest works is derived from the contemporary Tuscan Mannerists, and particularly from Bronzino.36 The connection with Bronzino is brought out by F. Varignana in the excellent account of Prospero’s fine Adoration of the Shepherds in the Cassa di Risparmio, Bologna: A. Emiliani and F. Varignana, Le collezione d’arte delle Cassi di Risparmio in Bologna, I dipinti, Bologna, 1972, no. 5, p. 351. He was, nevertheless, an important exponent of Emilian Mannerism, and although overshadowed by the genius of Parmigianino and Correggio, he was responsible, as Zanotti remarked, for opere belle e pregiate.37 G. Ρ Zanotti, Alcune operette, Venice, 1830, pp. 30–31, speaking of the artists of Bologna who sustained painting between the death of Francia and the emergence of the Carraci: ‘Furono questi un Fontana, sollecito al sommo, un Sabattini, un Cesi, un Passarotti, e non pochi altri delle cui mani opere uscirono belle e pregiate.’   

Acknowledgements

I should like to thank my students in the Department of Art History for their numerous insights into Prospero Fontana’s Holy Family, and especially Ross Cardile and Denise Whitehouse, for specific information used in this article. 

Robert W. Gaston, Senior Lecturer in Art History, La Trobe University (in 1978).

 

Notes

1          See Ursula Hoff, European Painting and Sculpture before 1800, 3rd ed . National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1973, p. 62; panel, 102–3 x 82.8 cm. 

2          S. J. Freedberg, Painting in Italy 1500–1600, Harmondsworth. 1971. pp. 389–90 See also H. Voss, ‘Fontana, Prospero’, in Thieme-Becker, Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler, 12, 1916, pp. 185–86; A. Venturi, Storia dell’arte italiana, IX, 6, pp. 682–89. A Emiliani, La Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna, Bologna, 1967, p. 36; L. Grassi’s critical comments in G. Vasari, Le Vite (ed. P. della Pergola et.al.), Novara, 1967, VII, p. 280; Bernice Davidson, ‘Perino del Vaga e la sua Cerchia: Addenda and Corrigenda’, Master Drawings 7, 4. 1969, pp 404–9.

3          C. C. Malvasia, La Felsina Pittrice, Bolgna, 1678, II, pp. 215–19, quotation p. 216. Malvasia also described Prospero’s works in Bologna according to location in his Le pitture di Bologna, Bologna, 1686 (ed. A. Emiliani, Bologna, 1969). 

4          R., Borghini, II Riposo, Milan, 1807, III, pp. 136–37. 

5          Vasari, op. cit. IV, pp. 463–64; VII, pp. 45, 279 ff, 292; VIII, p. 42; for the probable influence of Prospero on Vasari, see Paola Barocchi, Vasari pittore, Milan, 1964. pp 30–31 Lanzi, in his Storia pittorica della Italia, 5th ed., Florence, 1834, V, p. 45. compared Prospero favourably with Vasari; ‘IΙ suo disegno è pilù trascurato che nel Vasari, le mosse più focose, i colori giallastri e interi consimilmente; ma di qualche maggiore delicatezza.’    

6          Felsina Pittrice, II, p. 216. On Prospero’s formative role in connection with the Carracci, see A.W.A. Boschloo, Annibale Carracci in Bologna: Visible Reality in Art after the Council of Trent, 2 vols, The Hague, 1974. 

7          J. A. Gere, ‘The Decoration of the Villa Giulia’, Burlington Magazine, CVII, 1965, pp. 199–206, quotation p. 202. 

8          Hoff, op. cit., p. 62. 

9          Felsina Pittrice, p. 219. See M. Gualandi, ‘Pittura a buonfresco attributa a Prospero Fontana’, II Solerte, 47–48, 1839; G. Zucchini, ‘Opere d’arte inedite’, II Comune di Bologna, II, 1934, fasc. IV, pp. 13–15; G. Zucchini, La Palazzina della Viola in Bologna, Bologna, 1935, pp. 27–30; also G. Zucchini, Edifici di Bologna, Rome, 1931, p. 148. 

10        R. Galli, ‘Alcuni documenti sul pittore Prospero Fontana’, L’Archiginnasio, July–Dec. 1923, pp. 199–206. 

11       Mentioned in C.C. Malvasia, Le pitture di Bologna, p. 52: ‘Sono in corso restauri, effetuati dalla Soprintendenza alle Gallerie con il contributo della Cassa di Risparmio, degli affreschi di Prospero Fontana.’ 

12      The main textual source for the frescoes is Jacopo da Voragine’s Life of St Silvester in the Golden Legend; see The Golden Legend or the Lives of the Saints as Englished by William Caxton, London, 1900, II, pp. 198–201. 

13       Hoff, op. cit., p. 62. 

14       M. R. James, The Apocryphal New Testament, Oxford, 1924, p. 43 (Chs X–XII). 

15        Ibid., p. 73 (Chs VIII–IX); on the development of the concept of royal and imperial purple, see Eva Wunderlich, Die Bedeutung der roten Farbe im Kultus der Griechen und Römer, Griessen, 1925; W. T. Avery, ‘The Adoratio Purpurae and the Importance of the Imperial Purple in the Fourth Century of the Christian Era’, Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome, 17. 1940, pp. 66–80. 

16        Meditations on the Life of Christ: An Illustrated Manuscript of the Fourteenth Century, transl. and ed. Isa Ragusa and Rosalie Green, Princeton, 1961, pp. 68 ff. 

17        Dürer’s woodcut was from the Life of the Virgin series which he published in 1511, but which was copied by Marcantonio during Dürer’s Italian journey a decade earlier (Bartsch, XIV, 633 (13)); see H. Delaborde, Marc-Antoine Raimondi, Paris, 1888, nos. 235–51; E. Panofsky, Albrecht Dürer, II, London, 1945, no. 310, pp. 38–39 and 165. Panofsky and Stechow (Art Bulletin XXVI, 1944, pp. 197 ff.) refer only to the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew as a possible source for the main theme, whereas the Meditationes would be just as worthy of consideration. Cf. G. F. Caroto, The Virgin Sewing with the Holy Children, Galleria Estense, Modena (Berenson, Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Central Italian and North Italian Schools, III, London, 1968, fig. 1875); Andrea Meldolla, Holy Family with SS. Elizabeth and Catherine (sewing basket in foreground), Bartsch, XVI, 1, p. 60, from the Metropolitan Museum’s Mariette Scrapbook of Parmigianino. The lost original of Leonardo’s Madonna with the Yarn Winder may have shown a basket containing spindles in the foreground; see E. Müller, Burlington Magazine, XLIX, 1926, pp. 61–88; Angela Ottino della Chiesa, The Complete Paintings of Leonardo da Vinci, London, 1967, no. 32, p. 106. The seamless tunic of Jesus, made by the Virgin, was also known to Renaissance scholars from patristic sources. Filippo Foresti da Bergamo comments as follows in his Supplemento delle Croniche del Reverendo Padre Frate lacopo Philippo de Bergamo, Venice, 1540, p. CLXXXIII verso: ‘La vesta inconsutile del nostra signore Gesu Christo (secondo alcuni) fatta della gloriosa vergine Maria, in questi tempi [i.e. the late 6th century] fu trovata in una certa Arca marmoro, nel castel Saphat appresso à Hierusalem incorrotta e integra senza alcuna macula, da Gregorio Antiocheno, da Tomaso hierosolimitano & Giovanni Constantinopolitano Vescovi preclarissimi, la qual fu tenuta con riverenza grandissima, & da loro fu portata in Hierusalem, & messerla in una cassa d’Avolio [sic] digissima questa è quella Vesta di laquel si fa mentione nel sacro evangelio, niente quel che di lei intervenisse non trovo.’ 

18        See C. Gould, The Paintings of Correggio, London, 1976, pp. 89 ff., Cat. pp. 219–22, fig. 97A.

 19       Vasari, Le Vite, ed. cit., V.I, p. 331. Diana Mantuana’s print after Correggio’s painting (Bartsch, XV, 19, p. 440) was executed in 1577, and is therefore not a relevant source for Prospero’s Melbourne Holy Family

20        Gould, Correggio, p. 115, Cat. pp. 262–63, fig. 157. 

21        Vasari, Le Vite, ed. cit., Ill, p. 432. 

22        Barocchi, Vasari pittore, p. 22; Evelina Borea, La Quadreria di Don Lorenzo de’ Medici, Florence, 1977, pp. 64–65, no. 36.   

23        The motif occurs also in the print by Enea Vico (Bartsch, XV, 10, p, 285), which is dated 1542 and engraved after Ant. Salamanca, and in the title-page woodcut to the Transito, Vita & Miracoli di S. Hieronymo, printed at Venice by Guglielmo de Fontaneto on 4 April 1519: see Prince d’Essling, Les livres a figures venetiens, I, Florence & Paris, 1907, no. 127, p. 116. See also School of Filippo Lippi, St Jerome Penitent, Longhi Collection; A. Boschetto, La collezione Roberto Longhi, Florence, 1971, fig. 23; Vincenzo Foppa, St Jerome Penitent, Bergamo, Accademia Carrara, and Milan, Brera; A. Venturi, L’arte e San Girolamo, Milan, 1924, figs. 90 and 91. 

24        The palm frond denoted the martyr’s ‘victory’ over death. The crucifix held in her left hand is not normally associated with martyrdom, and may be either an attribute identifying her as a particular martyr or merely a symbol of Christ’s Passion to come. But the latter is usually encompassed by the staff of St John. 

25        See my comments below on the Luxembourg and Verona paintings. St Catherine’s primary attribute is the wheel with blades, but a spiked and jewelled tiara is often taken as sufficient evidence of her identity. Neither is visible in the Gallery’s picture. 

26        See R. Buscaroli, La pittura romagnola del Quattrocento, Faenza, 1931, pp. 405, 410, 418, 426–27, 447. On the Karlsruhe picture see J. Lauts, Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe, Katalog Alte Meister, Karlsruhe, 1966, no. 437, p. 155 and pl. 210. 

27        Voss, p. 186: ‘ungewöhnlich intim behandelte hl. Familie’; K. Woermann, Catalogue of the Royal Picture Gallery, Dresden, 1905, p. 29, no. 115; H. Posse, Die Staatliche Gemäldegalerie zu Dresden. Vollständiges beschreibendes Verzeichnis der älteren Gemälde, I, Berlin, 1929, no. 115, panel, 75 x 63 cm. 

28        Bartsch, XIV, 60, p. 67: cf. XIV, 61, by Marco Dente (?). 

29        Reproduced by O. Fischel, Raphael, II, London, 1948, pl. 50 B. 

30        Wallace Collection Catalogues, Pictures and Drawings, 16th ed., London, 1968, no. Ρ 553, pp. 280–81: as Roman (or Florentine) School. ‘Attributed at Bethnal Green and in the Inventory to Giulio Romano, but catalogued ever since under Roman School. It shows, however, less of the influence of Raphael than of Andrea del Sarto, whom the landscape, the types of the Virgin and Child and the drapery clumsily reflect.’ Christopher Wright, Old Master Paintings in Britain, London, 1976, p. 101, is, I believe, closer to the answer in attributing the work to ‘Italian School (Parmese) 16th century’. 

31        Voss, in Thieme-Becker, Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler, ‘eine verscheidenen Meistern zugeteilte S. Conversazione im Museum zu Verona (No. 153, jetzt als “Bernard. India”) so verwandt, dass sie ebenfalls F[ontana] zugeschreiben werden muss (aus der früheren raffaelisch beeinflussten Zeit).’ 

32        Venturi, Storia, IX, 6, p, 489. 

33        E. Young, Catalogue of the Spanish and Italian Paintings, Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, 1970, no 49; Wright, op, cit. p. 66. 

34        W. Suida, ‘Opere sconoscuite di pittori parmesi’, Crispoli, III, 1935, pp. 105–13, esp. p.7, and fig. 3. I should like to thank M. Jean Luc Koltz, Musées de l’Etat, Luxembourg, who kindly searched for information on this picture. It is possibly the same panel that was mentioned in the 1698 inventory of the Casa Ranuzzi, Bologna: ‘Un quadro con una B.V. col puttino in braccio, S. Catherine e S. Giuseppe in tavola di legno, con cornice oro e porfido intagliata, di Prospero Fontana, L, 180’; G. Campori, Raccolta di cataloghi ed inventari inediti, Modena, 1870, p. 415. 

35        The following pictures should also be noted, although they raise thorny problems of attribution: the Holy Family in the Palazzo del Comune, Bologna, see G. Zucchini, Catalogo delle collezioni comunali d’arte di Bologna, Palazzo del Comune, II Piano, Bologna, 1938, p. 106. Cf. the picture in the Accadèmia di Belle Arti, Ravenna: A Martini, La Galleria dell Accadèmia di Ravenna, Venice, 1959, no. 114, p. 60. The Madonna and Child with SS. Francis of Assisi and Catherin of Alexandria in the Budapest Museum (A. Pigler, Katalog der Galerie alter Meister, I, Tübingen, 1968, no. 57, pp. 450–51) was included among Innocenzo’s late works by Pouncey in 1964, but could well be an early work of Prospero’s. 

36        The connection with Bronzino is brought out by F. Varignana in the excellent account of Prospero’s fine Adoration of the Shepherds in the Cassa di Risparmio, Bologna: A. Emiliani and F. Varignana, Le collezione d’arte delle Cassi di Risparmio in Bologna, I dipinti, Bologna, 1972, no. 5, p. 351. 

37        G. Ρ Zanotti, Alcune operette, Venice, 1830, pp. 30–31, speaking of the artists of Bologna who sustained painting between the death of Francia and the emergence of the Carraci: ‘Furono questi un Fontana, sollecito al sommo, un Sabattini, un Cesi, un Passarotti, e non pochi altri delle cui mani opere uscirono belle e pregiate.’