The painting depicts Madonna with Child, infant St. John the Baptist and St. Jerome in a peaceful landscape with hills. The Child is standing on a wall supported by Mary and he holds a scroll with the inscription: “ECCE AGNUS DEI ECCE QUI TOLLIT PECCATA MUNDI”, referring to St. John, who became a precursor of Christ in martyrdom.
As indicated by the number “F. 136” at the bottom left on the front side and the wax seal with the Barberini coat of arms on the back, the work was included in the list of the Barberini collection, written in the first half of the 19th century (Aronberg Lavin, 1975). The previous owners of the work are unfortunately unknown. The work was published in 1908 by Williamson as a later work of Francesco Franci.
This attribution was later moved by Lipparini to his son Giacomo (1913), which was, however, returned to him after a long period of silence by the studies of Andrea Bacchi (1989), who confirmed Francia’s signature and suggested a dating around 1510, when the artist created the Mansi altarpiece, now in the National Gallery of London.
Precerutti Garberi (1998) agreed with the scholar in his later study.
Daniele Benati (1995) and Nicosetta Roio (1996) focused on the beautiful pictorial quality of the painting, which suggested a partial intervention of the master, but at the same time they emphasized the role of Francia’s workshop, especially during the last years of his artistic activity, when the most part of the work was done by the numerous aids of the master and in particular by his sons Giacomo and Giulio.
As suggested already by Benati and Roio, it is unlikely that the work in question can be considered made entirely by the Bolognese artist, and although the signs of his partial intervention can be recognized, certain precious and refined but a little pretentious details recall the manners of his sons Francesco, Giulio and Giacomo.
The chronological location instead, as indeed already suggested, can be identified quite clearly comparing the work with the Mansi altarpiece of the National Gallery in London, which was originally made for the church of San Frediano in Lucca in 1511.
At that time also the Barberini painting was made for a private client, and even though the work was in great part made by Francia’s workshop it certainly did not mean lower quality of work, as shown by the richly nuanced colors and enameled finishing of Madonna and Child, Infant St. John and St. Jerome.
Francesco Raibolini, also known as Francia, Italian painter, goldsmith and medalist, was born in Bologna in 1450.
He trained as goldsmith and in 1483 he became head of Corporazione Bolognese, a highly appreciated nomination that the artist covered several times, in 1489, 1506, 1508 and 1512.
The Bentivoglio Family appointed him the task of making molds for the coins in the city workshop, a task that was confirmed by Pope Julius II.
Before he became a well-known painter, Francia was a goldsmith, much sought after to make marks and seals, silver ornaments and “nielli” (precious objects completed with black enamel). Nowadays two niello-worked plates are preserved at the Accademia di Bologna.
The painter-goldsmith died in Bologna on 5 January 1517, leaving numerous works in museums around the world, including the Crucifixion (Bologna, Civic Museum), the Nativity (Liverpool, Corporation Gallery), Santo Stefano (Rome, Galleria Borghese), the Sacred Family (Berlin), The Felicini Altarpiece (Bologna, Pinacoteca), the Portrait of a Nobleman (London, National Gallery) and the frescoes with the Stories of St. Cecilia in Bologna.
Gallerie d'Italia is the set of exhibition spaces created by Intesa Sanpaolo to make its artistic and architectural heritage available, along with the collections from the Cariplo Foundation in Milan, another project partner.