Pesaro 1612 – Verona 1648

Madonna and Child

Oil on unlined canvas

53.5 x 41 cm


This is an early work by Simone Cantarini that has only recently come to light. Despite his youth Cantarini demonstrates great confidence in his brushwork, especially in the characteristic and vibrant “cross hatching” on Christ’s torso. Cantarini returns to this subject many times in his career, and there are a number of drawings that exist close to this composition – such as the Holy Family with St. John at Lulworth Manor – yet none offer the playful simplicity of this early representation.

This Madonna and Child is one of the most exquisite products of the Bolognese tradition in the Seicento, an epitome of the sophisticated image that Annibale Carracci, Domenichino and Guido Reni worked towards, a mixture of the naturalistic domestic scene of a mother and baby combined with contrived emotional enhancement. The use of a halo of light around the head of the Madonna that so unobtrusively enhances her receptive half-smiling head is a device that he also uses on other occasions, as in the Holy Family in the collection of Palazzo Venezia, Rome (now on loan to the Galleria Nazionale at Palazzo Barberini: Cantarini exhibition, Bologna, 1997 No. I. 48). The convention of the ochre sky that distinguishes so many Bolognese visions of the heavenly sphere is thus brought into our own space, and there is a deliberate and playful relationship elicited between the Child tugging on His mother that brings the veneration of the deity into our own world. The Madonna seems from the same model that Cantarini used in other situations, with the hair parted in the middle of the forehead, and she was someone who evinced that patience, intimacy and gentleness that we can see in other Madonnas, like the one in the Prado, Madrid (Cantarini exhibition, cit., No. I. 33). It was an extraordinary talent that Cantarini had in conveying the psychological as well as the physical association of two figures in an image.

We are grateful to Prof. Andrea Emiliani and Prof. Renato Roli for confirming the attribution.