The Virgin and Child with the Infant Saint John and Saint Jerome
Domenico di Giacomo di Pace, Beccafumi, is one of the leading figures of Tuscan Mannerism. Vasari provides information on his life and work, noting that the artist was born of humble origins, a statement that may, however, be incorrect as an early document refers to Beccafumi as a landowner. His art is notably Sienese in style, combined with Florentine and Roman elements. One of his first known commissions is the triptych for the chapel of the Madonna del Manto in the Ospedale di Santa Maria della Scala in Siena, now in the Pinacoteca Nazionale of that city. Its central panel of The Trinity is flanked by two pairs of saints with elegant, stylised bodies and delicate forms. Beccafumi travelled to Rome between 1510 and 1511, probably followed by a second trip in 1519, the year in which he was commissioned to design mosaics for the floor of Siena Cathedral.
The present tondo, a circular format widely used in the Renaissance, entered the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection in 1981 from that of Silvano Lodi in Campione d’Italia. Almost unknown prior to that date, the panel was the subject of a lengthy study by Fabio Bisogni in 1983, who dated it to between 1523 and 1525. Since that date it has been included in Beccafumi’s oeuvre and in monographs on the artist such as the ones by Piero Torriti and Pascale Dubus.
The central element of the composition is the triangular figure of the Virgin, seated in the foreground with the Christ Child. To either side of them, in a space that is not fully defined visually, are two figures: Saint Jerome on the left, holding his stone to his breast, and the Infant Saint John the Baptist on the right with a delicate cross and scroll, depicted with bright red hair. The Christ Child is seated on a yellow cushion, holding a book and turning his head towards Saint Jerome in a complex contrapposto. The colour and light are both notable elements and are used by Beccafumi to achieve striking rhythms. The tones selected for Mary are brilliant and intense, resulting in impressive juxtapositions such as the one between the blue of her cloak with its green lining, the pink of her dress and the vivid yellow of the cushion. The composition, which Beccafumi used on various occasions throughout his career, is also to be found in an early work such as The Holy Family in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich, which has a landscape background. The model for the Infant Saint John is the putto that accompanies Venus in the panel in the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Birmingham (UK), while the model for Christ is to be found in The Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine in The Hermitage, St. Petersburg.