Urbino? 1420 /1425 – Urbino 1484
Madonna and Child
[Madonna col Bambino] c.1445
tempera on woold panel
49.7 (h) x 30.6 (w) cm Accademia Carrara, Bergamo
Legacy of Guglielmo Lochis 1866
A flaxen-haired Madonna grasps her naked blond Child, teetering atop a tilted balustrade or parapet. She firmly holds his left arm and opposite foot, as if to stop him tumbling off. The Child looks out at us, while she looks down and away, foreshadowing the sadness of his fate. The Madonna’s richly coloured clothes dominate the painting. Her royal blue cloak almost covers a green robe; her light red dress enhances the pink flesh tones and is picked up in the bright red book cover on a shelf behind. Both figures have flat gold haloes, Christ’s decorated with a red pattee cross. The elegant architectural setting is incomplete; a corner or niche in which the couple is standing is accentuated by the sharply angled foreground and adds to the sense of precariousness. The sloping white forms below the blue sky are difficult to read. A snow-covered landscape has been suggested.
The authorship of this panel has been vigorously disputed, and has changed often since Guglielmo Lochis attributed it to Fra Filippo Lippi, with whom Bartolomeo Corradini (later Fra Carnevale) studied in the mid 1440s in Florence. As Giovanni Valagussa concludes however, the work rests securely within the circle of Lippi due to its clarity of light, sharply cut forms and vivid colours.
A distinctive feature of the panel is the capital of the column, which has been described as having ‘the quaint liveliness of a lettuce leaf’. The capital with circular base seems to offer a loose interpretation of the capitals in Filippo Lippi’s Madonna and Child enthroned with Saints for the Medici Novitiate altarpiece painted in the mid to late 1440s. It is similar to those on the portal of San Domenico church in Urbino, which Fra Carnevale has been associated with, either as designer or supervisor of its building. This implies a later date for the panel, as Corradini returned to Urbino in 1449 where he became a monk with some architectural duties in the town.
Despite his career in architecture, and his familiarity with Alberti, who visited Urbino sporadically in the 1450s and 1470s, Fra Carnevale’s presention of perspective is erratic. On the right the shelves appear fairly accurate; books, symbols of culture and learning, are balanced on the left by the window and its view of the natural world. But the single perspectival viewpoint fails when we look at the curve of the arch. The oddness of the architecture may have been emphasised by the panel having been cut down. Its old wounds remain and have not been retouched by restorers: the passage of time can be seen in the scratches, scars and patches of exposed ground which have occurred over the last five centuries.
 www.accademiacarrara.bergamo.it, see catalogue under Machiavelli Zanobi, ‘il paesaggio innevato’ [the snow-covered landscape], viewed 30 August 2011.
 Fra Filippo Lippi (1406?–1469).
 Giovanni Valagussa, cat. 22, in Pittura italiana dal Rinascimento al XVIII secolo: Capolavori dell’ Accademia Carrara di Bergamo, Lausanne: Fondation de l’Hermitage, 2008, p. 106, cites artists from Lippi to Giovanni di Francesco, Giovanni Boccati, Zanobi Machiavelli, Pseudo Pier Francesco Fiorentino, Maestro di Pratovecchio to Fra Carnevale.
 Matteo Ceriana, ‘Fra Carnevale and the practice of architecture’, in Keith Christiansen (ed.), From Filippo Lippi to Piero della Francesca: Fra Carnevale and the making of a Renaissance master, New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2005, p. 99
 Leon Battista Alberti (1404–1472).