Verona 1476 – 1555
Madonna and Child
[Madonna col Bambino] c.1530-35
oil on canvas
54.1 (h) x 42.3 (w) cm Accademia Carrara, Bergamo
Bequest of Giovanni Morelli 1891
Madonna and Child is entirely typical of Nicola Giolfino’s work. The bronze skin tones in both figures are unmistakable, as is the modern manner of painting developed in a slightly casual way, somewhere between Venetian brilliance and a strained expressiveness more typical of Lombard painters. Giolfino’s background—his family were sculptors who settled in Verona—is considered an important factor in his artistic training: that tradition would have given him a liking for the solid plasticity of well-shaped figures. By this stage, although Giolfino had moved a long way from the determined approach to drawing of Liberale da Verona, his principal master, Liberale’s teaching is still apparent in the general harmony of the image, its northern rigour, and in the luminous and distinct folds of the drapery.
Giolfino seems also to have looked closely at Lorenzo Lotto, and in particular his Trescore frescoes of 1524. Lotto’s influence is found in the intense, serious expressions on the faces of Virgin and Child, so filled with weariness and melancholy, and in details such as Mary’s hand gripping, almost squeezing, a small prayer book. Lotto’s frescoes may also have inspired Giolfino’s attention to other minutiae such as the tiny scene with solitary wayfarers in the rocky landscape. Less obvious are other, more decidedly Lombard, echoes which also emerge from Brescian painting, and especially from Gerolamo Romanino. The Infant Jesus is in effect a Romanino-like figure, strong as a little Hercules with a broad, solid head that appears to revisit some ancient portrait from the era of the Roman Republic and turn it into an essay in modern naturalism.
Just as the noticeable stiffness learned from Liberale has dissolved, Giolfino has also overcome the wave of superficial evocations of Raphael, apparent in his work of the 1520s. There are strong connections between this painting and the altarpiece known as the Madonna de’ Caliari. The same general arrangement of the figure of Mary has been taken up again, and more explicitly in the drawing of the arm holding the book. But the idea of the Child is also similar: Herculean and antique in style, with the hand held in a benedictory gesture. Again in the Caliari altarpiece, and especially in the two saints, the restless movement that comes from Liberale appears more real. Despite these uncertainties of chronology, Madonna and Child is a fine example of Giolfino’s late work.
Morelli attributed the painting to Giolfino when it was in his collection, and that perception was confirmed in all subsequent studies.
Indeed so robust are his figures that Gustavo Frizzoni wrote, in the Morelli collection catalogue of 1892, that they looked like ‘common, thickset types’.
Liberale da Verona (1441–1526).
Lorenzo Lotto (c. 1480–1556/1557), frescoes in the Suardi oratory of the Villa Suardi, Trescore Balneario near Bergamo.
Gerolamo Romanino (1484/1487–1560?).
Formerly in the San Matteo Concortine church in Verona, now Castelvecchio Museum; it has been dated 1510 by Marina Repetto Contaldo, in Museo di Castelvecchio: Catalogo generale dei dipinti…, Milan: Silvana Editoriale, 2010, p. 378, but is better placed in the third decade, if necessary pushing towards the end of the 1530s. See also Federico Zeri and Francesco Rossi, La raccolta Morelli nell’ Accademia Carrara, Bergamo: Credito Bergamasco, 1986, pp. 72–73.