Piedmont 1487 /1490 – Vercelli 1555
Madonna and Child with saints and donors
[Madonna col Bambino, santi e donatori] 1527
oil on wood panel
97.0 (h) x 47.0 (w) cm Accademia Carrara, Bergamo
Legacy of Guglielmo Lochis 1866
Gerolamo Giovenone’s triptych, possibly part of a larger altarpiece, shows the Madonna and Child flanked by a pair of kneeling donors and four saints. The Virgin, seated on an ornate wooden chair, wears a traditional red robe and dark blue mantle decorated with squares striped with gold. As babies do, the Christ Child seems to struggle to escape his Mother’s grasp. His body is in an exaggerated pose, legs apart, his right leg bent against the strong diagonal of torso and left leg. To emphasise this energetic contrapposto, the Child’s head is tilted the other way. The setting is a magnificent church interior, its height emphasising the larger size of the central panel. The work is signed and dated on a prominent cartellino (painted paper label) on the Virgin’s pedestal: ‘HIERONIMI IVVE/NONIS OPIFICIS/1527’, which means ‘the work of Gerolamo Giovenone’. The unknown donors are a married couple of obvious wealth. They are dressed richly, the woman even sumptuously. The husband is portrayed with a large gold ring on his forefinger and a lace collar. His wife wears a fashionable red dress with ruched sleeves trimmed in gold and black, a gold silk undertunic which complements the gold mesh of her headpiece, capigliara, a gold chain necklace, belt and two rings.
On the left panel the winged Saint Michael the Archangel, in armour and holding a sword and pair of scales, stands above the kneeling male donor. He faces the viewer while an unidentified female saint looks adoringly at the Christ Child. On the right panel Saint Lucy, with her attribute of eyes on a tray, holds a palm of martyrdom. Alongside is Saint Dominic, founder of the Dominican Order, in black robe, white scapular and cowl, holding a book as his attribute of learning. Saint Lucy’s Latin and Italian name, Lucia, means light, thus people prayed to her to cure eye disease, leading to the slightly awkward representation of her attribute. The fourth-century saint is represented wearing a headpiece similar to the sixteenth-century female donor kneeling below her. The identity of Saint Dominic has been questioned by Michela di Macco, who proposes instead Saint Alberto Avogadro (1149–1214), Bishop of Vercelli, who helped found the Carmelite Order in Jerusalem in 1209. This suggestion is based on the idea that the triptych was painted for the church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Vercelli.
The most distinctive part of the image, the pose of the Christ Child, seems to have been the invention of Gaudenzio Ferrari, who was born in a village near Giovenone’s native Vercelli, and was about the same age. Gaudenzio’s work could be seen in Vercelli’s churches and convents from about 1500, and Giovenone’s family of master carpenters made a frame for him in 1508. After Giovenone trained in Turin, he worked there and in Milan, but had returned to Vercelli by 1515. Gaudenzio’s influence continued and was reinforced when Giovenone’s younger brother became part of Gaudenzio’s workshop in 1521.
 Michela di Macco, ‘Gerolamo Giovenone’, in Giovanni Romano (ed.), Gaudenzio Ferrari e la sua scuola, Turin: Accademia Albertina, 1982, pp. 91–94; discussed by Simone Baiocco, in Edoardo Villata and Simone Baiocco, Gaudenzio Ferrari, Gerolamo Giovenone: Un avvio e un percorso, Turin: Umberto Allemandi, 2004, p. 187, note 116.
 Gaudenzio Ferrari (1475/1480–1546); Simone Baiocco, in Villata and Baiocco, p. 178.
 Simone Baiocco, ‘Gerolamo Giovenone’, in Dizionario biografico degli italiani, www.treccani.it/enciclopedia/gerolamo-giovenone, viewed 27 April 2011.