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  • National Gallery Acquires Lost Carracci Painting
    May 7, 2005 LONDON, ENGLAND.

    Annibale Carracci, ‘The Montalto Madonna’: The Holy Family with the infant Saint John the Baptist.

    The National Gallery announced the acquisition of one of Annibale Carracci's most celebrated and copied easel paintings, widely known as 'The Montalto Madonna'. This small devotional work was made for Cardinal Alessandro Pereti Montalto, a major patron of painters and sculptors in Rome. The painting was presumed lost until it was sold at auction in London in July 2003. An export bar placed on the painting allowed the National Gallery to purchase it in June 2004 for the price of £805,280. This painting joins a distinguished collection of five other works by the artist in the Gallery's collection, each of which represents a different aspect of Annibale's art.

    'The Montalto Madonna' is one of the first paintings to apply an imposing Baroque composition to an intimately scaled picture of the Madonna. The Baroque style was established by Annibale in his fresco decorations of the Farnese Gallery, Rome and in a few paintings such as 'The Montalto Madonna' made just before 1600. In these works he realised a creative synthesis of the monumentality and gravity of Raphael and Michelangelo with the movement, colour and emotion of Correggio and Venetian paintings.

    This animated painting depicts the Madonna rising to greet the viewer as she balances her squirming baby who plays with an apple. Annibale endows her pose with gravity and grace that updates Michelangelo's Sibyls by close study from nature. Saints Joseph and John respond to the lively child with focused attentiveness. The scene is endowed with a vibrant emotional tenor that is focused in the eyes of the Madonna drawing us into the image. The Madonna's wide-eyed sincerity and softly painted flesh reflect Correggio's example, as do the Child's round forms, curly locks, and rippling drapery, even if he has gained heroic stature. These forms are infused with a Correggiesque sweetness that greatly appealed to Baroque sensibilities.

    Strong links exist between the styles of Annibale and the Gallery's current exhibition artist, Caravaggio. Annibale came to Rome from Bologna in 1595, a few years after Caravaggio's arrival from Milan and the two artists were to dominate the art of the city until 1606, when Caravaggio was forced to flee and Annibale became increasingly ill. Seeking to revitalise the tired complexity and artificiality of Mannerist painting, both artists based their work on direct study from nature. However, Caravaggio rejected the idealising process of drawing from the model before painting, choosing to record his subjects directly onto the canvas. Annibale accepted and revered the tradition of idealisation as an essential component of art. The style that he established was to outlive Caravaggio's realistic innovations and dominate European painting for the next two centuries.

    Annibale's painting becomes the great Baroque successor to our distinguished collection of earlier representations of the Madonna and Child, especially those in the tradition of small, preciously painted pictures such as Raphael's 'Madonna of the Pinks' and Correggio's 'Madonna of the Basket'. Following its purchase, the painting was restored and given a new frame, purchased for the Gallery and generously donated by Mr and Mrs Ludovic de Walden.

    The purchase of this painting was made possible by recent legacies to the National Gallery and a generous donation by The Matthiesen Gallery.