The Madonna of the Betrothed (Madonna with Child and Saint Anne)

size(cm): 36x26
Sale price£100 GBP


the theme of La Virgen de Los Novios, derived from a passage in the Old Testament, was codified by a papal bull on the rosary promulgated by Pius IV in 1569. This bull established the joint responsibility of Christ and the Virgin to crush the serpent of original sin. Because the Roman Catholic Church identified with the Virgin, her elimination of heresy is also implied. The somber Saint Anne is present as the mother of Mary, the recipient of her immaculate conception, the source of her purity. Like La Virgen de Loreto, the image is a Counter-Reformation document in defense of the Roman Catholic Church, directed against the Protestant denial of the Immaculate Conception and of the Virgin as mediator.

The Virgin of the Betrothed is the only surviving painting in which Caravaggio tackled such an irredeemably doctrinal and artificial subject. He translated it into human terms, to bring his theological abstraction to life. Although removed from the historical world, the three figures behave naturally, as in the intimacy of a prosperous family of craftsmen. The Virgin solicitously supports Christ, represented as an obedient child who frowns as he presses his foot on hers, thus trampling on the serpent. Saint Ana watches, a worried but distant grandmother, keeping in the background.

The so-called Madonna del Palafrenieri di Palazzo is one of the key works in Caravaggio's mature artistic output and was obviously the most prestigious of his Roman commissions. In fact, the painting, also known as Madonna del serpe, was to be placed on the altar of the Brotherhood, which commissioned it, in the renovated Basilica of Saint Peter in the Vatican. Today, this place is decorated with a mosaic depicting the Archangel Michael, based on Guido Reni's altar painting in the church of Santa Maria della Concezione in Rome. However, for unclear reasons, Caravaggio's masterpiece had been rejected by the Sacred College of Cardinals and was given by the Parafrenieri to the Cardinal's nephew Scipione Borghese. In this way, the canvas was found in the Villa Borghese in Rome, where it can be seen today.

There, the cardinal had assembled his vast art collection. An avid art collector and powerful person, he could have taken advantage of his position as Plenipotentiary of Justice to quickly proclaim the painter subject to capital punishment (which meant a price on his head), and thus this could have been Caravaggio's last painting. The artist was guilty of murdering Ranuccio Tomassoni of Terni in an alleged duel. Such was the result of a brawl that took place on the pallacorda, or tennis court (with four men on each side), a still existing space on the Campo Marzio. A picture painted by a murderer could not have been displayed on an altar in the largest church in Christianity.

That is precisely the reason, and not very unlikely, why the painting was rejected. For the cardinal (by his own sentence, condemning Caravaggio to death), it could also have been the last work of the artist in whom he had been interested in those years (1605-1606) and whom he commissioned an officer to paint. portrait of his pontiff uncle (Paul V), to which the Writing of St. Jerome will later join. There could be no other reasons, since the accusations against an unorthodox iconography of the painting: the 'Immaculate Conception Corredentrix' in the presence of her mother, Santa Ana, patron saint of the Brotherhood, are totally unfounded. This iconography had not yet been codified. Furthermore, equally unfounded were the accusations leveled at the painter's choice of 'Lena, who is a wife of Michel-angelo [Caravaggio] "as a model for the Madonna. Caravaggio had already used her before, in the Pilgrims Madonna (Rome, Sant'Agostino) and the strict ecclesiastical commissions had nothing to object to the statuary beauty of the Mother of God, although in the painting of Saint Peter Lena appears in radiant beauty, full of maternal carnality.

Here, there was no objection, unlike the case of the Death of the Virgin (now in the Louvre), painted for the church of Santa Maria della Scala and also rejected, on moral grounds. However, it is obvious that at the base of both rejections were, above all, the bloodstains "in the Pallacorda, in Campo Marzio" and the consequent and eventful flight of the seriously wounded Caravaggio from Rome. Lena (probably Elena) was the person, unconsciously and indirectly, to blame for the rejection of the painting of Saint Peter. The girl was courted by the notary Mariano Pasqua Lone, who perhaps also had to square accounts with Caravaggio, since the painter had attacked him with a sword shortly before. , in via della Scrofa. The reason is precisely known: it was Lena about whom the criminal record says nothing, but who had connections with the painter and who lived with her mother 'at the foot of Piazza Navona' ['en piedi a Piazza Navonal, that is, at the end from the square, in a house that belonged to the councilor of the Consistorial Sertorio Teofili (who never received courtesans, and Lena has had a reputation for being one many times).

This place has never been designated as such by scholars. The present explanation was made possible by a happy discovery of a city plan showing the royal estate in the process of being purchased by the Pamphilj family, with the intention of erecting there, in an area occupied by many smaller buildings, a palace. . for the family of the newly elected Pope Innocent X. On that plan (kept in the Doria Pamphilj Archives in Rome) many earlier buildings are clearly indicated, among which also that of Sertorio Teofili, which is why his house, being the home of Lena, has never been identified. The 'agonal lane' that protected the entrance to the residence, passing from Piazza Navona to the lateral Piazza di Pasquino and Via Santa Maria dell'Anima, no longer exists, as it had been incorporated into the group of buildings, which today house the Gallery of Palazzo Pamphilj, with frescoes by Pietro da Cortona.

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