One of Andrea del Sarto’s most celebrated masterpieces is The Madonna of the Harpies (Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi), which is signed and dated 1517. The altarpiece is as arresting in its simple austerity as it is complex in its iconographical meaning. The visual intricacy and emotional resonance that characterise The Madonna of the Harpies are also evident in Andrea’s small-scale works from this same period. Recently one such painting depicting the Madonna and Child has reappeared. Although its composition was known from another autograph version in the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, the new picture raises a number of interesting questions about Andrea’s working procedures. The Madonna stands before a pair of slightly parted, bottle-green curtains and in front of a stone parapet. In her right hand she holds a book, while with her left she supports the Christ Child, whose classically proportioned body is revealed through a delicate piece of diaphanous drapery. With a taunting expression of laughter the young child looks away from his mother, yet simultaneously gestures towards her with a chubby finger. Just as in The Madonna of the Harpies, the stoic introspection of the Madonna is contrasted with the infant’s impish grin.
The Virgin’s finely chiselled features, high forehead and pointed chin were derived from a model consistently used by Andrea in the mid-1520s. It is generally assumed that the model was his wife, Lucrezia del Fede.
Beverly Louise Brown