Bachiacca was one of the leading painters in Florence during the first half of the 16th century. Between 1541 and his death in 1557, Bachiacca was employed at the court of Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici working primarily on the redecoration of the Palazzo Vecchio. In ceilings, bed hangings and tapestry cycles he combined grotesques and detailed depictions of flora and fauna with motifs culled from Netherlandish prints to create a highly fanciful decorative style that was punctuated by the use of rich, saturated colours. These same characteristics also distinguish his religious work from this period such as the recently rediscovered Madonna and Child with the Young St John the Baptist.
This new panel is dominated by the monumental figure of the Virgin dressed in a luxurious costume of icy mauve, shocking pink and turquoise with an intricately jewelled shoulder band and arm piece. As she kneels in adoration, the young St John the Baptist tenderly leans over her arm towards the Christ Child, who lies before them posed like an antique river god. He leans against a small bundle of wheat, which is clear allusion to the Eucharist. Scattered at his feet are pink and white roses and a sprig of yellow jasmine, symbols not only of the Virgin’s purity and grace but also a reminder of Christ’s Passion. To the left there is a stalk of violet and white acanthus, which once again alludes both to the Virgin and to the spear that pierced the Saviour’s side when he was on the Cross. The three figures are silhouetted against a rocky mountainside, which opens to the right revealing a bucolic landscape filled with shepherds, farm animals and a few distant cottages. Two of the figures are derived from Lucas van Leyden’s engraving The Beggars. Bachiacca, however, transformed Lucas’s beggars into shepherds, no doubt as a reminder of St John the Baptist’s famous reference to Christ as the Lamb of God.
Beverly Louise Brown