provenance: Féreol Bonnemaison, Paris; Sir Abraham Hume, 1819; Viscount of Alford, 1838; 3rd Count of Brownlow, Ashridge, Berkhamsted, 1851. Acquired by Calouste Gulbenkian at the Brownlow Sale through Colnaghi at Christie’s, London, on 4th May 1923, no. 22.
description: This painting was probably executed around the same time as the larger Madonna dell'Arancio (Galleria dell’Accademia, Venice), originally conceived for the altar of St. Claire in Murano in 1496-1498. There are obvious similarities in the group formed by the Virgin and Child in both works, which is more evident in Virgin and Child with St. John the Baptist and St. Lucy (Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Gemäldegalerie, Berlin), in which the saints, although only depicted from the waist up, are in identical position to that we see here.
The subject of this painting is the rest on the Flight into Egypt – an allusion indicated in the background by the grazing donkey with the saddle – although the two saints at the far sides are both reminiscent of a Sacra Conversazione. Besides the angels and St. Joseph, we can see St. John the Baptist on the left of the central group, while on the opposite side is St. Lucy of Syracuse holding a lamp, one of her characteristic attributes and a reference to the divine light and wisdom.
At the edge of the composition, which is full of symmetry and balance, stands a tree, the Christian symbol of life. The landscape, which, in an emotional reaction to the light that suggests Giovanni Bellini, is both real and imaginary, also incorporates a Virgilian evocation of the ancient world, the source of inspiration for idyllic scenery.