Annunciation (1528) by GarofaloMusei Capitolini

This fine Annunciation arrived in Campidoglio in 1750. It was purchased together with 125 other paintings belonging to the Pio di Savoia family by order of Pope Benedict XIV. 

The Pio family had come into possession of the painting at least since 1624. The painting is mentioned at that date in an inventory of the assets then owned by the powerful Ferrarese cardinal Carlo Emanuele Pio.

Numerous details of the painting reveal information about the author, the dating and the original destination of the painting. Three carnations in the small crystal vase placed in the foreground on the floor represent the signature of the famous Ferrarese painter Benvenuto Tisi, nicknamed Garofalo. 

The nickname derives from Garofalo, a small town on the Venetian bank of the Po in the province of Rovigo where the painter's family originally came from.,

The inscription in capital letters indicates the year MDXXVIII1528 is therefore the year of realization of the painting.

The painting is part of the mature production of Garofalo, a period in which the artist worked mainly at home carrying out commissions for the cultured aristocracy of the city and for the religious orders of the area. 

For about twenty years, from 1515 to 1538, he was busy carrying out works for the San Bernardino complex and the adjoining convent of Santa Chiara of Ferrara.

The two gray marble columns, which divide the composition in two symmetrical parts, together with the chromatic richness of the angel and the humble sweetness of the Virgin reveal that on this date Garofalo fully adhered to the "modern way".

The artist's style is now updated on the chromatic lesson of Titian and Dosso Dossi, both active in Ferrara at the court of Alfonso I d'Este, and on that of the classical composure expressed by Raphael and his school with which he entered in touch during his Roman stays.

According to what his historian friend Giorgio Vasari wrote about Garofalo, the Ferrarese painter had known Raffaello and his students during two study trips to Rome in his youth, to which perhaps a third should be added.

The fake bas-relief with battle painted on the base of the two columns captures the interest of the Ferrarese painter for Roman antiquarian culture.

For Garofalo, the post-classical language of Giulio Romano was also an important source of suggestion. From 1524 he had become painter of the Gonzaga court in Mantua.

The Virgin Mary, whose ingenuous beauty of the face still captures the legacy of the painter's youthful Umbrian-Bolognese formation, is depicted in prayer dressed in a simple red robe and a blue cloak embellished only by a thin golden border.

The fireplace with the burning fire, kitchen utensils and a kitten lying on the floor allude to the domestic and daily intimacy in which the Virgin Mary was caught at the moment of the arrival of the archangel Gabriel.

The humble and modest clothing of the Virgin Mary contrasts with the gaudy and all too sumptuous one of the archangel Gabriel.

In the wings of the archangel Gabriel, where the painter plays with the shades of red and gray, the reflection of the outcomes of the chromatic painting of Titian and Dosso Dossi, two painters who strongly influenced Garofalo between the second and third decade of the sixteenth century, is captured. 

The richness of the palette and the talent achieved by the Ferrara master in rendering the softness and velvety effect of the feathers with the brush reveal the full assimilation of the lesson of the Venetian masters active in Ferrara at the court of Alfonso I d'Este.

Above the archangel Gabriel in the splendor of the light that pierces the clouds opens the vision of a God the Father Michelangiolesco who reaches out to the little Baby Jesus.

The beam of divine light strikes the Child Jesus, who carries with him the column of flagellation and the cross, on which are the nails and the crown of thorns.

They are the symbols of his Passion, tools of his future martyrdom for the salvation of Humanity.

Surrounded by a luminous ray is also the Dove, symbol of the Holy Spirit who is about to descend on the Virgin Mary.

The revelation of the arrival of his Son as Messiah is all contained in the book that the Virgin is leafing through which, according to St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Isaiah's prophecy was contained.

The reference to the "Tree of Jesse" of the prophet Isaiah is clearly expressed in the incipit of the first verse of chapter XI painted on the plaque placed in the side of the wooden desk of the Virgin."Egredietur Virga" is the beginning of the phrase that heralds the advent of the Messiah and alludes to the important role that will be played by the Virgin in the history of Salvation.

The insertion in the composition of this prophetic verse is explained by the original destination of the work.

This Annunciation was in fact painted for the chapel of the monastery of San Bernardino in Ferrara, the important monastic complex built by Lucrezia Borgia to house her granddaughter Camilla Borgia, Valentino's daughter. 

Credits: Story

Federica Maria Papi, curator
Musei Capitolini, Rome

Credits: All media
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