Cornelis van Cleve, 'Madonna and Child, with the infant Saint John the Baptist'
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- Oil on panel
- 117 x 84 cm
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The present painting is based on a composition by Andrea del Sarto that was often copied and is now probably lost (see the painting in the Musées des Beaux-Arts in Lille and also the work from Sarto’s circle auctioned at Dorotheum, Vienna, on 6 October 2009 as lot 209).
Friedländer wrote in 1943: “The Madonna with John the Baptist as a child and three angels is a dense, compact composition for which there is no Netherlandish model. The impression given by the chiaroscuro, the sfumato, the themes of movement and the voluptuous corporeality of the children’s bodies alone would be sufficient to shrewdly suggest Andrea del Sarto as the originator, before the original was discovered amongst the works of the Florentine artist […]. The many versions attest to the popularity of the picture and increase the probability that perhaps one of these copies may have already been available to the Dutch artist in Antwerp around 1545.” The great connoisseur Friedländer continues: “Although conservative in his concepts, Cornelis made bold advances in his application of light, and strove to search out different ways of reaching the promised land of the Italian High Renaissance from those of his contemporaries, Pieter Coeck or Jan van Scorel. They sought to compose in the spirit of the south, whereas Cleve borrowed from and loosely interpreted existing compositions.”
Cornelis van Cleve was the son of the great painter Joos van Cleve, a leading exponent of the Antwerp school of painting in the first half of the sixteenth century. In 1555 Cornelis moved to London where he went insane, allegedly following a fight with Anthonis Mor; from then on he became known as Sotte Cleeve (“mad Cleve”). Cornelis produced an extensive body of work during his fourteen-year period in Antwerp, which left its traces in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century inventories. Friedländer was able to identify a group of works originally attributed to an artist called Pseudo-Lombard, a name of convenience, as works of Cornelis van Cleve. In 1943 he wrote: “I have organised the list of pictures in chronological order, using his style as the criterion, and in doing so have clearly shown that the painter distanced himself step by step from the artistic style of the painter Joos van Cleve, in whose studio he had worked as a proficient helper, probably from 1535 to 1540. Initially a representative of the tradition in a period dominated by Pieter Coeck, Frans Floris and Anthonis Mor, he hurried to keep up by eagerly looking around for Italian models.”
The Madonna with Child, John the Baptist as a Boy and Angels is registered in the files of the RKD, The Hague, as Cornelis van Cleve, under no. 12626. It is also registered as a work by Cornelis van Cleve in the Witt Library in London.
We are grateful to Peter van den Brink, Aachen, for confirming the attribution of the present painting on the basis of a digital photograph. He points out that numerous works have been variously attributed to both Joos van Cleve and Cornelis van Cleve, and the authorship of some of these pictures to either father or son remains a matter of dispute (see P. van den Brink, Joos van Cleve, Leonardo des Nordens, Aachen/Stuttgart 2011).