Cornelis van Cleve, 'Madonna and Child, with the infant Saint John the Baptist and putti'

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Ca. 1550
Oil on panel
117 cm
84 cm

M. J. Friedländer, ‘Nachträgliches zu Cornelis van Cleve’ in: Oud Holland, 60, 1943, pp. 7–14, fig. 1.
M. J. Friedländer, Early Netherlandish Painting, vol. IXa, Leiden 1972, p. 73, cat. no. C 5, fig. 131.


See collection Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk (inv. no. 2014.3.4) for a very similar work by Cornelis van Cleve.


Private collection, Switzerland, since circa 1936
Art market, Lucerne, 1972
Fischer, Lucerne, 24 November 1995, lot 2003
Private European collection
Dorotheum, Vienna, 17 April 2013, lot 566
Private collection, Belgium

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This exceptional and refined painting, attributed to the Antwerp painter Cornelis van Cleve (1520-1567), depicts a seated Madonna with the Christ Child on her knee as the central point of the balanced composition. The naked Christ has a cross in his right hand. Next to her is John the Baptist as a child, pointing to Christ. The graceful placed trio is surrounded by three putti with coloured wings, one of whom is holding an apple, a reference to the Fall. Mary and the Child both look to the right. Mary wears a dark green cloak over a red dress, with a pink veil, and sits on a small platform covered with a richly decorated carpet and cushion. The group is depicted under a draped canopy, tied with pink ribbons to two trees. A wall is visible in the background.

The painting is based on an often-copied composition by the Italian painter Andrea del Sarto (1486 - 1530). Art historian M.J. Friedländer described the present painting in 1943 as follows: ‘The Madonna with John the Baptist as a child and three angels, a dense, compact composition for which there is no Netherlandish model. The impression given by the chiascuro, 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. [...] 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.’ Friedländer identifies a group of paintings he previously referred to as 'Pseudo-Lombard', including this composition, as works by Cornelis van Cleve. The painting is registered with the RKD and The Witt Library London as attributed to Cornelis van Cleve. There is a very similar work by Cornelis van Cleve in the collection of the Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk (inv. no. 2014.3.4).

Cornelis van Cleve was the son of the famous Antwerp painter Joos van Cleve (1464 - 1541) and was trained by him. He painted mainly in the style of the Italian Renaissance and created a large oeuvre of religious works and mythical scenes. He spent some time in England, where he reportedly lost his mind and acquired the nickname 'Sotte Cleeve' (Mad Cleeve).  


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