circle of The Master of the Castello Nativity, The Virgin adoring the Child

Photo courtesy of Dave Penman (All Rights Reserved)


Country House
Mells Manor
The Virgin adoring the Child
Medium and support
Tempera? on wood
Overall height: 82 cm, Overall width: 55 cm
circle of The Master of the Castello Nativity
Catalogue Number


This painting is attributed at Mells to the so-called Master of the Castello Nativity, a still not securely identified painter active in Florence and, it seems, Prato, in the third quarter of the fifteenth century and perhaps a decade or so either side. This Master, who obviously owed a great debt to Filippo Lippi, painted many versions of the Virgin adoring the Child in a style that is more decorative but less closely observed and less substantial formally than Lippi’s. There is a particularly beautiful example in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. But when the present picture is compared with those reproduced by Chiara Lachi in Il Maestro della Natività di Castello (1995), it becomes obvious that it is by an artist who is much less interested in drapery textures than the Master and who exaggerates the pallor of his skin-tones.1 And while the pose of the Virgin is close to those employed by the Master, and while the lively movement of the Child can also be found in his work, these features depend from Lippi and do not necessarily imply direct contact between the painter who executed this picture and the Master of the Castello Nativity.

Less concerned with flesh and drapery than either Lippi or the Master, this painter has little interest in tone or chiaroscuro. His colour areas are flat and bright, his folds are shallower and his landscape is simplified and patterned – there is an attractive rhyming of the road with the entirely fantastic rock formation. The facial type of the Virgin is close to those of Neri di Bicci and if it were by him it would be one of his most charming paintings. However, nothing else by Neri, as far as the present writer is aware, contains so stylised and imaginative a landscape and Dr Laurence Kanter rules out any possibility that Neri could be responsible for this painting, which he considers to be by ‘an exceptionally refined follower of Filippo Lippi’. Dr Kanter has indicated that research in the direction of the Master of San Miniato might prove productive, but it has not so far been possible to follow up this suggestion.2 

It is not known when William Graham acquired the present painting, as it does not appear in his inventory of 1882 or the 1886 Christie’s sale catalogue. It was shown at the exhibition Renaissance Painting in Tuscany, held at the Fermoy Art Gallery King’s Lynn, 1973, no. 29.

by Paul Joannides


Oliver Garnett, 'The Letters and Collection of William Graham: Pre-Raphaelite Patron and Pre-Raphael Collector', The Walpole Society, vol. 62, 2000, d198, p. 323, as Master of the Castello Nativity


  1. Chiara Lachi, Il Maestro della Natività di Castello, Florence: Edifir, 1995.

  2. Dr Laurence Kanter, private communication, 2020.


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