possibly Marchigian Master, The Virgin and Child with a Donor

Photo courtesy of Dave Penman (All Rights Reserved)


Country House
Mells Manor
The Virgin and Child with a Donor
c.1520–? 1530
Medium and support
Oil on canvas
Overall height: 83.5 cm, Overall width: 73.5 cm
possibly Marchigian Master
Catalogue Number


This painting appears to bear a false inscription at the lower left relating it to Squarcione (c.1395–1468) but it clearly dates from the sixteenth century. It is a dynamic composition which in broad terms depends from Raphaelesque examples – particularly the Aldobrandini Madonna in the National Gallery, London (NG744) – in its creation of a tightly composed three-figure group within and against which the activity of the Christ Child and St John gains resonance. In the Mells painting the donor occupies the position which the young St John might occupy in a Raphael. But the figure style, the characterisations and the draperies – like crumpled tin-foil – are alien to anything by Raphael. 

The landscape – which may well be inspired by a real site – both in its placement and its details, especially the trees, is akin to those found in the paintings of Lorenzo Lotto, especially perhaps, in his Susannah and the Elders of 1517 (Contini-Bonacossi Collection, Uffizi, Florence) and in the opinion of the present writer the artist is likely to be Marchigian, from east central Italy. But no plausible name has yet been proposed. Dr Andrea Donati, an expert in Marchigian painting, has suggested a possible link with the Master of the Baldraccani Altarpiece, a Romagnole painter working between Cesena and Forlì, influenced by Marco Palmezzano.1 From those few published paintings by the Baldraccani Master,2 it does appear that there are distinct similarities between his work and the Mells canvas, notably in the disposition and forms of the landscape, and it may well be that the Mells painter began his career as a pupil or follower. However, it seems that the Mells painter comes from a later generation, that he must have known Raphael’s work of about 1510 and was confident enough to manipulate Raphael’s forms, while ignoring every other aspect of his work. The profile of a knowledgeable but highly independent artist might suggest Lorenzo Lotto but the painting is clearly not by him. The present writer feels that the picture’s date is likely to be after 1520 and Dr Laurence Kanter has suggested that it might be nearer 1540 and is also inclined to favour an artist from Romagna rather than the Marches.3

by Paul Joannides


  1. Dr Andrea Donati, private communication, 2020.

  2. See Federico Zeri, La Vergine in adorazione del Bambino del Maestro dei Baldraccani a cura di Angelo Mazza, Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Cesena, Galleria dei Dipinti Antichi, Cesena, 2005. The present writer is grateful to Dr Donati for kindly making the publication available.

  3. Dr Laurence Kanter, private communication, 2020.


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