Carlo Portelli, Madonna and Child with St. John the Baptist, c. 1540-1560

Carlo Portelli (Loro Ciufenna ?, early 16th century - Florence, 1574)
Madonna and Child with St. John the Baptist
Oil on the table
1540-60 ca.


The painting presents the Madonna with the Child in her arms, who extends his hand towards the wooden cross, symbol of the future Passion, and the young Saint John. Behind the three figures, a rocky mountain acts as a diaphragm between the scene and the endless river landscape that is lost on the horizon. The painter reinterprets the Sacred Conversation in a personal way and takes up the typical Florentine landscape characterized, since the mid-fifteenth century, by a luxuriant valley crossed by an S-shaped river.
The colors of the Virgin’s robes are characterized by cold, metallic and iridescent colours, capable of creating a strong color contrast. Particularly refined is the white-transparent veil over the hair of the Virgin and the decoration of the nimbus of the Child.

The table is undoubtedly to be compared to Carlo Portelli, a Tuscan artist well rooted within the Florentine clientele, as demonstrated, among others, by the important commissions mentioned by Vasari in 1539 and 1565, respectively for the wedding of Cosimo de’ Medici and for Francesco de’ Medici.
The stylistic characteristics of the painter are strongly recognizable in the drawing that lengthens the eyes and the physiognomic details of the face and in the drapery characterized by facets enlivened by light and metallic colours. There are many works that can be cited to sanction this attribution proposal: see, by way of example, the comparison with the Madonna with Child, the Infant Saint John and Saint Margaret kept at the University Art Museum of Princeton.
Typical of Portelli is also a decorative detail inside the Child’s cruciger nimbus: a sort of double hooked curl that can be found in the panel of Villefrance-sur-Saône, in the aforementioned one in Princeton, in the Nativity of the church of San Michele di San Salvi (Florence), in the Madonna with Child of unknown whereabouts 1, in the Madonna with Child, Saint Anne and Saint Joseph of the Muzeum w Nysie of Nysa, in the Holy Family of unknown whereabouts 2 and in the Holy Family of the Palais Archiépiscopal in Rouen.
The painter did his apprenticeship in the flourishing workshop of Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio, as can easily be seen in the detail of the landscape outlined with extreme rigor. But the relationship with other Florentine artists such as Francesco Salviati, Agnolo Bronzino, Andrea del Sarto, Michele Tosini and Rosso Fiorentino was decisive for Portelli’s pictorial activity.

It is precisely through the reworking of these models that the painter managed to create his own stylistic figure recognizable and appreciated by his contemporaries: in the course of his activity the color tones were increasingly loaded and the poses of the figures increasingly suspended in a precarious and lacking an ‘academic’ articulation. These are obviously not exclusive characteristics of our painter, but more generally of the Florentine pictorial moment of the second and third quarter of the sixteenth century which took the historical-critical denomination of Mannerism.

Typical, however, of Carlo Portelli is the construction of chiaroscuro through dashed oblique lines that can be found, for example, in the aforementioned work by Princeton, in the Portrait of a young man (Fontaine-Chaalis), in the Portrait of Duke Alessandro de’ Medici ( Venice, Antichità Pietro Scarpa), in the Female Figure (private collection) 3 and in the Holy Family with Saint John the Baptist (private collection) 4.

The painting presented here seems correct to insert it in the full maturity of the painter, i.e. between 1540 and 1550, in close relationship with the tables dated in this chronological range: such as those of the University Art Gallery of Princeton 5, of the Banca Popolare di Vicenza Collection 6, of the Allegory of Charity in the Casa Vasari Museum in Arezzo 7, of the Saint Catherine of Alexandria from a private collection 8 and of two tables of unknown location which present a similar landscape characterized by the presence of the river with its sinuous course 9.

Carlo Portelli, an elusive artist with a complex figurative culture, capable of forfeiting and quoting dissimilar pictorial experiences – such as those of Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio, Andrea del Sarto, Rosso, Salviati, Pontormo, Bronzino and Tosini 10 – to reach to a unique and personal formal synthesis, was deepened in a recent exhibition at the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Florence, in which his figure was finally ennobled within the circle of contemporary Tuscan painters

Dimensions: 86.5×71.5 cm


  1. The work is reproduced in: Carlo Portelli. Eccentric painter between Rosso Fiorentino and Vasari, catalog of the Florence exhibition (Gallerie dell’Accademia, 22 December 2015 – 30 April 2016) edited by Lia Brunori and Alessandro Cecchi, Giunti, Florence, 2015, p. 222.
  2. The work is reproduced in: Carlo Portelli, 2015, pp. 239.
  3. For the work see: Carlo Portelli, 2015, pp. 200-201.
  4. For the latter work see: Carlo Portelli, 2015, pp. 146-147.
  5. Attributed to the painter by Federico Zeri and Burton Fredericksen (B. Fredericksen, F. Zeri, Census of the Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian paintings in North American Public Collections, Cambridge 1972, p. 169), it is dated between 1545 and 1550 : Carlo Portelli, p. 152-153.
  6. The work passed at the Finarte auction (Milan 19/11/1997, lot. 92) with an attribution to Portelli di Federico Zeri was purchased by Banca Popolare di Vicenza; it is generally dated between 1545 and 1550: Carlo Portelli, 2015, pp. 148-149.
  7. The work is dated around 1545: Carlo Portelli, 2015, pp. 158-159 (with previous bibliography)
  8. The work went on the market in 2004 with an attribution to Portelli by Mario di Giampaolo and subsequently discussed, with the chronology 1540-1550 in: Carlo Portelli, 2015, pp. 168-169.
  9. For these two plates of unknown location, compared with a third preserved in Villefranche-sur-Saône with a chronology slightly earlier than our plate (1535-1540), see: Carlo Portelli, 2015, pp. 140-141 (with previous bibliography).
  10. On the relationship between Tosini and Portelli see: P. Barocchi, Proposte per Carlo Portelli, in Festschrift Ulrich Middeldorf, edited by A. Middeldorf Kosegarten, P. Tigler, 1, Berlin 1968, pp. 283-289.


  • Carlo Portelli. Eccentric painter between Rosso Fiorentino and Vasari, exhibition catalog (Florence, Gallerie dell’Accademia, 22 December 2015 – 30 April 2016) edited by Lia Brunori and Alessandro Cecchi, Giunti, Florence, 2015.
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