The painting presents the Madonna enthroned with the Child, two praying angels and the saints Nicola da Tolentino, Agostino, Luca Evangelista and Monica, under an elegant canopy. The work should be recognized as a preparatory sketch for a large altarpiece, still unknown today. As proof of this, the measures of the panel intervene, not suitable for an altarpiece in a church or even for a small chapel in a private residence; the painting, which in some points, such as the two angels on either side of the Madonna and Child or in the Saint Luke the Evangelist, is deliberately left in the draft; and, finally, for the presence of evident repentances. In this regard, the left arm of the holy bishop, initially thought closer to the right one, and the right hand of the saint can be noted.
Although the table is a sketch, some details of great pictorial refinement can be seen, demonstrating the painter’s quality and the importance that these objects had compared to the final work: the gold finishes, for example in the San Nicola da Tolentino, in the the little angel’s loincloth at the top left and in the globe held by the Child, enrich the preciousness of the composition. The somatic features of the figures are outlined in the tip of the brush, while the robes are constructed through a more vigorous and less rigorous brushstroke, further demonstrating how the work was not to be considered independent. In this regard, note the cope of the holy bishop, in which figurative decorations – saints or apostles – and a decoration in imitation of velvet can be seen, executed with a quick brushstroke that effectively traces only the general profile.
The saints are qualified by a luminous palette that highlights the central representation with the Madonna and Child, St. Augustine and the angel in the upper right corner in particular. The shadows and lights are studied with particular attention: the two praying angels are wrapped in the shadow created by the canopy and the chiaroscuro effects on St. Luke, St. Monica and on the steps of the throne are accurate. The presence of the canopy is a clear legacy of the Florentine culture of the early sixteenth century: think of the altarpieces by Raphael (Madonna del Baldacchino, Galleria Palatina in Palazzo Pitti, Florence) and Fra Bartolomeo (Pala Pitti, Galleria Palatina in Palazzo Pitti, Florence) , from which our painter takes up – as was still the norm in the second half of the sixteenth century in Florence – the general composition of the Sacred Conversation.
Marco Collareta is responsible for the attribution of the work to Santi di Tito (Borgo San Sepolcro 1536 – Florence 1603) on the occasion of the famous 1980 exhibition: Palazzo Vecchio: Medici patrons and collectors. On that occasion the scholar gave the panel in the full sixties of the sixteenth century, recognizing a close link with the altarpiece fired by the Tuscan painter in 1566 for All Saints in Florence and noting in the painting still “the memory of the chromatic vivacity of the frescoes created by the painter in the course of his stay in Rome by 1564 “(M. Collareta, 552. Madonna with Child, Angels and Saints, in Palazzo Vecchio: Medici commissioning and collecting, Milan 1980, pp. 283-284.)
The presence of the holy bishop Augustine and the Augustinian saints Nicholas of Tolentino and Monica leaves no doubt in estimating that the work was commissioned by a community of Augustinians or by a private individual devoted to that order. The presence of the Evangelist could be motivated by the dedication of an altar or chapel to that saint, or by the client whose name must have been Luke. The Basilica of Santo Spirito is the home of the Augustinians in Florence and could certainly be a place for which Santi di Tito worked in this case. Considering how the painter, absolute protagonist of Florentine and Tuscan painting of the second half of the sixteenth century, was engaged in different commissions in the Florentine countryside and in Tuscany (for example in Arezzo, Cortona and Grosseto) and the widespread diffusion of the Augustinian order in this and other regions, it remains difficult to pinpoint their location.
Dimensions: 86.5×71.5 cm
• Florence Biennale, 1965, A. Chelini & C. Gallery
• Palazzo Vecchio: Medici commissioning and collecting, Florence 1980