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Overview

Although called a nativity, this painting lacks the manger, ox, and ass traditionally found in scenes of Christ's birth. It would be better interpreted as a mystical adoration of saints. John the Baptist, Catherine of Alexandria, and the Virgin are in the foreground. From left to right standing behind them are Sebastian, pierced with arrows; the pilgrim James Major; Joseph, the husband of Mary; and the pilgrim Roch. Soaring through the heavens is God the Father accompanied by a phalanx of putti.

Commissioned by a member of the Baciadonne family of Genoa, this large altarpiece is the most important religious painting by Perino del Vaga to survive. Perino had been a pupil of Raphael in Rome, and his indebtedness to his master is evident here in the idealization of the figures and the grace of the postures. Like others of his generation, however, Perino departed from Raphael's serene harmonies to instill in his works a greater degree of tension and artifice. In this altarpiece the studied gestures hang in the air as if to function in the place of speech. Poses seem choreographed and, in several instances, tipped off balance. Rich colors glow phosphorescently with a stained-glass intensity out of the oddly dark morning.

Inscription

lower center on tablet: .M.D.XXXIIII. / .PERINO BONAC / CORSSI.FLORENTIN / OPVS FACEBA[T] (followed by a double monogram combining the letters of PERINO)

Provenance

Commissioned by a member of the Baciadonne family for Santa Maria della Consolazione, Genoa, where it remained until the end of the 18th century. Cardinal Joseph Fesch [1763-1839], Paris; (his sale, Rome, 17 March 1845, no. 813); purchased by M. George. William Ward, 11th baron Ward [1817-1885, created 1st earl of Dudley in 1860], Witley Court, Worcestershire, England, by 1849;[1] by inheritance to his son, William Humble Ward [1867-1932], 2nd earl of Dudley, Witley Court; (Dudley sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 25 June 1892, no. 91); purchased by Sir John Charles Robinson [1824-1913], London, for Sir Francis Cook, 1st Bt. [1817-1901], Doughty House, Richmond, Surrey;[2] by inheritance to his son, Sir Frederick Lucas Cook, 2nd Bt. [1844-1920], Doughty House; by inheritance to his son, Sir Herbert Frederick Cook, 3rd Bt. [1868-1939], Doughty House; by inheritance to his son, Sir Francis Frederick Maurice Cook, 4th Bt. [1907-1978], Doughty House, and Cothay Manor, Somerset; sold 1947 or 1948 to (Gualtiero Volterra, London) for (Count Alessandro Contini-Bonacossi, Florence);[3] sold March 1949 to the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York;[4] gift 1961 to NGA.

Exhibition History
1857
Art Treasures of the United Kingdom: Paintings by Ancient Masters, Art Treasures Palace, Manchester, 1857, no. 188.
Bibliography
1841
Catalogue des tableaux composant la galerie de feu son eminence Cardinal Fesch. Rome, 1841:32
1854
Waagen, Gustav Friedrich. Treasures of Art in Great Britain: Being an Account of the Chief Collections of Paintings, Drawings, Sculptures, Illuminated Mss.. 3 vols. Translated by Elizabeth Rigby Eastlake. London, 1854: 2:233.
1959
Paintings and Sculpture from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1959: 103, repro.
1965
Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 103
1968
European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 91, repro.
1968
Shapley, Fern Rusk. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: Italian Schools, XV-XVI Century. London, 1968: 108-109, fig. 261.
1975
European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 262, repro.
1979
Shapley, Fern Rusk. Catalogue of the Italian Paintings. 2 vols. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1979: I:358-359, II:pl. 258
1984
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 182, no. 206, color repro.
1985
European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 302, repro.
1985
Wolk, Linda. "The Pala Baciadonne by Perino del Vaga." Studies in the History of Art 18 (1985):29-57, repro.
1992
National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 98, repro.
2000
Kirsh, Andrea, and Rustin S. Levenson. Seeing Through Paintings: Physical Examination in Art Historical Studies. Materials and Meaning in the Fine Arts 1. New Haven, 2000: 11-13, fig. 8.
2004
Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 93, no. 69, color repro.
2011
Pergam, Elizabeth A. The Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition of 1857: Entrepreneurs, Connoisseurs and the Public. Farnham and Burlington, 2011: 313.
2013
"Vasari and the National Gallery of Art." National Gallery of Art Bulletin 48 (Spring 2013): 16-17, repro.