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Robert Echols, “Jacopo Tintoretto, Italian 16th Century/The Madonna of the Stars/c. 1575/1585,” Italian Paintings of the Sixteenth Century, NGA Online Editions, https://purl.org/nga/collection/artobject/33757 (accessed October 16, 2019).

 

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Mar 21, 2019 Version

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Overview

This is one of a small group of loosely related paintings of the Madonna and Child that have been linked to Jacopo Tintoretto. It is evident that several different hands were involved in the production of these pictures, which vary in degree of quality. Some were undoubtedly painted in Tintoretto’s studio, while others may be by followers outside the shop.

Of the group, the Gallery’s picture is the only one with a plausible claim to be at least in part by Jacopo Tintoretto. Within the painting, certain areas are handled more skillfully than others. While the face of the Virgin is confidently rendered and convincingly three-dimensional, the hands, an important compositional element, do not show the same care. Jacopo may have participated in the painting’s execution to some extent, either leaving the peripheral areas to an assistant, or perhaps correcting and completing the assistant’s work after the figures had been worked up. Alternatively, the entire work may have been executed by a member of the studio skilled at mimicking Tintoretto’s types and technique.

Since the canvas may have been cut down, it is unclear whether the original composition was significantly different. Similar extant paintings suggest that it might have been only slightly larger, standing in the long Venetian tradition of half-length Madonnas. However, the presence of the heavenly light and cherubim raises the possibility that the Virgin was originally seated on a crescent moon, as seen in several other versions by Tintoretto and his followers.

Entry

The Gallery’s Madonna of the Stars is one of a small group of loosely related paintings of the Madonna and Child, of varying degrees of quality, that have been linked to Jacopo Tintoretto. Although the entire group was attributed to Tintoretto himself by Rodolfo Pallucchini and Paola Rossi (who acknowledged the possibility of studio participation only in the Gallery painting), it is evident that several different hands were involved in the production of these pictures. Some were undoubtedly painted in Tintoretto’s studio, while others may be by followers outside the shop.[1]

Of the group, the Gallery’s picture is the only one with a plausible claim to be at least in part by Jacopo Tintoretto, although opinions on this point have varied over the years.[2] The facial type of the Virgin, with its prominent nose, is one that appears regularly in Tintoretto’s paintings, although not usually in depictions of the Virgin; for example, it appears in the angel of the Annunciation in the organ shutters in the church of San Rocco, not firmly dated but probably from the late 1570s [fig. 1], and in a female onlooker to the right in the Adoration of the Magi at the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, datable to 1581–1582 [fig. 2].[3] The faces of the Virgin in the Annunciation and the Adoration of the Magi are modeled similarly to their counterpart in the Gallery picture; their features, however, are more delicate. As noted by Adolfo Venturi, the Virgin in the Madonna of the Stars also resembles the women in the background in Saint Agnes Cures Licinius (datable before 1582, probably mid- to late 1570s).[4] All of these date from the period in which Tintoretto employed many workshop assistants, including his son Domenico and his daughter Marietta; although the paintings cited as comparisons were undoubtedly designed by Jacopo and produced under his supervision and with his participation, other hands were almost certainly involved in all three.

Although the overall composition is conventional and the bodies of the Virgin and Christ Child are awkward and anatomically distorted, the face of the Virgin is confidently rendered and convincingly three-dimensional. In contrast, the hands, an important compositional element, are crude and inexpressive. While it is highly unlikely that Jacopo himself was responsible for the painting as a whole, it is possible that he participated in its execution to some extent, either leaving the peripheral areas to an assistant, or perhaps correcting and completing the assistant’s work after the latter had worked up the figures. Alternatively, the entire painting may have been executed by a member of the studio skilled at mimicking Tintoretto’s types and technique.[5] The Virgin could have been copied from an angel or similar figure by Jacopo in another painting. Domenico Tintoretto remains a possible author, although the picture shows no definitive characteristics linking it to his established works.

The cherubim and stars in the background were uncovered when the painting was acquired by the National Gallery of Art. The present title was adopted in 1948.[6] Similar cherubim appear at the top of Tintoretto’s Baptism of Christ in the church of San Silvestro, Venice (datable before 1582, probably circa 1580).[7] Since the canvas may have been cut down, it is not possible to determine whether the original composition was significantly different. The existence of several other very similar paintings suggests that it might have been only slightly larger, standing in the long Venetian tradition of half-length Madonnas.[8] However, the presence of the heavenly light and cherubim raises the possibility that the Virgin was originally seated on a crescent moon, as seen in several other versions by Tintoretto and his followers. The motif is associated with the Woman of the Apocalypse (Revelations 12:1), “clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head twelve stars.”[9]

The links to paintings by Jacopo Tintoretto from the mid-1570s and early 1580s suggest a date of circa 1575/1585.

Robert Echols

March 21, 2019

Provenance

(Kurt Walter Bachstitz Gallery, The Hague), by 1921.[1] Ralph Harman [1873-1931] and Mary Batterman [d.1951] Booth, Grosse Pointe, Michigan, by 1923;[2] gift 1947 to NGA.

Exhibition History
1923
Ralph H. Booth Loan Collection, Detroit Institute of Arts, 1923, no catalogue.
1926
Loan Exhibition from Detroit Private Collections. Third Loan Exhibition of Old Masters, Detroit Institute of Arts, 1926, no. 12, as Madonna and Child.
1927
Fifth Loan Exhibition of Old and Modern Masters, Detroit Institute of Arts, 1927, no. 20, as Madonna and Child.
Technical Summary

The painting was executed on a piece of medium-weight, plain-weave canvas that has been expanded at the very top with a narrow strip (now 3.75 centimeters) of slightly finer weight canvas. The painting has been lined to two pieces of additional fabric and the tacking margins have been removed. No cusping is evident, suggesting that the picture may have been cut down.

Microscopic examination suggests the presence of an overall thin, reddish-brown ground. The paint is thinly applied, in both a very dry and a fluid, liquid technique. Many glazes are broken through or missing, notably on the Madonna’s mantle and hands and on the Christ Child. Some fading is apparent on the Madonna’s red dress and on her mantle, which now appears brown, but originally would have been blue or purple.[1] The paint has been flattened and the canvas weave emphasized, probably due to the use of excessive pressure during the lining process. The entire surface is abraded and there are many minute areas of retouching, now moderately discolored, all over the painting. The Madonna’s eyes, eyebrows, and hair were heavily retouched and there is also retouching in the lower part of her nose and mouth. The varnish is matte and slightly discolored. Residues of natural varnish are evident in the interstitial areas of the canvas. The painting was relined, cleaned, and inpainted in 1947–1948 by Stephen Pichetto. At that time, the stars and the cherubim in the background were revealed.

Joanna Dunn and Robert Echols based on the examination report by Julie Caverne

March 21, 2019

Bibliography
1901
Venturi, Adolfo. Storia dell’arte italiana. 11 vols. Milan, 1901-1940: 9, part 4(1929):684, as by Marietta Tintoretto.
1921
Gronau, Georg. The Bachstitz Gallery Collection, vol. 3: Objects of Art and Paintings. Berlin, 1921: pl. 92.
1922
Hadeln, Detlev von. Zeichnungen des Giacomo Tintoretto. Berlin, 1922: 95, repro.
1923
Bercken, Erich von der, and August L. Mayer. Jacopo Tintoretto. 2 vols. Munich, 1923: 226.
1923
Valentiner, Wilhelm R. "Ralph H. Booth Loan Collection." Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts 4 (1923): 54, repro.
1924
Hadeln, Detlev von. “Two Works in the Detroit Museum.” Art in America 12 (1924): 36-37, repro.
1931
Venturi, Lionello. Pitture italiane in America. Milan, 1931: no. 406, repro.
1932
Berenson, Bernard. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: A List of the Principal Artists and Their Works with an Index of Places. Oxford, 1932: 558.
1933
Venturi, Lionello. Italian Paintings in America. Translated by Countess Vanden Heuvel and Charles Marriott. 3 vols. New York and Milan, 1933: 3:no. 554.
1940
Coletti, Luigi. Il Tintoretto. Bergamo, 1940: 31.
1942
Bercken, Erich von der. Die Gemälde des Jacopo Tintoretto. Munich, 1942: 108.
1948
Recent Additions to the Ralph and Mary Booth Collection. Washington, 1948: unpaginated, repro.
1957
Berenson, Bernard. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Venetian School. 2 vols. London, 1957: 1:183.
1965
Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 128.
1968
European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 114, repro.
1970
De Vecchi, Pierluigi. L’opera completa del Tintoretto. Milan, 1970: 113, no. 199.
1972
Fredericksen, Burton B., and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972: 201.
1975
European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 342, repro.
1975
Rossi, Paola. I disegni di Jacopo Tintoretto. Florence, 1975: 209, fig. 9.
1979
Shapley, Fern Rusk. Catalogue of the Italian Paintings. 2 vols. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1979: I:461-462, II:pl. 329.
1982
Pallucchini, Rodolfo, and Paola Rossi. Tintoretto: le opere sacre e profane. 2 vols. Venice, 1982: 1:195, no. 309; 2:fig. 405.
1984
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 230, no. 293, color repro.
1985
European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 392, repro.
1998
Silverstein, Alexander M. "Marietta Robusti: La Tintoretta, Daughter of Tintoretto." Unpublished manuscript, dated November 1997. [New York, 1998]: vii, 71-72, 86.
2009
Echols, Robert, and Frederick Ilchman. “Toward a New Tintoretto Catalogue, with a Checklist of Revised Attributions and a New Chronology.” In Jacopo Tintoretto: Actas del congreso internacional/Proceedings of the International Symposium, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, February 26-27, 2007. Madrid, 2009: 142, no. S31, as Studio of Tintoretto, possibly Domenico Tintoretto.
2009
Mazzucco, Melania G. Jacomo Tintoretto e i suoi figli: storia di una famiglia veneziana. Milan, 2009: 261.
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