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Overview

The tondo, or circular painting, enjoyed remarkable popularity in Renaissance Florence and was a specialty of Piero di Cosimo. His surviving examples of the type accommodate rich narratives within their round formats, which signify eternity, divinity, and cosmic harmony. The National Gallery’s Nativity, among the largest of Piero’s roundels, was likely intended for devotional use in a private palace or in the more public setting of a local confraternity or guildhall. Mary kneels in adoration of the infant Christ, who rests on a blue mantle, his head supported by a pillow of wheat that evokes the Eucharist. Also present to venerate the incarnate Jesus are an angel and the young John the Baptist, who clutches a reed cross and regards the Christ child with touching solemnity.

Piero’s narrative vision encompasses details sublime and mundane, from the symbolic rose and bud, rocks, and dove beside Christ to the half-ruined stable in the background with its niche of kitchen utensils. Jesus’s father, Joseph, descends the building’s wooden stairs in the cautious manner of an aged man. He is attended by angels bearing flowering branches to celebrate the Child’s birth. In the distance at left, the three Magi traverse a serene landscape whose rolling contours perfectly complement the tondo’s shape.

Provenance

Grand Duchess Maria Nicolaievna de Leuchtenberg [1819-1876], Saint Petersburg, Russia, after 1852;[1] by inheritance to her son, Nicholas de Beauharnais, duc de Leuchtenberg [1843-1891], Saint Petersburg, Russia; by inheritance to Nicholas' son, Nicholas de Beauharnais, duc de Leuchtenberg [1868-1928], Saint Petersburg, Russia; acquired by A.-B. Nordiska Kompaniet, Stockholm, by 1917, as by Ridolfo Ghirlandaio.[2] (Count Alessandro Contini Bonacossi, Florence and Rome); sold 1937 to the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York;[3] gift 1939 to NGA.

Exhibition History

1938
Piero di Cosimo, Schaeffer Galleries, New York, 1938, no. 1.
2015
Piero di Cosimo: The Poetry of Painting in Renaissance Florence, National Gallery of Art, Washington; Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, 2015, no. 14 (English catalogue), no. 31 (Italian catalogue), repros.

Bibliography

1864
Crowe, Joseph Archer, and Giovan Battista Cavalcaselle. A New History of Painting in Italy from the Second to the Sixteenth Century. 3 vols. London, 1864-1866: 3(1866):31, as by Luca Signorelli.
1886
Crowe, Joseph Archer, and Giovanni Battista Cavalcaselle. Storia della pittura in Italia dal secolo II al secolo XVI. 11 vols. Florence, 1886-1908: 8(1898):518, as by Luca Signorelli.
1903
Crowe, Joseph Archer, and Giovanni Battista Cavalcaselle. A History of Painting in Italy. 6 vols. Ed. Robert Langton Douglas (vols. 1-4) and Tancred Borenius (vols. 5-6). London, 1903-1914: 5(1914): 116. 6(1914):48.
1912
Venturi, Lionello. “Saggio sulle opere d’arte italiane a Pietroburgo.” L’Arte 15 (1912): 123, 127-128.
1917
Leuchtenbergska tavelsamlingen. Stockholm, 1917: 27-28, repro., as by Ridolfo Ghirlandaio.
1923
Marle, Raimond van. The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting. 19 vols. The Hague, 1923-1938: 13(1931): 356.
1930
Venturi, Adolfo. “Pitture di Piero di Cosimo e di Jacopo Bassano.” L’Arte 1 (1930): 46.
1941
Preliminary Catalogue of Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1941: 153-154, no. 464.
1942
Book of Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1942: 249, repro. 168.
1945
Paintings and Sculpture from the Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1945 (reprinted 1947, 1949): 61, repro.
1946
Douglas, Robert Langton. Piero di Cosimo. Chicago, 1946: 45, 119-120, pls. XX, XXI.
1957
Morselli, Paolo. “Ragioni di un pittore fiorentino: Piero di Cosimo.” L’ Arte 22 (1957): 140.
1958
Morselli, Paolo. “Piero di Cosimo: saggio di un catalogo delle opere.” L’ Arte 23 (1958): 92, as doubtfully by Piero di Cosimo.
1959
Paintings and Sculpture from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1959: 75, repro.
1959
Zeri, Federico. “Rivedendo Piero di Cosimo.” Paragone 115 (1959): 44.
1963
Berenson, Bernard. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Florentine School. 2 vols. London, 1963: 1:177.
1963
Grassi, Luigi. Piero di Cosimo e il problema della conversione al ‘500 nella pittura fiorentina ed emiliana. Rome, 1963: 72+.
1965
Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 103.
1966
Bacci, Mina. Piero di Cosimo. Milan, 1966: 18, 42, 45, 95, cat. 40.
1968
National Gallery of Art. European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. Washington, 1968: 91, repro.
1968
Passavant, Hunter. “Review of Mina Bacci, Piero di Cosimo.” Kunstchronik 4, no. 21 (April 1968): 109.
1968
Shapley, Fern Rusk. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: Italian Schools, XV-XVI Century. London, 1968: 119, fig. 288.
1972
Fredericksen, Burton B., and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, MA, 1972: 164, 646.
1973
Finley, David Edward. A Standard of Excellence: Andrew W. Mellon Founds the National Gallery of Art at Washington. Washington, 1973: 79.
1975
European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 268, repro.
1976
Bacci, Mina. L’opera completa di Piero di Cosimo. Milan, 1976: 94, cat. 42, pls. LVII-LIX.
1979
Shapley, Fern Rusk. Catalogue of the Italian Paintings. 2 vols. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1979: 1:371-372; 2:pl. 269.
1984
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 104, no. 76, color repro.
1985
European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 312, repro.
1993
Fermor, Sharon. Piero di Cosimo: Fiction, Invention and Fantasia. London, 1993: 152, 156, fig. 74.
1996
Capretti, Elena, and Anna Forlani Tempesti. Piero di Cosimo: catalogo completo. Florence, 1996: 119-120, cat. 30.
2000
Olson, Roberta J. M. The Florentine Tondo. Oxford, 2000: 252 ,fig. A46.
2001
Wilson, Carolyn C. St. Joseph in Italian Renaissance Society and Art: New Directions and Interpretations. Philadelphia, 2001: 58, 78, pl. 44.
2002
Forlani Tempesti, Anna, and Elena Capretti. "Piero di Cosimo: un'opera ritrovata." Arte Cristiana 90, no. 808 (2002): 26, 28 n. 8, fig. 17.
2003
De Marchi, Andrea. "La Sacra Famiglia Stramezzi di Piero di Cosimo." In Petr Přibyl, Martina Sošková, and Eva Zíkovâ, eds. In Italiam nos fata trahunt, sequamur...: sborník příspěvku k 75 narozeninám Olgu Pujmanové. Prague, 2003: 82.
2006
Geronimus, Dennis. Piero di Cosimo: Visions Beautiful and Strange. New Haven and London, 2006: 172, 186, 326 n. 35, fig. 130.
2010
Tazartes, Maurizia. Piero di Cosimo “ingegno astratto e difforme.” Florence, 2010: 108, fig. 50.
2012
Fiorenza, Giancarlo. “Tadpoles, Caterpillars and Mermaids: Piero di Cosimo’s Poetic Nature.” In Melinda Schlitt, ed. Gifts in Return: Essays in Honour of Charles Dempsey. Toronto, 2012: 160-161, n. 21.
2012
Padovani, Serena. “Intorno a Piero di Cosimo. Il filo rosso di alcune attribuzioni sbagliate.” Commentari d’arte 18, no. 51 (2012): 24.
2014
Kennicott, Philip. “An Enigmatic Giant of Renaissance Art Will Get D.C. Show.” Washington Post 137, no. 232 (July 25, 2014): C1, C6, color fig.
2015
Brilliant, Virginia. “Piero di Cosimo in America.” In Gretchen Hirschauer and Dennis Geronimus, eds. Piero di Cosimo: The Poetry of Painting in Renaissance Florence. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 2015: 88, 89.
2015
Hirschauer, Gretchen A. ““Building Castltes in the Air”: The Story of Piero di Cosimo.” In Gretchen Hirschauer and Dennis Geronimus, eds. Piero di Cosimo: The Poetry of Painting in Renaissance Florence. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 2015: 3.
2015
Luchs, Alison. “Creatures Great, Small, and Hybrid: The Natural and Unnatural Wonders in Piero’s Art.” In Gretchen Hirschauer and Dennis Geronimus, eds. Piero di Cosimo: The Poetry of Painting in Renaissance Florence. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 2015: 64, 67-68.
2015
Padovani, Serena. “La mostra su Piero di Cosimo: una proposta per il suo percorso nel contesto contemporaneo.” In Elena Capretti et al, eds. Piero di Cosimo 1462-1522: Pittore eccentrico fra Rinascimento e Maniera. Exh. cat. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, 2015: 35.
2015
Walmsley, Elizabeth. ““A Very Rich and Beautiful Effect”: Piero’s Painting Technique.” In Gretchen Hirschauer and Dennis Geronimus, eds. Piero di Cosimo: The Poetry of Painting in Renaissance Florence. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 2015: 73, 75, 81, fig. 3.
2015
Walmsley, Elizabeth. “Come dipingeva Piero. Nota sulla tecnica pittorica.” In Elena Capretti et al, eds. Piero di Cosimo 1462-1522: Pittore eccentrico fra Rinascimento e Maniera. Exh. cat. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, 2015: 186, 194, figs. 2, 4.
2019
Nuttall, Paula. “Piero di Cosimo and Netherlandish Painting.” In Dennis Geronimus and Michael W. Kwakkelstein, eds. Piero di Cosimo: Painter of Faith and Fable. Leiden, 2019: 215-216, fig. 9.4.
2020
Saracino, Francesco. “Isabella d’Este e il ‘Presepio con Santo Zoanne Baptista’.” Saggi e Memorie di storia dell’arte 44 (2020): 55, fig. 3.

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