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Andrea Mantegna
(Isola di Carturo, Padova, 1431 - Mantova 1506)
Virgin and Child,
1490-1500 c. Canvas, 45 x 35 cm
Milan, Poldi Pezzoli Museum

The Virgin clasps the Child lovingly and caresses his Face with her fingers. Jesus, wrapped in a fine white material, is fast asleep. In all probability the image is a refined foreshadowing of the death of Christ. The white cloth which enfolds the body of the Child evokes the shroud in which Christ was to be buried, while the Virgin’s absorbed and melancholy expression alludes to the future Passion. The pyramidal structure of the composition is emphasized by Mary’s mantle, which frames the two bodies as a single compact form, heightening her motherly protective attitude. Dated towards the end of the fifteenth century, the work was painted directly onto a canvas with a very fine texture, clearly visible in the lighter zones under the delicate layer of pigment.

Vincenzo Foppa
(Bagnolo o Brescia 1427/30 - Brescia 1515/16)
Portrait of Giovanni Francesco Brivio,
1495c. Panel, 46x 37 cm
Milan, Poldi Pezzoli Museum

The face, seen in profile, is depicted without the least trace of idealization. The portrait presents the figure’s pronounced and irregular lineaments, the deep wrinkles and slightly greying hair. The dark ground and the meticulous naturalistic rendering of physiognomic details derive from Flemish models, perhaps filtered through the work of Mantegna. The man wears a rich gown, probably full-length, trimmed with fur, in the Middle-Eastern style known as a “Turkish robe”. The personage represented in the painting has been identified as Giovanni Francesco Brivio, a member of a noble Milanese family. In the last two decades of the fifteenth century he held important administrative and financial offices at the court of Milan. The painting dates from around 1495, when Brivio was about forty years old and at the height of his public success. At this time he held the office of magistrate of the ordinary revenues of the Sforza dukedom.

Giovanni Battista Moroni Albino,
(Bergamo, 1520 circa - Bergamo 1579)
The Knight in Black,
1567 c. Canvas, 190 x 102 cm
Milan, Poldi Pezzoli Museum , Bequest of Annibale Scotti Casanova 2004

The painting is signed at bottom right “ jo(hannes) baptista / moronus p(inxit)”. Painted life-size, this knight in black stands out against a grey ground, in which only some architectural features can be distinguished. The very elegant dark garments which give the portrait its title are painted with extraordinary fineness, particularly in the folds of the drapery and the delicate passages of light and shade, which bring them to life and make their surfaces vibrant. The figure’s eyes are turned towards the viewer, while the hands, which claps the sword hilt and one edge of his short mantle, stand out clearly against the black material. The painting belongs to the series of the finest full-length portraits painted by Giovanni Baptist Moroni. It can be dated to about 1567, the last period of the artist’s career, in which the pictorial composition, based on tones of black and grey, was progressively simplified and his probing of reality became more penetrating and acute.

 

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