Francesco Raibolini – Latest And Best Works Of Francia

WE do not know what pictures Francia painted during the year in which his patrons fled from Bologna, nor have we any records proving what other work he did besides the medals for the Pontiff, who had again assumed the power in his own city, and the next land-mark that we have to guide us is found in the date upon the Dresden picture, 1509. There are beyond this two pictures to be mentioned bearing the dates 1512 and 1514, and two dated 1515, one at Parma, and one at Turin ; and then we have the date of the death of the artist, 1517. Between these dates comes the long series of pictures of the Madonna and Child, the most bewildering of all the works of Francia to set into chronological order, and, in fact, the most difficult to deal with in any way, so much have they been copied, and so much was the type of Francia’s group repeated by the host of his pupils. It must honestly be stated, in respect to this group of pictures, that there is no finality in attributions ; from time to time evidence may arise that will upset the best-founded theories, especially seeing that the sons of Francia so cleverly copied their father’s work that it is a matter almost of impossibility to be quite certain as to several pictures that bear the name of the artist. On the whole, I have only included in my list those pictures which I have seen myself, and which have satisfied me by their colouring, characteristics, sweetness, accuracy of drawing, and general resemblance to the certain works of Francia, that they may be given to him but it is quite possible that in some of them I may be mistaken in my assumption, and that they should be given rather to his school.

I think that the ” Virgin and Child with St. Francis ” in the Bologna Gallery (Plate XXXII.) may certainly be accepted without hesitation. The figure of St. Francis is a very fine one, and one which constantly appears in the works of the master. The hands are long and the fingers pointed, and there are no knuckles to be seen.

There should be another picture closely resembling this one, which at one time belonged to the Zambeccari family, and was described by Crowe and Cavalcaselle as having an inscription upon it and the date 1503 ; but in this missing one the Child is holding a bird in its hand, whereas in the Bologna one there is no bird to be seen, nor any inscription.

The bird, however, and the same saint are to be seen in the fine picture belonging to Mr. J. E. Taylor, in which also is represented another saint, St. Jerome ; this is also a picture which may, I consider, be accepted. The treatment of the gauze veil, the two different kinds of trees, the knuckleless hands, and the colouring, all bespeak the work of the master.

In Sir George Trevelyan’s picture there is the same bird, the same gauze veil, the same trees, and the same hands ; and although the colouring is not nearly so fine or so rich as in Mr. Taylor’s picture, yet the same workmanship can be detected in this also.

St. Francis is also to be seen in the Verona picture, and the bird and the veil as well, while the characteristic absence of ears in this work is to be noted. The trees are, however, quite different, as the finer silhouetted ones are absent, and the painting of the landscape appears to be by a different hand from the one that painted the figures. I think that this picture is partly the work of Francia, but has been completed by one of his pupils.

St. Jerome appears in the National Gallery picture, accompanied by a female saint with a palm, and here the same baby is to be found as is represented in Sir George Trevelyan’s picture and in the Bologna one. The landscape also is right, and this picture can, I think, be safely accepted.

In the Munich picture we have quite a different Mother and quite a different Child, and there are two angels in the picture, one on either side of the Mother and Child. Their long, soft, curling hair falls down over their ears, concealing them from view, and the religious garb of the Virgin covers her ears also. There is no landscape, the colouring is very rich and full of character ; but the distinguishing point in this picture that makes its attribution so clear is the pattern of the drapery upon which the Divine Child is standing, as this is identical with the design of one of the copes in a signed altar-piece by the artist.

The same Madonna is to be found in the picture in the Barberini Palace, even to the very posture, although in many other ways this well-known picture differs from the other groups. The child St. John appears in it with his wooden cross—a favourite device of Giulio Francia—and the landscape differs very much from the usual one painted by Francia. The colouring is that of Francia, but the painting of the veil is somewhat different, and if it is his work we must attribute it to a late period in his career, as there is a trace of the redness in the eyes that marks his latest works. It is impossible to speak upon this picture, lovely as it is, with any degree of certainty ; but on the whole I am inclined to differ from other critics, and give it to Francia, and place it towards the very close of his career.

In the Borghese Gallery is a ” Madonna and Child ” that is accepted by most judges, and I do not differ from them with regard to it. It recalls the ” Madonna in the Rose Garden ” at Munich, and in its full and flowing draperies is one of the finest pieces of painting and arrangement that Francia ever did. All the characteristics are there, and the ease and grace of the composition are excellent ; but if it be accepted, then must another picture also—that in the Palazzo Mansi at Lucca—which stands or falls with it. The Mother is the same person, the Child is the same, the draperies are the same, and are as well drawn and painted as in the Borghese picture. The landscape is far more characteristic than is the one in the Borghese ; the head-dress of the Madonna and the knuckleless hands are identical in each picture. The one at Lucca is every whit as good in its colouring, and is, I believe, by the same hand as the great picture in San Frediano in the same town which is signed by the artist.

Finally, there is a picture at Parma in which the infant St. John is painted from the same child as is represented in the Barberini picture, and the wooden cross is the same, even to the cross-strings upon it. Oddly enough, the same church appears in the landscape in each work, and I think it is a church at Modena with a curious spire ; but this may be only a matter of surmise, as the building is not easy to identify. The infant St. John is, however, quite clearly the same child as at Rome, and the ornament around the head-dress of the Madonna I have traced in four other pictures by Francia, used as the border of a garment. I therefore accept this picture also, even though in so doing I run counter to the opinion of various judges, whose decisions I greatly value.

” The Holy Family with St. Catherine,” in the Accademia at Venice, I cannot accept, as I do not find in it the marks of Francia’s work, but those of his son ; and for the same reason I am unable to accept the picture at the Vatican, which is altogether different, in the landscape especially, from the work of our master. Nor can I accept the second one in the Iarberini Palace, with its stiff attitude, its oddly drawn St. John, the scroll in the hand drawn as Francia never drew a scroll, and its bony fingers, so different from any by him. It is probably the work of one of his sons or a pupil.

There is at St. Petersburg another picture which belongs to this group ; but I have not seen it, and can only speak of it from a photograph taken by Braun, and from the description given me by friends who have seen it, and who, like Mr. Claude Phillips, accept it as a work by Francia. The authorities at the Hermitage Gallery accept it unhesitatingly, and they seem to have good cause for their belief. The face of the Madonna, her hands, the hands of the Child, the landscape with its trees, and the events that are taking place in the sky, are all characteristic, as well as the fact that in the two groups in the background—representing the Resurrection and Ascension—there is not one ear to be seen in the entire group of persons. The Child is evidently drawn from the same child used as a model in the Lucca, Borghese, and Taylor groups, and the attitude is the same as that in the Taylor picture. On the whole, the picture may be accepted as genuine, although it has, I hear, been very much restored, and signed with a signature which differs in lettering from the usual signature and appears to have been added at a later time.

There is one other picture of the Madonna and Child quite different from either of those already named, which is to be found in the Church of St. Dominic in Bologna, about which it is desirable to say something. It is quite a small picture, and is over the altar of the third chapel on the right. The picture has had special sanctity attributed to it, as at the altar certain important works have been wrought ; and therefore metal crowns have been attached to the heads of the Mother and Child, and the painting enclosed in a glass reliquary, which prevents its being properly seen unless the door of the reliquary is opened. I believe it to be a genuine work by Francia of an early date, but in very bad condition. The hands, so far as they can be seen, are the chief reasons for my opinion, as they are characteristic ; but it is almost impossible to be definite in the matter, owing to the great difficulties that surround the attempt at close and careful examination of the picture.

We now come to the famous ” Baptism of Christ ” at Dresden, dated 1509 (Plate XXXIII.). It is not known how this work came into the possession of the authorities of the gallery, nor even whether it is correctly described as the ” Baptism,” which Vasari names as taken to Modena. Many of the pictures at Dresden came from Modena ; but this one does not appear in the list, and the one named by Vasari may be the one now at Hampton Court of the same subject.

The two works compared with each other yield several interesting divergences. I agree with Mr. Claude Phillips in accepting both of them as genuine works by the master’s own hand, and in accepting the signatures as true ones. The Dresden picture is dated 1509, as already stated ; but the one at Hampton Court is far older, and is much more of a Quattro-cento ‘work. It is not likely, as has been so well pointed out by that eminent critic, that a copyist or pupil would have reverted to an earlier and more archaic type in reproducing the Dresden picture ; and yet if the one in England is not accepted as Francia’s own work, that is the theory that must be taken to explain the differences between them.

The draperies of the picture at Hampton Court are much more metallic and rigid than those at Dresden ; the grouping is stiffer and more constrained ; the expression on the faces is more formal, and has a harder and harsher character about it, while especially the face and attitude of St. John is of a far older and less supple and graceful type than appears in the Dresden picture.

The picture in Hampton Court originally belonged to Charles I., and was in the Mantuan Collection which the King acquired, and in the original catalogue is described as ” di mano del Franza.” It is not in good condition, and the sky had been much damaged, so that the Heavenly Dove can be but slightly seen ; but it has every characteristic of the early work of Francia, and the remarkable confirmation which it affords to the niello print, and which the print gives to it, has been already mentioned.

The Dresden picture is a notable late work. The faces have acquired that grace and sweetness that Francia was so well able to produce ; the draperies lack the crumpled metallic folds that mark the niello stage ; the bushy trees contrast with the finer ones in the regular fashion ; and the- effect of the light on the water, which is so marked a characteristic of the Hampton Court picture, in this one has assumed an even greater importance, and is treated with much skill and effect. The cartellino on each work, and the formation of the letters of the signature, are characteristic in each case. Crowe states that in the collection of Lord Taunton at Stoke there was a predella of the same subject, and that part of it was the work of a pupil ; this picture now belongs to Mr. Edward Stanley, M.P., and is at Quantock Lodge.

Of the next two dated pictures it is not easy to give so definite an opinion. The one in the possession of Lord Northbrook, representing ” The Holy Family with St. Anthony,” is certainly signed in full with the usual signature, and dated MDXII ; but in many ways the picture does not resemble the work of Francia. The colouring is deeper, denser, and heavier in tone than his ; and the work of the painting is strikingly unequal, as the landscape is very different in character from that of the figures. It has been attributed to the son of Francia –Giacomo ; but the date is a difficulty in that theory, as no works by Giacomo have yet been found of an earlier date than 1518, while this one is dated in unmistakable manner and in contemporary lettering 1512.

On the whole, the result of my very careful examination of the picture is to give it to Francia; and my belief is that it has been painted by the artist on a panel which he had commenced at an earlier stage in his career, and then laid aside, but that the panel came in for the purpose of this painting, and was therefore used as it was.

The course was not an unusual one for an Italian artist to fallow, and in this case would explain the striking divergence between the style of the landscape and that of the figures.

The hands are specially characteristic of Francia, and also the attitudes of St. Joseph and St. Anthony, while the cleaning and restoring that has in earlier days befallen the picture will account, I think, for the complex character of the colouring.

The picture dated 1514 is at Bologna in the Ercolani Collection, but for some unknown reason cannot at present be seen. It is a small half-length, representing ” God the Father Almighty,” and has upon it a long inscription, telling the names of those ‘who commissioned it in 1514.

It resembles a similar picture which is to be found in the Ambrosiana Gallery, and is there called a ” Doctor of the Church,” but which is, I think, the panel from the upper part of some altar-piece, representing ” God the Father.”

Earlier than this time was painted, I think, the standing figure of a saint in the Poldi-Pezzoli Gallery in Milan, which, like the one in the Northbrook picture, is called ” St. Anthony of Padua.”

Other critics have called this sweet figure by the name of ” St. Francis “; but, as I have pointed out in other pictures, there are no signs of the stigmata, and St. Francis is always represented by Francia as bearing a cross of wood, whereas this saint has a tall lily in his hand, and therefore, I conceive, is rightly called ” St. Anthony.” The position of the hands with the book recalls at once that of both the Ambrosiana picture and the one in the Ercolani Gallery.

It is far more difficult to assign the true date to the ” Crucifixion ” in the Louvre, which was painted for St. Job’s Church in Bologna, as to the early history of which I have been quite unable to ascertain any documental evidence. The use of the scroll in this work, which bears the words upon it MAJORA SVSTINVIT IPSE,

makes it appear an early work done prior to the arrival of Julius II. ; but the treatment of the faces, the anguish which is given to the expressions, the garb of the Blessed Virgin, and the treatment of the draperies, all forbid such a contention.

The picture is, however, very different from the group of fine pictures which were painted in the few years now under our survey, and, but for the full, luscious painting, might well be given to an early date.

At Ferrara Francia painted the altar-piece which is called by the Ferrarese ” The Picture of all the Saints,” and which represents the Coronation of the Virgin.

The treatment of the main event, which takes place in the sky, is much the same as in the picture at Lucca, which it at once recalls ; but owing to the instructions of the donors of the picture, who appear to have desired the introduction of a number of saints, the picture lacks the attractive simplicity that gives so much charm to the one at Lucca.

The dedication of the Duomo to All Saints, and the fact that this picture was to stand over the altar of All Saints, where it still remains, accounts for the anxiety of the Canons who ordered it to have so many introduced on the scene; but the picture is crowded, and although a delightful piece of colouring, and a well-drawn and well-arranged composition, is unsatisfactory for this cause. It hangs in a bad light, and is there-fore difficult to see.,

Two scrolls also appear in this picture—one in the hand of St. John the Baptist, and the other at the feet of the Virgin.

The presence of the little child on the ground is quite unusual in a composition of Francia’s, and there must have been some special reason to account for it.

The only other crowded composition that Francia painted is “The Adoration of the Magi” (Plate XXXIX.) which is now at Dresden ; but in this picture we see an influence which will involve our deferring its consideration to another chapter, when the effect of Raphael’s work is specially considered.

It is well, therefore, to group together the four great pictures which remain for consideration, and which represent the consummation of the work of Francia, his greatest achievements, and the fullest expression of his power.

Of two of this group we know the dates, as the pictures at Parma and Turin are both dated 1515 ; and it is evident that the Pietà in the National Gallery and the one at Parma belong to the same period.

The great altar-piece in London (Plates XXXIV. and XXXV.), which is one of the chief treasures of our national collection, and by which Francia is best known, is in every way a masterpiece.

It was painted for the Buonvisi Chapel in the Church of San Frediano in Lucca. This chapel was founded by Benedetto, the son of Lorenzo Buonvisi, in 1510, and Benedetto’s will, which is dated August 16, 1510, provides for the maintenance of the chapel by landed property, and speaks of the sons of Paolo Buonvisi, the favourite brother of the founder, as his eventual heirs.

Benedetto died before 1516, and at Lucca, in the manuscript volumes written by a certain Canon Vincenzo Baroni, which contain a vast amount of curious information as to the city, is a brief abstract of his will. The object of the foundation of the chapel was the welfare of the souls of the Buonvisi family, and it was specially dedicated to St. Anne.

These facts account, I think, for the presence of the various saints whom Francia has introduced into his picture. St. Anne appears in so prominent a position as the special patron of the chapel ; St. Laurence as the patron of the father of the founder ; St. Paul as the patron of the founder’s brother and heir ; St. Sebastian as the plague saint, as in 1510 the city of Lucca was visited by the fell disease, and prayers would doubtless be offered for the intercession of that saint ; and the last of the four saints, who is termed St. Romuald in the National Gallery catalogue, is probably St. Benedict, the patron of the founder.

It was this last saint which puzzled me when first I examined the picture, and started me upon an investigation as to its history. I was able to find but little when I visited Lucca as to the history of the saint, but thanks to the kindness of Baron Acton and my good friend Mr. Montgomery Carmichael the information just narrated has been discovered.

There is no special sign distinguishing the saint as St. Romuald, and in fact the usual crutch is wanting, his beard is not as long as St. R.omuald’s is usually represented, and the cowl and habit in which he is garbed differ in many ways from those worn in the sixteenth century by the Camaldolese monks.

The habit, on the other hand, is Benedictine, and the figure in all respects resembles the older monastic representations of St. Benedict, while the introduction of this saint would occur in the most natural manner.

The Duke of Lucca acquired the picture from the last of the Buonvisi, a Princess Elisa Poniatowski (née Montecatini), and, on the sale of the Duke’s effects, it was brought to London.

In this picture there is no sign of crowding. The Virgin and Child are enthroned together, side by side with St. Anne, in a manner that is quite unusual in Italian pictures, and at once recalls the picture by Perugino at Marseilles. At the foot of the throne is a joyous St. John bearing the customary scroll of which Francia is so fond, and the pavement on which all the saints stand is copied from that in the church itself for which the picture was intended.

The most notable part, however, of the picture is the lunette (Plate XXXV.), representing the dead body of our Lord supported by His mother and by two angels, and here is the fullest expression of the genius for pathos that Francia possessed to so great a degree in these later years.

There is no finer representation of the dread scene to be found in the whole range of Italian art. There is nothing in which pathos and sublimity are so happily blended, and in which there are no distracting elements to be considered.

Here in this picture there are but four figures, trans-figured with pity, overcome with grief, disconsolate, and absorbed.

The two angels, however, to whose presence the eyes of the Virgin seem to be closed, have faces full of hope. They are overwhelmed with astonishment at the death of their Master, and adore His sacred Body ; but they are at the same time convinced that death is not the end, and that there is life beyond, and consequently the light of hope spreads itself over their countenances.

On the Blessed Body itself there are no marks of suffering or pain, and there is no obtrusive horror or sign of torment, but just the sublimity of a death-like sleep, with the sense of resting peace that such a scene often presents.

Francia has in this picture passed quite away from the goldsmith stage. He is the painter of Divine things, and has by his genius touched the very heights of a world’s masterpiece, and presented a scene that will move even the most callous of mortals to tears.

In neither of his other representations of the same scene does he quite reach this position, partly because in each there are so many other spectators, and the loneliness and simplicity of the scene are lost.

In the Turin picture (Plate XXXVI.) there are no angels, but in their place there are two holy women, who support the dead Christ, while beside them stand the figures of St. Joseph and St. Anthony, both of them, by the dramatic action of their hands, intruding some-what upon the sublimity of the conception. There is an overstrained look of sweetness and resignation in the face of the Saviour, astonishment rather than grief in the gaze of St. Joseph, and horror and surprise in the appearance of the women. The picture falls far short of the one from Lucca.

Much finer is the Parma picture (Plate XXXVII.), although here again it is spoiled by the energetic action of one holy woman, who comes flying on to the scene with hands outspread, and a look of mild astonishment on her face, and’ by the nervous manner of St. Joseph, who stands close by.

Had we not seen the Buonvisi altar-piece we should have pronounced this one, with its great dark cross filling the air, its rocky landscape, the tender face of the Virgin Mother, the bewildering grief of the two women, and the passive, tranquil Body, supported by their hands, as one of the best representations of this favourite scene ever painted ; but as it is we can admire it without the depth of emotion that the other produces, and turn to the one in our own National Gallery as to the truer and finer expression of tender grief and loving hope.

One more work remains for examination, and that is the other one at Parma (130) (Plate XXXVIII.), which bears the same date as the Turin ” Deposition,” 1515, and was therefore one of the latest pictures painted by Francia. This altar-piece, which was, so tradition states, the last picture that Francia painted, was done for the Black Friars of the Annunziata of Parma, whose church was destroyed in 1566. The altar-piece was then removed to a new church in Capo-di-Ponte, and there it remained till the first year of the eighteenth century, when it was sold to Count Carlo Sanvitali for the adornment of his gallery. On the dispersal of that gallery it became the property of one Antonio Orlandi, from whom, in 1834, it was acquired for the gallery at Parma, where now it hangs.

It is in excellent condition, and a very fine work.

The saints represented are St. Scholastica, with a dove and a book on the right, and near to her St. Placidus, who was held in such honour in Parma, and who is wearing a cope with a richly jewelled morse and orphreys, and carries in his hand a crosier.

On the left are Sta. Giustina, with the dagger in her breast, wearing a crown and carrying a palm, and near to her a fine figure of St. Benedict, whose rule the brothers followed. He also is robed in a cope of rich brocade, with Francia’s favourite pine pattern on it, and carries in his hand a crosier.

Around the neck of Sta. Giustina is a fine necklace of stones set in delightful gold-work.

In many ways the picture recalls the very earliest work of the artist, transfigured by his greater knowledge and the full effect of his genius. There is also the same love of jewels and of delicate decoration. There is the use of a scroll, which appears in the hand of the infant St. John, who is seated at the foot of the throne, and on the throne itself there is the same kind of dainty decoration as the artist used in the Manzuoli altar-piece.

That there should be no mistake as to which saints are depicted in the picture, he has reverted to the plan he adopted in the altar-piece at Lucca, and added their names at the feet of each figure, and, to give completeness to the effect, has placed his mitre by the side of each Bishop. There is the same contrast between the bushy and the silhouetted trees, and in the arches that are at the back of the Madonna he has used the arrangement which appears in the National Gallery altar – piece, to which this one has great affinities in many ways.

The profound genius of the artist is to be seen in the ineffable sweetness of the faces, which never approach in expression mere sentimentality, and are not over-sweet as they might have become in the hands of a weaker man. The draperies are full and easy,and the colouring is of the deepest, richest, and most melting quality, with tender depth, and producing a delightful effect. Quite notable is the face of the Virgin, and equally important that of St. Benedict, one of the most dignified figures which the artist ever painted. Gone for ever is the hard hand of the niellist, and the somewhat stagey effect of early work, and in their place is the full fruit of the genius of the artist.