Jean - Luc Baroni Ltd

Alessandro Rosi


Alessandro Rosi

Florence 1627 - 1696



The Holy Family

Oil on canvas.
120 x 103 cm. (47 ¼ x 40 ½ in.)

PROVENANCE: Probably painted for Cardinal Francesco Maria de Medici (1660-1711), as recorded by Filippo Baldinucci in his Notizie de’ professori del disegno da Cimabue in poi, published posthumously, 1725-30: For the Serene Prince Francesco Maria of Tuscany made a beautiful and graceful picture with the Holy Family, with actual size half-length figures, and with a black and white cat in the act of climbing on the Holy Virgin’s lap, of rare expression and realism. All these figures are indeed very beautiful and arranged with good harmony and manner; the garments of those figures are striped cloths of various colours, after the style of Paolo (Veronese), which make it very graceful; sale; Cortot-Vregille-Bizouard, Dijon, 14 April 2007, lot 60.

LITERATURE: F. Baldassari, La pittura del Seicento a Firenze: Indice degli artisti e delle loro opere, Milan, 2009, pp. 628 and 641, fig. 387.

Rosi led a colourful life, noted by his biographers as a skilled draughtsman, who worked for Ferdinand de’ Medici, and died in an ‘extraordinary accident’: while walking on the via Condotta in Florence, a column fell from a terrace above and killed him (P.A. Orlandi, Abecedario pittorico, Venice, 1753, p. 43). In around 1640, the young Alessandro Rosi began working in the studio of Cesare Dandini, coming into contact with the new Baroque styles of Pietro da Cortona and Simon Vouet. The artist’s adherence to these innovative artistic trends, particularly that of the French artist and his pupils, is evident in his fresco cycle painted in the Palazzo Corsini in Florence, which Rosi executed between 1650-53. The following year, Rosi enrolled at the Accademia del Disegno. Very little is known of the artist’s activity between 1650-65 and the chronology of Rosi’s works of this period is therefore based solely on stylistic considerations. Nonetheless, it would appear that, during those years, the artist favoured working on medium size pictures. Indeed, some of his best easel paintings were produced then, including the Moses Striking the Rock and its pendant of Moses and the Daughters of Jethro in the Cassa di Risparmio at Prato, the numerous variations of the Holy Family and the Scene of Witchcraft in a private collection in Florence. During the following decade or so the artist executed a number of large altarpieces, such as the 1665 Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, painted for the Abbey at Vallombrosa, near Florence, the 1666 Martyrdom of St. Matthew, painted for the Church of the same saint in San Mommè, near Pistoia, and the 1675 St. Francis Xavier and St. Peter of Alcantara, commissioned by Canon Giuseppe Apolloni for the Church of Santa Maria del Giglio at Prato. Following his appointment as painter to the Arazzeria Medicea in 1678, the artist became involved in the provision of numerous cartoons for tapestries, which he continued to produce for the remainder of his career. These include several Coat-of-arms of the Medici Family,  allegories of the Virtues and of the Four Seasons, and others.

The motif of the Virgin in profile holding the Christ Child looking outwards was clearly popular, used as a successful invention by Dandini, Rosi’s master, who treated it on a number of occasions, including versions in the Ospedale di Santa Maria Nuova in Florence and a private collection in Milan (S. Bellesi, Cesare Dandini, Turin, 1996, pp. 177-8, nos. 119-120). Elisa Acanfora, author of the monograph on Rosi, remarks upon the Virgin’s distinctive profile with its high forehead and elegant, long nose, very much a Vouet ideal and one transmitted on through Lorenzo Lippe and Cesari Dandini1. Rosi elaborates on the composition by including St. Joseph and adding a touch of humour and domestic realism, as the cat paws at the dish on the table, and the Child plays with the bows of the Madonna’s dress; the embroidered draperies and the more ornate architectural setting meanwhile speak of a new baroque exuberance.

In the volumes of Filippo Baldinucci’s Notizie de’ professori del disegno da Cimabue in poi, published posthumously by his son Francesco Saverio in around 1725-30, the author relates that Rosi “per il Serenissimo Principe Francesco Maria di Toscana fece un bello e vago quadro entrovi la Santa Conversazione, di mezze figure al naturale, e di più un gatto bianco e nero in atto di salire in grembo alla Santissima Vergine, di rara espressione e verità. Tutte queste figure sono assai belle e di gran maniera e con buona armonia disposte; le vesti di esse sono drappi vergati di più colori, alla moda di Paolo, che lo rendono vaghissimo. Questo quadro, dopo la morte del nominato Principe, pervenne nelle mani di Cosimo e fratelli Bencini, ricchi e civili cittadini, i quali – con altri molto belli di diversi maestri – fino al presente giorno con tutta diligenza lo conservano”2. The description fits that of the present picture and of two other known versions by Rosi: one in a private collection in Carpi3, and the other, formerly in the Brimo de Laroussilhe collection in Paris, now lost4. Elisa Acanfora now considers that, of the variations of this handsome composition known to her, the superior quality and elaborated design of the present picture, which she has requested for a forthcoming exhibition about Alessandro Rosi, mean that this is most likely to be the canvas painted for Cardinal Francesco Maria de’Medici and described by Baldinucci. As Acanfora had pointed out in the monograph, the quality of the Carpi version is superior to that of the ex-Paris picture, and the decoration of the garments, such as the Madonna’s striped sleeve, correspond more closely to Baldinucci’s description5. The quality of the present picture however, which was not known at the time of Acanfora’s publication of the artist’s monograph, is certainly as fine as that of the Carpi version. In addition, its composition, except for the inclusion of the striped sleeve and of the frescoed cupola in the left background, is identical in almost every detail to the qualitatively inferior ex-Paris painting, which indicates that the latter was inspired after the present work rather than after the Carpi canvas. Furthermore, the present work is even more richly decorated than the Carpi picture; it has a frescoed cupola appearing in the background whereas this area is left dark and unadorned in the Carpi version;  the book held by Joseph here is embellished by the inclusion of a gilt clasp and a gold-tooled binding; the blue drapery is embroidered with gold rather than left plain, and the red carpet in this Holy Family does not recur in the Carpi version, these elements, the carpet and the bright colouring of the red and blue drapery, are arguably also more Venetian.

The high quality and richer composition of this magnificent version of the Holy Family indeed do indeed support Acanfora’s current view, that this painting, more than the Carpi version, may be the picture commissioned by Cardinal Francesco Maria de’Medici. Four further versions of this composition, with variations in the figures of the Madonna and of Saint Joseph, are known in the Paul Drey Gallery of New York6, the Musée départemental de l’Oise in Beauvais7, the Stadtisches Museum in Wiesbaden8, and a Florentine private collection9, all a testament to the popularity of Rosi’s work. At the 1986 symposium which followed the exhibition of the Seicento Fiorentino, Vittoria Markova pointed out that a further treatment of the same subject was once in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg10. The fine condition of this picture also allows the vivid colours and fabulous variety of textures to be fully appreciated: Rosi shows a virtuoso touch, in his ability to paint such a range of effects, from the soft skin of the Madonna’s  face, to the book held in Saint Joseph’s hand, the carpet draped on the table and the wonderfully patterned fabric of the Madonna’s sleeve.

More recently, a further version appeared on the London Art Market. In the Christie’s sale entry, Francesca Baldassari compares the picture to the present version, and praises the “…number of subtle differences to that picture, notably in the colour scheme of the Madonna’s sleeve, and the design of the upper left background.” In fact, the Madonna’s sleeve is painted in a plain pale blue as opposed to the colourful striped sleeve showing in the present picture, and the upper left background lacks the frescoed cupola which decorates the present painting. The presence of such embellishing details in the present painting is further evidence that it remains the best of the various known versions and is most probably the prime verrsion, and the very painting commissioned by Cardinal Francesco Maria De’Medici, as suggested by Elisa Acanfora, author of the monoghraph on the artist.


1.    Elisa Acanfora, Alessandro Rosi, Edifir, Florence 1994, p. p.68.
2.    Elisa Acanfora, op. cit., p. 67, under no. 15: “For the Serene Prince Francesco Maria of Tuscany made a beautiful and graceful picture with the Holy Family, with actual size half-length figures, and with a black and white cat in the act of climbing on the Holy Virgin’s lap, of rare expression and realism. All these figures assai very beautiful and arranged with good harmony and manner; the garments of those figures are striped cloths of various colours, after the style of Paolo (Veronese), which make it very graceful. This picture, after the death of the named Prince, came into the hands of Cosimo Bencini and his brothers, rich and civilized citizens, who – along with very beautiful by various artists – until the present day have kept it with diligence”.
3.    Ibid., no.15.
4.    Ibid., p.68, no.16.
5.    Ibid., p.68, under no. 15.
6.    Ibid.,p.69, no. 17.
7.    Ibid., p.69-70, no. 18.
8.    Ibid., p.70, no. 19.
9.    Ibid., no. 20.
10.    Ibid., p. 68, under no. 15.
11.    Sale Christie’s, London, 5th July 2018, lot 40 (oil on canvas, 123 x 98.2 cm).

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