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Madonna and Child Bramantino: The Falls of the Rhine Essay

Madonna-and-child-museum

Madonna and Child Attributed to Bartolommeo Suardi, called Bramantino (about 1460 to about 1536)

A single picture acquired in 191 3 is anterior to the nineteenth century. It is a Madonna attributed to Bartolommeo Suardi, whose intimacy with Bramante and whose care to follow Bramante’s second manner gave him the surname of “ Bramantino,” the ‘‘little Bramante.” The Milanese School developed late, playing but a small part in the early Italian Renaissance. Nevertheless, it rapidly acquired distinction and exercised an influence upon French and Flemish artists almost as important as that of the Florentine School. The Museum of Fine Arts has possessed hitherto of this school only the “ Portrait of a Man,” by Andrea da Solario, acquired in 191 I. In future it will be able to show another work whose charm and interest are not inferior. The accompanying reproduction makes a long description of this picture unnecessary. Specially worthy of notice are the charm of the elegant figure, the picturesqueness of the town in the right background, the delicacy of the river running among bluish mountains, suggesting already the landscapes of Leonardo da Vinci, and the tree partly cut down, necessary to the balance of the background, and in which one may see perhaps a symbol of paganism overthrown, while the young branch full of sapevokes the idea of the newly nascent religion. The coloring is of a rare harmony and extreme delicacy.

The bright reds of the dress, harmo- nizing with the sombre greens of the cloak and the fresh tints of the Virgin’s face, are separated and enhanced by a darker veil. The background of buildings and wide landscape is in the truest and finest tone. The picture bears the mark of the School of Ferrara that Vincenzo Foppa introduced at Milan when he settled and became influential there. Bramantino, son of Albertino Suardi. ex- perienced Foppa’s influence in his first works, “ The Adoration of the Magi,” in the Ambrosian Library at Milan, the ” Philemon and Baucis,” in the Wallraf-Richhartz Gallery at Cologne. “The Adoration of the Shepherds,” in the Layard Collection at Venice, now in the National Gallery of London,— even in the ” Christ” of the collection of the Count del Mayno at Genoa, among which the present Madonna takes a very honorable place. But few biographical details are known about this artist, who was born about 1460 or 1465. He did not live beyond I 5 36. and the contemporary documents regarding him all date between 1503 and 1519. He executed paintings for the Vati- can and was paid for them in 1508. But for this journey he seems to have always lived in Milan. He was an original genius whose works are very rare and who exercised no little influence on his contemporaries, especially Bernardino Luini. He belonged, with Ambrogio de Fossano. called Borgognone, and Bernardino Buttinone. to that group of artists who founded the Milanese School and escaped the powerful influence of Leonardo da Vinci.*

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The Museum has already a celebrated picture by Turner. The “Slave Ship” shows the master in the full force of his ardent fancy. It was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1840. It seemed very desirable to show him also at the outset of his career, when, freed from external influences, he began to unfold his personality and to lift himself in lyrical flights above contemporary landscapists; and all the more desirable since Mr. Francis Bullard’s magnificent bequest has made the Museum the richest in the world in Turner engravings. It could not have been hoped to acquire a work more important in itself and more characteristic of Turner’s early style than the “ Falls of the Rhine at Schaffhausen.”’ If the picture is not as well known as it deserves to be, the reason is very simple ; it was shown three times only in England during the nineteenth century and at long intervals : at the Royal Academy in 1806, at the Manchester Exhibition in 1857, and at Burlington House in 1879. It was reproduced but once and very poorly in line engraving in the catalogue of the collection of Ssr John Heming Leicester. Bart., at Tabley House, which appeared in London in 1825. To understand the importance of the work, it must be remarked that the cartiest characteristic pictures of Turner do not date before I 797, when he made his first journey to the North. The following year he exhibited pic- tures and drawings at the Royal Academy, among them “Norham Castle,” which served to draw attention and to ensure fortune to their author. His exhibit of the following year. “Kilgarran Castle.” accompanied as usual by sketches and watcr-colors. shows the influence of Wilson. Then, in 1800. it is ” Dolbadern.” ” Caernarvon.” etc. Two years later he was to give the first of these pictures to the Royal Academy on the occasion of his election. He exhibited in 1801 ” Pembroke Castle,” and during the same year made a trip to Scotland. Then, profiting by the Peace of Amiens, he went to France and visited Switzerland for the first time. The impression Switzerland produced upon him was enormous and had the happiest influence on the formation of his talent. He ex- ecuted a great number of drawings full of force and sincerity, disengaging himself completely from the external influences which can be traced in his anterior works. It was this tour on the continent and among the mountains that revealed Turncr to himself. In 1802 he exhibited several views of France and Switzerland, but for a long time after- ward he was to make use of his sketches and memories for important pictures.

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The exhibition of the “ Falls of the Rhine ” in 1806, has led to the belief that Tumer made in 1804 a second voyage to Switzerland and the Rhine, for several of his views of Switzerland bear that date. Given the rich documentary material regarding Turner, these drawings are neither numerous nor important enough to prove this second journey, which is not confirmed by any other document. Sir Walter Armstrong and other critics do not believe it was ever taken. The Falls of the Rhine” may accordingly have been painted from sketches dunng the journey of 1802 and from memories. Indeed, a number of sketches by Turner of this place are known. The National Gallery has eight (Nos. LXXIX A to E, CXVIII, CCCLXIV, 287 and 337). Only the first five of these were actually executed during the trip of 1802. The others are later than the present picture. Still others are preserved at the Tate Gallery in Birmingham Art Gallery, in the National Gallery of Scotland, at the Fitzwilliam Museum. Cambridge (Ruskin Donation. 1860, and ui the collections of Sir Donald Currie, Rev. W’. Kingsley. H. B. Brabazon, Esq.. and others. They prove the interest that Turner took in the beautiful view of which he painted only this picture. The subject well suited hss mood at the moment. He had interested himself in painting marines, great masses of water in movement, tempests, drawing very attentively the details of an agitated sea, which he was later to obscure in vapor. The National Gallery contains the famous “Calais Pier,” ex- hibited in 1803 ; the Royal Academy, “ Fishing Boats in a Stiff Breeze,” and above all, “The Shipwreck: Fishing Boats Endeavoring to Rescue the Crew,” painted in 1805, and exhibited the following year in Turner’s studio.

This last picture was bought by Sir John Leicester, afterward Lord Tabley, who exchanged it later for “The Sun Rising through Vapour,” which Turner bought back at the Tabley Sale of the 7th of July, 1827, and which by his will is left to the National Gal- lery on the condition that it shall always hang between two pictures of Claude Lorrain. Other pictures of that period can be cited whose coloring has become somber, while the “ Falls of the Rhine ” has retained surprising freshness. The picture was acquired, doubtless shortly after its exhibition at the Royal Academy, by Sir John Leicester, a warm friend of Turner, who twice painted the picturesque castle of his opulent and generous patron—“Tabley House. Calm Morning,” and “Tabley House, Windy Day,”—both exhibited in 1809 at the Royal Academy. It is in this castle, where Turner stayed a long time in 1808 and filled several sketch books, that the “ Falls of the Rhine” was preserved until recently. An illustrated catalogue of Lord Tabley’s gallery appeared in 1825. Two years later, at the death of Lord Tabley, the collection was sold publicly, but the heirs bought back a part of the most valuable works, and among others, the “ Falls of the Rhine.”

It is worth noting that Lord Tabley was one of the first English collectors to open his gallery in London to the public, an example which has been imitated with great liberality, and whose happy tradition persists to the present. The “Falls of the Rhine ” is hence one of the most important, the most typical and the best pre- served of the early works of Turner, whose genius may have developed, but who may from this moment be considered as one of the gTeat landscapists of all time. He executed the picture while already engaged on the landscapes of the Liber Studiorum, which were to appear the 20th of January, 1807. There is no doubt that Mr. Francis Bullard, who made this Museum the richest in Turner prints, would be happy at its acquisition of so notable a work of his favorite artist.

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