Polidoro Lanzani’s ‘Madonna and Child with Saints Roch and Anthony Abbot’ depicts Virgin Mary, Christ and saints
In the spirit of the holiday season, we hope that you enjoy this painting from our collection. If you visit the museum, this work is on display in the Schreiber Gallery.
Polidoro Lanzani (Italian, 1515–1565)
Madonna and Child with Saints Roch and Anthony Abbot, 1560
Oil on canvas
34″h x 43″w
Collection of Washington County Museum of Fine Arts
Mrs. William Grimm Fund & partial gift of Mr. Abris Silberman of
E & A Silberman Galleries, Inc., New York, NY, in honor of Mr. Bruce Etchison, A1346,64.0015
In this painting, High Renaissance artist Polidoro Lanzani depicted the Virgin Mary and Christ with Saints Roch and Anthony Abbot in a pastoral landscape surrounded by verdant trees. In a very immediate, tender manner, Lanzani represented Jesus trying to pull himself away from his mother’s arms, while at the same time clutching her sleeve as he tries to move toward Roch, patron saint of the sick. Dressed as a pilgrim and holding his hat with a cockle shell, Roch kneels in devotion and passionately gazes at Mary and Jesus. He bears his key attributes of a staff and wounded right thigh, symbolic of his having fallen victim to the plague. On the right, Anthony Abbot (also a saint who protected against diseases and temptation) watches on meditatively and can be identified by the Greek letter “T” on the right shoulder of his monk’s habit, representing the first letter of the word “theo” (Greek, “God”).
Like his contemporaries, most notably Titian (1488/90–1576), Bonifacio Veronese (1487–1533), and Paolo Veronese (1528–1588), Lanzani created a sacra conversazione (Italian, “sacred conversation”) or devotional gathering of the Madonna and saints (often in nature), a beloved theme in Venetian art. Wealthy patrons often commissioned works such as this for private prayer and to express their piety. Given that plagues often afflicted Venetian society during the 1500s (due to its extensive trading networks), Saints Roch and Anthony Abbot were often invoked and represented in art for the protection of worshipers. In addition, the extensive landscape is replete with rolling hills, a manor, sheep (symbolic of Christ as shepherd), and mountains, allowing viewers to virtually escape to the beauty, peace, and tranquility of the countryside.
Polidoro was born in Lanciano, Abruzzo, a region of east-central Italy along the Adriatic Sea. A descendant of vase painters, Lanzani showed exceptional talent at a young age and he later relocated to Venice, where he studied under Titian, who greatly influenced his work. Like Titian, Lanzani employed a similar compositional format in which Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds are shown in close proximity, kneeling in a landscape (see the example below from The National Gallery, London). The Hagerstown canvas also resembles The Holy Family with Saints Roch, Jerome, Anthony Abbot, and Archangel Raphael with Tobias (see below) as well as The Holy Family with the Infant St. John in the Louvre (attributed to Lanzani, shown below), paintings in which the artist used a similar natural vista and comparable poses for the Virgin, Christ, Joseph, and saints.
Interestingly, prior to entering the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts’ collection in 1964, Madonna and Child with Saints Roch and Anthony Abbot was exhibited at the Corning Museum of Glass, New York, (formerly The Corning Glass Center) in 1953, where it was featured in a special Christmas exhibition of medieval and Renaissance art (see photo below).
This WeekendArt is sponsored by Dr. & Mrs. Hugh J. Talton