Work of Art Wednesday: Images for Hope and Reflection

Copy after Sebastiano del Piombo, Holy Family with Saint John the Baptist
Wednesday, May 27, 2020 - 12:00pm

This work is a copy after Sebastiano del Piombo’s (1484-1587) La Madonna de Velo (The Madonna of the Veil), which was painted by del Piombo around 1520 and is currently housed in the Olomouc Museum of Art, in Olomouc, Czech Republic. Sebastiano’s painting was originally inspired by Raphael's (Raffaello Sanzio 1483-1520) painting from 1509 of Madonna of Loreto housed in the Musée Condé in Chantilly, France.

Little is known about the painting in the Rockhurst collection except that it is speculated it was painted in the late 19th or early 20th century and was obtained from the Selkirk Auction House in St. Louis, Missouri, in the 1980s when it came into the Rockhurst University collection. Like the original Sebastiano del Piombo painting, the Rockhurst copy is signed “Sebastianus Faceibat”. The signature is featured in the lower left corner of the painting as if tacked to the cloth on which the Christ Child sleeps.

Sebastiano del Piombo was born as Sebastiano Luciani in Venice and first became a practicing musician as a soloist on the lute before turning to visual art as a career. He studied under well-known Venetian painter Giovanni Bellini (1430-1516) and later relocated to Rome, where he befriended both Raphael and Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564). Del Piombo was an artist who combined both colors used in the palette from Venice and stylistic aspects from Raphael and Michaelangelo. The name “del Piombo” was adopted by Sebastiano in 1531 when Pope Clement VII (1478-1534) appointed him to the office of Sealer of Briefs (piombo means lead which means a seal). This job meant accompanying the Pope on travels and thus, limited del Piombo’s artistic production to a few portraits during the latter portion of his career. For his new position, Sebastiano also became a friar, despite having a wife and two children. He died in Rome in 1547.

To compare the three images (the copy in the Rockhurst collection, the original del Piombo painting in the Czech Republic, and the painting by Raphael in France) follow the links.

In Raphael’s composition, the Christ Child gazes up at his mother and reaches with his hands as both an infant-like gesture and as a gesture of blessing. Both parents look lovingly at the child as the Virgin mother delicately covers the child with a lightweight veil. The three family members are depicted with nimbuses to reflect their heavenly connection.

Comparing the Rockhurst copy to the original Sebastiano painting, one notes differences in palette, facial features, and detailing, but otherwise both images are rather similar. Like Raphael’s work, in both the copy and the original version, both parents gaze lovingly at their child, but in these two versions the child is asleep, clutching a goldfinch in his hand. The Rockhurst work depicts a child that is covered partially, the original del Piombo work features a nude child. Unlike the Raphael work, both the Rockhurst copy and Czech Republic original depictions feature an older child in the background who is identified as St. John the Baptist, and include the addition of a text scroll, which may read “ecce agnus dei,” or "behold the lamb of God". St. John the Baptist spoke those words at the time he baptized Christ.

Click here to share your thoughts on Facebook. Click here to download and then zoom in on the full image.