This serene Holy Family demonstrates the soft brushwork, sophisticated treatment of light, and subtle modeling associated with the late work of Giovanni Bellini and his workshop, as seen, for instance, in his Noah (Musée des beaux-arts, Besançon) and his Circumcision (National Gallery, London). Indeed, Bernard Berenson published this painting as an autograph work in his Italian Painting of the Renaissance (op. cit.). Fritz Heinemann knew the painting only from a photograph, and judged it to be of high quality – “di buona qualità” – but was unable to decide whether it was by Bellini himself (loc. cit.). Wilhelm Suida viewed the painting in Venice in 1937, and considered it to be one of the last Madonnas the artist ever painted, and its autograph status was similarly endorsed by Lionello Venturi and Wilhelm R. Valentiner (see Milan, loc. cit.). In an unpublished letter dated 31 May 1947, Ridolfo Pallucchini noted the monumentality of the present composition, stating that he considered it to be a work from Bellini’s last period, datable to around 1510 based on comparison to the Madonna and Child in the Detroit Institute of Arts (dated 1509) and the Madonna and Child in the Brera, Milan (dated 1510). Pallucchini further noted that the painting’s landscape reflects the influence of Giorgione.
The design of the Christ Child, who gestures in benediction while sitting on his mother’s lap, must have been favored by Bellini, as the figure appears in other works produced by members of his workshop, such as the Virgin and Child with Four Saints and a Donor of c. 1500 attributed to Marco Bello (c. 1470-1523) in the Morgan Library, New York. Another version of the entire composition, which replicates the landscape and includes an additional figure of Saint Catherine standing behind the Virgin, is recorded in a photograph in the Fondazione Federico Zeri archives (no. 28333). That painting, the location of which is unknown, was attributed by Zeri to Bellini’s workshop.