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Pietro Befulco (active Naples 1471-1503)
Pietro Befulco (active Naples 1471-1503)

The Madonna Lactans

Details
Pietro Befulco (active Naples 1471-1503)
The Madonna Lactans
oil and gold on poplar panel
27 x 17¾ in. (68.6 x 45.1 cm.)
Provenance
(Possibly) commissioned by Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, later Pope Alexander VI , before 1492.

Brought to you by

Nicholas H. J. Hall
Nicholas H. J. Hall

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Lot Essay

This rare image of the Madonna lactans with both of her breasts exposed would have had immediate symbolic significance for a Renaissance audience: with one breast, Mary nurtures the Christ Child, who will grow to redeem humankind from its sins, while with the other she offers her maternal warmth to the viewer for whom she will act as intercessor, praying to God on his or her behalf. The gilt insignias painted across the Madonna’s robe suggest that this work was likely a Borgia commission. The design, known as the Aragonese Double Crown, was adopted by King John I of Aragon in 1392 to signify the union of the Kingdoms of Sicily and Aragon, which was sealed in that year by the marriage of his nephew Martin (later Martin I of Sicily) to Maria of Sicily. Writing from Villafranca to Charles VI of France on this occasion, John I proclaimed: “...very dear brother, we have abandoned the device of the senyal and bear the Double Crown. You, therefore, and all those with you who wear the senyal, leave it, and bear henceforth the Double Crown. About this our chamberlain [Hugh de Santa Pau] will give explanations” (see A. Van den Put, The Aragonese Double Crown & The Borja or Borgia Device, London, 1910, p. 13). The device was used by the following generations of the Barcelonese rulers of the united Kingdoms, and was adopted toward the end of the 15th century by the Borgia family, to whom it may have been granted by John I himself or by one of his heirs.

Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia (1431-1503), later Pope Alexander VI , used the Double Crown from the earliest days of his pontificate, which began in 1492. It is still visible on the ceilings of the Borgia apartments at the Vatican (fig. 1), and most of the surviving examples of it appear in conjunction with the tiara and crossed keys on every papal insignia. That those elements are lacking in the present work suggests this might have been painted when Alexander VI was still Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, possibly in the 1470s or 1480s.

We are grateful to Everett Fahy, who has confirmed the attribution to Befulco on the basis of firsthand inspection.

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