Pier Francesco Mola’s Madonna and Child with the Infant Saint John the Baptist is inspired by Correggio’s celebrated Madonna del Latte, painted over a century earlier in 1520, and now in the Szépmuvészeti Múzeum, Budapest (fig. 1). Correggio’s prototype was evidently much admired and once belonged to Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini (1571-1621), noted in the inventory of his collection as early as 1603 (Petrucci, loc. cit.). Mola is not the only painter to have been inspired by Correggio’s superb representation: the painting was captured by Sir Anthony van Dyck in a pen and ink drawing, while in the Aldobrandini collection (sold Sotheby’s, London, 9 April 1981, lot 23) and was similarly emulated by Annibale Carracci, Anton Domenico Gabbiani and Baciccio (Petrucci, op. cit.).
Correggio’s Madonna was inherited by Olimpia Aldobrandini, Princess of Rossana – who would go on to marry Camillo Francesco Maria Pamphilj (1622-1666) – and gifted to Cinzio Aldobrandini, before passing to one Gottifredo Periberti by 1652 and was later sold by Mutio Orsini in 1682 to Gaspar Méndez de Haro (1629-1687), 7th Marchese del Carpio. It is most likely that Mola saw Correggio’s original when it was in the Periberti collection, though he may equally have seen a copy of the painting, perhaps that belonging to Olimpia Aldobrandini's husband, Camillo Pamphilj, and listed in his inventory of 1652 (F. Cappelletti and G. Capitelli, I capolavori della collezione Doria Pamphilj da Tiziano a Vela´zquez, Milan, 1996, p. 71, no. 5). In fact, Mola painted a further version of the present painting, of smaller proportions and on panel, also in the collection of Camillo Pamphilj (Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome). The Pamphilj version is mentioned in his inventory of the villa at Belrespiro of 6 September 1666, 'Un quadro in tavola con una Madonna, et un Bambino in braccia alto palmi 1 in circa palmi largo 1 con sua Cornice intagliata, che vi sono due gigli, e due Palombe tutta dorata fondo granito mano del Mola' ('A picture on panel with a Madonna, and a Child in her arms, around 1 palm high and 1 palm wide, with its carved Frame, which has two lilies, and two Doves, all gilded, granite background, hand of Mola'; J. Garms, Quellen aus dem Archiv Doria-Pamphilj zur Kunsttätigkeit in Rom unter Innocenz X, Rome and Vienna, 1972, p. 348).