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The Madonna of the Cherries

The Madonna of the Cherries
oil on panel, in a tabernacle frame
30 1/2 x 23 3/8 in. (77.5 x 59.2 cm.)
Charles Scarisbrick, Scarisbrick Hall, Lancashire.
Sir Herbert Naylor-Leyland, Welshpool, Wales, and by descent.
with Frank T. Sabin, London, by 1927.
Helen J. Dunlop, Philadelphia.
B. Feuerstein, Philadelphia.
with Schuster Inc., New Jersey, by May 1967.
[The Property of a Gentleman]; Christie's, London, 12 December 1980, lot 73, as 'Joos van Cleve and Workshop'.
[The Property of a Gentleman]; Christie's, London, 10 December 1982, lot 12, as 'Joos van Cleve and Workshop'.
with Colnaghi, London and New York, by 1983.
with Heim Gallery, Ltd., London, until June 1987,
Acquired by Ann and Gordon Getty from the above.
M.J. Friedländer, Die Altniederlädische Malerei, IX, Joos van Cleve, Jan Provost, Joachim Patenir, Leiden, 1934, p. 157, no. 63d, among replicas.
The Connoisseur, CLXV, 1967, advertisement, illustrated.
M. Friedländer, Early Netherlandish Painting, IXa, Joos van Cleve, Jan Provost, Joachim Patenir, Leyden and Brussels, 1972, p. 63, no. 63d, as ‘J. van Cleve, copy’.
J.O. Hand, Joos Van Cleve, The Complete Paintings, New Haven and London, 2004, p. 189, no. 112.26, as 'Workshop of Joos; present location unknown'.
M. Leeflang, Joos van Cleve, A Sixteenth-Century Antwerp Artist and his Workshop, Turnhout, 2015, p. 193, note 75.
York, Colnaghi Gallery and Alexander Gallery, The Northern Renaissance: 15th and 16th century Netherlandish paintings: an exhibition in association with Alexander Gallery, New York, 6 April-14 May, 1983, no. 3.

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Elizabeth Seigel
Elizabeth Seigel Vice President, Specialist, Head of Private and Iconic Collections

Lot Essay

The Madonna of the Cherries is one of Joos van Cleve’s most well-known compositions and likewise was one of the most popular images in 16th-century Northern Europe. A remarkable illustration of the interconnection between Italy and the north that was so vital to the artistic innovations of the Renaissance, this composition is believed to have been invented in Milan during the first decade of the 16th century by Leonardo da Vinci. Almost immediately thereafter, it was adapted by one of the Italian master’s best students, Giampietrino (active Milan circa 1495-1540). Recent research has shown that it was likely a direct encounter with Giampietrino’s painting that ultimately led to the composition’s popularization and proliferation north of the Alps by Joos van Cleve and his workshop in Antwerp around 1525-1530.
Of the numerous depictions of the Madonna of the Cherries from the 16th century, at least fourteen, including the mirrored ones in Berlin (Gemäldegalerie) and Glasgow (The Burrell Collection), are recognized to be by Joos van Cleve and his studio. Although Max J. Friedländer, Ludwig von Baldass and John Hand did not consider any of these extant versions to be completely by the master’s hand, Peter van den Brink and Micha Leeflang identify the paintings in Aachen (Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum) and the one formerly in the Hester Diamond Collection, New York, as autograph (Joos van Cleve: Leonardo des Nordens, exhibition catalogue, Aachen, 2011, p. 176, nos.34-35; M. Leeflang, Joos van Cleve: A Sixteenth-Century Antwerp Artist and his Workshop, Turnhout, 2015, pp. 75-79, 180-181; for the known versions, see J.O. Hand, Joos van Cleve, The Complete Paintings, New Haven, 2004, nos. 112-112.9 and 112.25-27, pp. 185-189). Additional surviving copies are best understood as a distinct group, executed around 1550 and are clearly of a lesser quality - the modelling of the flesh tones is hard and the compositions lack the finely painted details that are so typical of Joos van Cleve and his studio. Recently, an early painting of exceptional quality and fidelity to the Giampetrino model also came to light, which van den Brink recognized as the earliest known autograph treatment of the subject, painted around 1520 (sold Christie’s, 14 April 2016, lot 109).
To this group may now be added the Getty’s Madonna of the Cherries. Remarkably well-preserved, the outstanding quality of its brushwork, the sensitive yet energetic treatment of the drapery, the subtle yet fully-informed handling of the light and shadows that define the flesh tones, the keenly observed still-life details, as well as the confident rendering of the landscape, all distinguish this little-studied panel as one of Joos van Cleve’s strongest surviving examples.
The Madonna of the Cherries composition was likely invented by Leonardo during his second Milanese period (1508-1513), although whether this took the form of a painting or merely a drawing remains uncertain. Sir Kenneth Clark theorized that it may have been one of the two painted Madonnas mentioned by Leonardo in his correspondence to Charles d’Amboise, the French governor of Milan, which refers to “due quadri dove sono due Nostre Donne di varie grandezze…[per il] Christianissimo Re o per chi a voi piacerà/ (two paintings of Our Lady of different sizes…[for the] Most Christian King[Francis I] or for whomever would like them).”(K. Clark, Leonardo da Vinci. An Account of His Development as an Artist, Cambridge 1952, pp. 142-143). If, as some believe, Joos traveled to Italy in the 1520s, he may have seen Leonardo’s work there, or perhaps later on, during his presumed trip to France, which is generally thought to have occurred between 1528/1529 and 1535.It is far more likely, however, that the immediate model for Joos’s Madonna of the Cherries was not Leonardo’s prime version, but rather a copy by one of the Italian master’s followers. Such was probably the case, for instance, with Joos’s other highly popular Leonardesque composition, The Infants Christ and Saint John the Baptist Embracing, which presumably was derived from the painting attributed to Marco d’Oggiono (c. 1475/77-1530) now in the English royal collection in Kensington Palace. Joos might have encountered Marco d’Oggiono’s painting when it was in the collection of Margaret of Austria in Mechelen (see M. Leeflang, op. cit., p. 79). For the Madonna of the Cherries, the intermediary was almost certainly Giampietrino’s painting, now in a private collection (fig. 1; formerly Robert Edsel, Texas; sold at Sotheby’s, New York, 27 January 2011, lot 137). Infrared reflectography of the Giampietrino reveals that the artist made several compositional changes, including a radical reconception of the Madonna’s hair and veil. Presumably, the initial design seen in Giampietrino’s underdrawing preserves Leonardo’s lost prototype, and as these original features do not appear in any of the known versions by Joos and his workshop, a direct link between Joos and Leonardo should be ruled out.
During the 2011 exhibition in Aachen, Joos van Cleve: Leonardo des Norden (op. cit., p. 176, under nos. 34-36), a tracing of Giampietrino’s Madonna of the Cherries was laid over Joos’s version from the Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum, Aachen, revealing that with the exception of a minor shift in the position of the Virgin and Christ Child, the two paintings align almost perfectly in their drapery folds as well as the figures' hands, legs and arms. Due to this concordance, van den Brink and Micha Leeflang concluded that Joos must have obtained permission at some point to trace directly from Giampietrino’s painting, and that the northern artist used this calque (tracing cartoon) — or more likely a pricked cartoon, since paintings of the composition were also made in reverse — to create the numerous versions painted by him and his workshop. Infrared reflectography of the Getty painting (fig. 2) reveals, as expected, a simple underdrawing taken from the cartoon, delineating the contours of the bodies of the Virgin and Child, along with lines to guide the placement of their mouths, eyes, noses, and fingers. Similar lines are seen along the major drapery folds, with a few squiggles to indicate the figures’ hair. As was common practice, there is no underdrawing for the landscape background, which may have been painted by a specialist, or Joos van Cleve himself.
The version in the Burrell Collection in Glasgow is inscribed with the date 1529, suggesting a terminus ante quem for the composition by Joos. Like the Getty painting, the Burrell picture mirrors Giampietrino’s composition, showing that already from the start, Joos was painting his versions in both directions to satisfy market demand. As Joos van Cleve refined his composition, he made several changes to Giampietrino’s model. Most notable, as seen in the Getty version, are the numerous ornamental additions, many of which are also prevalent in the other known versions by Joos, such as the apple and knife on the table, the gilt sculptures on the ledge above the Virgin, and the Italianate pilasters in the background. The incorporation of these details into Giampietrino’s design not only allowed Joos to demonstrate his extraordinary powers as a still life painter, but also to imbue the composition with symbolic meaning that would have been immediately recognizable to his Northern audience as they are a hallmark of Northern Renaissance art. The cherries held by the Christ Child, from which the composition derives its name, are traditional symbols of paradise. The apple is a clear allusion to the Fall of Man, while the glass of wine on the table at right denotes the Eucharist. Meanwhile, the horned statue of Moses holding his tablets placed directly behind the Virgin and Child, not only evokes the transition from the era of Law to that of Grace through the Incarnation of Christ (for a similar iconographic juxtaposition, see Joos van Cleve’s Annunciation altarpiece of c. 1525 in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). The landscape too has been modified, departing from the river landscape with two trees at left and mountains in the distance, transforming instead into a Patinir-inspired vista with a vignette of soldiers talking to farmers as they harvest grain -- a reference to the Miracle of the Wheatfield (Matthew 13:25).
Apparently unique to the Getty Madonna of the Cherries is the small table with the glass of wine and the three cherries at lower right. As the infrared reflectography reveals no underdrawing in this area, it follows that this detail was not prepared in advance. It seems likely, then, as Peter van den Brink has observed (private communication, 24 July 2022), that the inclusion of this Eucharistic symbol was specifically requested by one of Joos van Cleve’s patrons. Such a work would presumably have been a direct commission, rather than something painted on spec as some of the workshop versions may have been, lending further evidence that Joos van Cleve himself was responsible for this superb version of his celebrated composition.
We are grateful to Peter van den Brink for endorsing the attribution to Joos van Cleve on the basis of photographs (private communication, 24 July 2022).

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