Since its sale in these rooms in 2011 this panel has been cleaned and restored, which has revealed extensive underdrawing and liquid brushstrokes, particularly to the cloth that bears the Christ Child. The extraordinary, lustrous depth of colour achieved by the artist is fully illuminated, which is particularly evident in the well preserved red lakes and green glazes in the draperies.
Francesco di Bosio Zaganelli was perhaps the most individual painter of his generation in the Romagna. Born at Cotignola, he may have been trained by Marco Palmezzano and in the first decade of the sixteenth century shared a bottega in his native town with his brother, Bernardino, whose only certain independent work is the signed Saint Bernardino of 1506 in the National Gallery, London. By 1513, Francesco was based at Ravenna, but receiving commissions for towns in the area including Faenza, where he supplied the Baptism of 1514, now also in the National Gallery, for the Laderchi chapel at San Domenico. Zaganelli developed a highly individual style that assimilated influences from Ferrara, from the Bologna of Costa and Aspertini, and, less directly, from the Umbrians of the previous generation.
As this Madonna demonstrates, he was an artist of considerable emotional range and equal expressive power: given the demand for pictures of the subject it is notable how varied Zaganelli's interpretations of this are. In this example, the Infant looks towards the spectator, while the Virgin and Saint Joseph, like the angel, the angle of whose head echoes the latter's, bend down, their eyes almost closed, in silent devotion. The position of the Christ Child deliberately evokes the moment His body was similarly laid out following the Crucifixion. Christ is the only figure to look directly out at the viewer, while the others look in tender and focused adoration of Him.
The attention to detail and the setting of luminous colours against earthy ones are particularly striking. After his brother’s death, Francesco responded to new stimuli, including German woodcuts, and the voluminous, creased white cloth that the Christ Child lays upon and which takes up a large part of the composition, recall the work of German artists such as Patinir, Dürer and Altdorfer, whose work Zaganelli may have known through prints or seen in north Italian collections.
This panel was dated to the mid-1520s by Roli (op. cit.), while Zama suggests a less specific chronology, 1518-30. The pose of the Child is related to the altarpiece of 1518 in the church of San Martino at Viadana, near Mantua, although it is arguably more successful in the deployment of the arms. A certain roundness in the types of both the Virgin and Saint Joseph also recalls the earlier works of Correggio which Zaganelli would no doubt have seen in 1519, when his altarpiece for the church of the Annunziata at Parma was completed and no doubt delivered.