This small panel shows the Virgin and Joseph kneeling in an idyllic pastoral landscape beneath the roof of a grotto overgrown with grass. The newborn Savior gazes up from His blanket playfully tugging the Virgin's mantle, while nearby the infant Saint John the Baptist holds a lamb: Christ's future act of salvation.
The present painting was formerly attributed to Girolamo Romanino who was a contemporary of Francesco Prata. The oeuvre of Prata has only been studied relatively recently by Tirloni (1975) and more recently by Tanzi (1984,1987). This despite the fact that various signed works by him exist (The Marriage of the Virgin, Saint Francesco, Brescia; The Twelve Apostles, Saints Fermo e Rustico, Caravaggio; The Pietà, Parrocchiale, Manerbio; Salome, private collection).
Prata's career began in Cremona, and one of his earliest and recently recognised paintings, The Virgin and Child with Saints (Turin, Galleria Sabauda, circa 1513 -1517), reveals clear stylistic links to other Cremonese artists, notably Altobello Melone. The present Holy Family can be compared to Prata's Nativities in Bedulita, Bergamo Roncadelle, and Brescia. The typical Prata women with their slightly distorted mouths, seen here in the Virgin, are found in the panels in Brescia and in Roncadelle. The slightly simplified profile of the infant Jesus also finds its counterpart in the painting in Roncadelle. The soft and somewhat sketchy sfumato modelling of the figure of the kneeling Joseph can also be compared to that of the younger shepherd in the Roncadelle painting.
The present lot is sold with a copy of a letter from Prof. Dr. Gaudenz Freuler, dated August 1998, attributing the painting to Francesco Prata. We are grateful to Dr. Freuler for the above entry.