A series of paintings from the region of Toro (Zamora) with identical characteristics as the present painting led Manuel Gómez Moreno to name the anonymous artist The Maestro de Toro (see M. Gómez Moreno, Catálogo Monumental de Zaragoza, Madrid, 1927). Post later added works to this group and attributed others to a new artist, whom he identified as Pozuelo (see R. Post, A History of Spanish Painting, Cambridge, 1930, IX, Part II, pp. 570-581). Angulo also categorized the same group of paintings and agreed with Gómez Moreno, loc. cit., that they were by the Maestro de Toro (see D. Angulo Iñiguez, 'Pintura del Renacimiento', in Ars Hispaniae, XII, p. 109). Camaño Martínez concurred with Angulo, loc. cit., and added a series of compositions of altarpieces from the province of Valladolid, formerly in the diocese of Zamora to those included initially by Gómez Moreno (see J. Camaño Martínez, 'En torno al Maestro Pozuelo', in Boletín del Seminario de Arte y Arqueología de Valladolid, Valladolid, 1964, p. 103-104). It was finally Antonio Casaseca who identified the anonymous master when studying the paintings in Zamora as Juan de Borgoña the Younger (see A. Casaseca Casaseca, 'El hijo de Juan de Borgoña y la pintura renacentista de Zamora', in A introduçao da arte da Renascença na Peninsula Ibérica, Actas do Simposio Internacional, Universidad de Coimbra (26-30 March 1980), Coimbra, 1981, pp. 201-226).
Juan de Borgoña the Younger was the younger son of Juan de Borgoña the Elder, the master of the Cathedral of Toledo who established a workshop in that city at the end of the 15th century. Juan de Borgoña the Younger collaborated with his father and is first documented in Toledo in 1534. By all accounts he tried to work in Toledo under the shadow of his father but the presence of Juan Correa de Vivar in the imperial city, who monopolized the commissions of the nobility and the archbishops Fonseca and Tavera, made him emigrate to Zamora.
Among his best known work is the altarpiece of San Martín de Pinilla de Toro of 1534, the first major composition attributed to Borgoña the Younger. Casaseca, loc. cit., suggests the younger Juan de Borgoña spent his first years travelling back and forth from Toledo, finishing his father's incomplete works. Another composition in Zamora attributed to Juan the Younger is the altarpiece for the Church of San Antolín, which owes much of its influence to the panel of the same subject for the Altarpiece of Guisando (Museo del Prado, Madrid) by Correa de Vivar.
Many of the paintings by Juan Borgoña the Younger have disappeared from their original sites in Zamora, Salamanca, Palencia, Valladolid and León. A clear example is the present painting, judging by its measurements, could have been part of the predella of an altarpiece for either a church or a private chapel.
The present lot is one of the finest and most elegant compositions by Juan de Borgoña the Younger into which he has incorporated his inspiration from various artists without compromising his own personal style. The composition is divided into two main sections. On the left, there is a beautiful landscape created with a remote mountain range and town, the sky covered with voluminous clouds with angels glorifying God, much in the style of Correa de Vivar in the decade of the '50s. On the right, there is an open portico framing the Nativity formed by depleted classical columms in the style of the Astorga Master.
The drawing of the family group with the putti, the facial types, the expressiveness of the hands, as well as the coloration, all suggest that the present painting is a late work by the artist.
We are grateful to Professor Isabel Mateo for suggesting the attribution to Juan Borgoña the Younger and for the above catalogue entry (written communication, 22 November 2002).