Like Botticelli, Perugino and Leonardo da Vinci, Lorenzo di Credi worked as an assistant in the Florentine workshop of Andrea del Verrocchio. He was entrusted with control of the shop during his master’s absence, eventually becoming Verrocchio’s heir. Though a talented and sought-after portraitist, it is as a religious painter that Lorenzo is best known and his many surviving depictions of the Madonna and Child and the Holy Family are testament to their popularity among his patrons.
This Madonna and an angel adoring the Christ Child was painted late in the artist’s career. The Madonna and Christ figures, with their crisp, linear features and enamel-like flesh are characteristic of Lorenzo’s own hand, while the angel was most likely completed by a collaborator in his workshop. Lorenzo treated this subject, again with the accompanying angel, in a tondo in the Gallerie degli Uffizi, Florence (fig. 1) and it in turn relates to a composition in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich in which the angel presents the Infant Saint John the Baptist to the Christ Child and Saint Joseph rests in the background at left (G. Dalli Regoli, Lorenzo di Credi, Pisa, 1966, p. 161, no. 131, fig. 166). The Pinakothek painting, which shows the figures in reverse, has since been attributed to the young Fra Bartolomeo who was an active member of Lorenzo’s workshop. Though there is debate over the primacy of the various versions, Everett Fahy argued that the tondo now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (fig. 2), dating to the early 1490s, is in fact the prototype from which these derive (E. Fahy, ‘The Earliest Works of Fra Bartolommeo,’ Art Bulletin, LI, June 1969, p. 144, no. 9). Indeed, the figures of the Virgin and Child in the present painting are closest in pose to their counterparts in the Metropolitan Museum tondo and are presumably based on the same design. They appear again in an altarpiece by Lorenzo depicting The Adoration of the Shepherds, removed from the church of Santa Chiara, Florence and now also in the Uffizi (op. cit., p. 147, no. 95, fig. 139).
Infrared reflectography of the Metropolitan Museum tondo revealed the design to have been transferred from a pounced cartoon which would have been retained in the workshop for use in Lorenzo di Credi’s autograph variants and in copies by his assistants, as in the case of the Pinakothek version by Fra Bartolomeo. These designs could then be adapted freehand with extra figures and background elements included in accordance with the desired composition. In the case of the present painting, Lorenzo appears to have reused the design for the Madonna and Child figures, which he executed himself, leaving angel to be completed by an assistant in the workshop. The design for the Christ Child’s specific pose employed here and in the Metropolitan Museum tondo was known to Albrecht Dürer who made a drawing after it, now conserved in the Cabinet des Dessins, Musée du Louvre, Paris (inv. no. R.F.4662).