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L’adorazione del Bambino, secondo Bartolomeo Suardi

digital L’adorazione del Bambino, secondo Bartolomeo Suardi
fascicolo ARTE LOMBARDA - 2015 - 1-2
titolo L’adorazione del Bambino, secondo Bartolomeo Suardi
editore Vita e Pensiero
formato Articolo | Pdf
online da 12-2015
issn 0004-3443 (stampa)
€ 6,00

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The Pinacoteca Ambrosiana’s Adoration of the Christ Child painted by the young Bartolomeo Suardi, later called Bramantino, includes two figures –a classically dressed man in the background on the left, and a woman standing in the foreground at the opposite corner – whose identity is controversial. Are they the Emperor Augustus and the Tiburtine Sybil, as first proposed by Adolfo Venturi? If so, however, why are they not looking at an apparition of the Virgin and Child inside the sun, as is usual in depictions of the Emperor’s vision, but instead are represented as part of a Nativity scene? Is he Augustus, but without the Sybil? Could they be the poet Virgil and a virgin saint? Or might the woman be the midwife Salome described in the apocryphal Gospels? In this article I argue that these two figures are indeed Augustus and the Sybil, and that the unusual composition devised by the young Bramantino can be explained by connecting its imagery to a less common visualization that was available in this period in contemporary Florentine theatre and, probably, also in the presepio staged around the Holy Child in the Franciscan basilica of Santa Maria in Aracoeli, Rome. In both instances, the emperor and the seeress were shown in close proximity to an adoration of the Christ Child. Moreover, I propose that Bramantino’s painting does not show the vision of Augustus, but rather the earlier premonition of the Sybil herself. I then proceed to contextualize the Ambrosiana’s Adoration within the frequent selection of Nativity scenes in Franciscan-influenced art produced for private devotion in Lombardy from the 1450s onwards. Finally, I suggest that, while clearly a depiction of the birth of Jesus, the Ambrosiana’s Adoration should be also linked to the topic of a future institution of peace on earth, a theme that underlies many of its elements.

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