This dazzling illumination was painted in the Botteghini (workshops) of Francesco Maria II della Rovere (1549–1631), Duke of Urbino who maintained opulent courts at Urbino and Pesaro. The painting presents the Visitation of the Virgin and Saint Elizabeth, who meet in an eager embrace at the top of a stair. Zacharias, the husband of Elizabeth, emerges from a doorway at the upper left dressed in a pink garment and turban. Joseph appears with a donkey in the bottom right corner setting heavy sacks on the ground, a possible reference to a prayer from the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola which envisions helping Joseph clear sacks of grain from the stable in preparation for the birth of Christ. A servant dressed in green follows the Virgin holding a basket of chicks, an allegory of Luke 13:34, “How often have I longed to gather your children, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” The painting is framed by an elaborate border with vines and flowers twisting between oblate cartouches filled by putti and grotesques. Its relatively small size and blank verso indicates that it was probably meant as an insert for a Prayerbook or perhaps a decoration for a piece of furniture as was fashionable in the last quarter of the sixteenth century.

The style of the painting closely matches the works of Simonzio Lupi da Bergamo, active at the Pesaro court of Francesco Maria in the last quarter of the sixteenth century. Our miniature shares many of Simonzio’s figural mannerisms as well as his bright color palette and intense use of highlights as seen for instance in his Birth of John the Baptist (fig. 1; Christie’s, 10 July, 2018, lot. 37) a miniature executed with twenty-three others for a now lost Gradual (See De Laurentiis 2014). Simonzio was one of three recorded illuminators working at the Botteghini – a cluster of workshops modeled after the Medici’s Galleria dei Lavori in Florence – which employed a rotation of salaried artisans who produced works for the Duke and his court. Documents record payments to Simonzio between 1591 to 1605, but he was likely working for the Duke well before this. A letter sent from Francesco Maria to his ambassador in Rome document the recruitment of an unnamed illuminator who worked for the Papal court in 1581, where Simonzio was active before joining the Pesaro Botteghini. His oeuvre continues to take shape with many works formerly attributed to Giulio Clovio and his workshop, such as The Triumphs of Charles V (London, British Library Additional MS 33733) now assigned to Simonzio (De Laurentiis 2015).

The miniature derives from a celebrated altarpiece of the Visitation painted by Federico Barocci between 1582 and 1586 for the Cappella della Visitazione, Santa Maria in Vallicella, Rome (fig. 2). Given the transposition of the subject matter in Simonzio’s miniature, the design was almost certainly copied from a drawing or a print of Barocci’s Visitation. It is possible that the illuminator had direct access to Barocci’s sketches (e.g. Edinburgh, National Galleries of Scotland, RSA 216) as the painter kept residence at Francesco Maria’s court in Urbino where he served as artistic advisor and court painter. Barocci’s relationship to the Botteghini, however, is not clear, and his studio operated rather autonomously. Nor is there any record of association between Barocci and Simonzio. More likely, the illuminator derived his painting from an engraving, such as Ioannis Antonii de Pauli’s Visitation from 1588 (fig. 3). Whatever the exact source, Simonzio provides an unusually rich interpretation of Barocci’s painting, transforming the moody, sfumato atmosphere into a buoyant composition that fully exhibits the illuminator’s skill with light and color.


Unpublished. For further reading see:

De Laurentiis, Elena. “La collezione di Italian illuminated cuttings della British Library: Nuove miniature di Simonzio Lupi da Bergamo, Giovanni Battista Castello il Genovese e Sante Avanzini,” in Il codice miniato in Europa: Libri per la chiesa, per la città, per la corte, Padua, 2014, pp. 673–95.

De Laurentiis, Elena. “El Greco, Giulio Clovio y la maniera di figure piccole,” in Simposio Internacional El Greco 2014, Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, May, 21–23, 2014, ed. Fernando Marías, Madrid, 2015, pp. 46–61.

Hermens, Erma. “The Botteghe degli Artisti: Artistic Enterprise at the della Rovere and Medici Courts in the Late Sixteenth Century,” in The Renaissance Workshop, ed. David Saunders, Marika Spring, and Andrew Meek, London, 2013, pp. 105–13.

Morselli, Raffaella. “In the Service of Francesco Maria II della Rovere in Pesaro and Urbino (1549–1631),” in The Court Artist in Seventeenth-Century Italy, ed. Elena Fumagalli and Raffaella Morselli, Rome, 2014, pp. 49–93.

Trkulja, Silvia Meloni. “I miniatori di Francesco Maria II,” in Un omaggio ai Della Rovere, ed. Benedetta Montevecchi and Maria Rosaria Valazzi, Urbino, 1981, pp. 33–40.

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