MADONNA DEI PALAFRENIERI – Caravaggio 1606
Commissioned by the confraternity of the Palafrenieri, this painting was originally intended for Saint Ann’s chapel in St. Peter’s. The vicissitudes of this painting are well documented from the receipt for payment for the painter on 8 April 1606, which implies that it had been completed by this date, to the placing of the work on the alter, about a week later, and it’s almost immediate removal. What has yet to be clarified is the reason for this refusal of the congregation to accept the painting. It is possible that the work was considered to lack the decorum considered to be indispensable for its display in a place that was both public and holy.
The painting represented a theological concept of great importance in extremely humanized terms by depicting the figure of Saint Anne, the personification of divine grace, in a roll of passive detachment. For the virgin, the artist used the same model as the one who had posed for the Madonna di Loreto in the church of Saint Augustine in Rome. On the other hand, the painting reveals knowledge of the canons of lombard painting which influenced the painter’s training. The work was executed in the house of Andrea Ruffetti, who had an epigram celebrating the work composed for the occasion, as a document of 1620 revealed. By 1613 Cardinal Scipione had already acquired the painting.
The recent conservation work has revealed the use of incisions on the canvas,a feature of the artist’s working methods. In particular, the Virgin’s halo was originally at the same level as that of St Anne, the patron of the Confraternity who is watching the scene.
The allegory of the painting, at its core, is simple: the Virgin with the aid of her son, whom she holds, tramples on a serpent, the emblem of evil or original sin. Saint Anne, whom the painting is intended to honor, is a wrinkled old grandmother, witnessing the event