(b. ca. 1453, Fossano, d. 1523, Milano)

Madonna and Child, St Catherine and the Blessed Stefano Maconi

c. 1490
Oil on panel, 45 x 39 cm
Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan

The background of this small panel records the lyrical feeling of a calmly contemplated landscape. Seen with an eye for detail, the panorama includes a path going up to the church, two horsemen in conversation, a view of the town, and figures in a boat. The intensity of the background is to some extent dissipated by the foreground of the painting. Here the somewhat distracted and independent compositional device of the heads revolving around the Child suggests a desire to create an effect of distinction and beauty that the delicate forms can scarcely sustain. In the gestures of the hands plucking at the air or touching things without grasping them (the Madonna's carnation, St. Catherine's crucifix), there is almost the ingenuousness of a miniature painter. Another instance is the Virgin's mantle, which swells up to support her prayer book.

As a whole, however, the composition is complex and almost scholarly. Two diagonal connections are set up, not merely to divide the surface of the work but to create a spatial perspective. They connect the figures above and below, and inversely link the foreground and middle ground, converging in the figure of the Child or rather in the tangle of hands in the middle. Foppa's silvery hues have become here a tremulous gray, which extends from the draperies into the faces and the hands. A high note is struck by the yellow of the Child's shirt, and there is a sober response in the colour harmonies of the Madonna's robes.