(b. ca. 1490, Correggio, d. 1534, Correggio)
Madonna of the Basketc. 1524
Oil on wood, 33 x 25 cm
National Gallery, London
If Correggio's mythologies seem to anticipate the boudoir decorations of the eighteenth century, this ravishing tiny picture prefigures developments in seventeenth-century religious sentiment and imagery. Indeed, it may have directly affected them through drawn and engraved copies.
In this painting Correggio turns the theme of Holy Family into an idyll of innocence, of maternal and filial love. The scene is suffused with tenderness. Sitting outdoors under a tree, the Virgin, workbasket at her side, is trying a jacket she has just made on the Christ Child. He wriggles on her lap, reaching for the sun-dappled leaves. Mary is dressed in old rose, and the painting is dominated by the soft harmony of grey-pinks and grey-blues. In the background, pale as if in a haze of dust in the sunshine, Joseph is working with a carpenter's plane. Their ramshackle home has been built abutting on grandiose ruins. The twisting, complex pose of the Virgin, the extreme foreshortening of the Child's leg and groin, are made to seem effortless. Correggio's famous 'softness', the gradual transitions from shadow to light which he learned from Leonardo's Milanese works, but interpreted through a golden prism of Venetian colour, casts a seductive veil over the figures. Even though the scale of the picture invites close inspection, and the Virgin and Child are near to us, we cannot quite see them sharply in the blur and shimmer of the painter's brush.