(b. 1581, Bologna, d. 1641, Napoli)
Madonna and Child with St Petronius and St John the Evangelist1629
Oil on canvas, 430 x 278 cm
Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome
Commissioned during the Holy Year of 1625 for Santi Giovanni e Petronio dei Bolognesi, the church of the Bolognese community in Rome, the large altarpiece was not delivered by the painter until 1629. Criticized by contemporaries for its reliance on fifteenth century structure and composition, the painting received glowing reviews from the eighteenth century neoclassicists Mengs and Canova. In 1812, during the Napoleonic upheavals, it was removed by the French to the Brera: it remained there until 1953 when it was returned to Rome.
A masterpiece of Domenichino's maturity, it was carried out during the very years when the grand tradition of Bolognese painting was giving way before the insistence of the new and extremely vivacious baroque style. Here, to confirm the primacy of classicism in the face of this assault, Domenichino deliberately selected a compositional scheme that would renew ties to Renaissance motifs. Though these motifs had fallen into disuse during the second half of the sixteenth century, for Domenichino they were nothing less than the fundamental principles of painting. Influenced by the examples of the Venetian school, the artist forcefully reasserts the centrality of the Madonna and Child in the picture. He even quotes, quite literally, the form of Michelangelo's Bruges Madonna. By realizing a formidable synthesis between his various Renaissance models, the artist presented an exceptional manifesto of classical painting in the very years when this style was so strongly confronted in Rome by new baroque trends.
In the painting it is possible to find important connections with Matteo Zaccolini da Cesena's contemporary theories on colour and perspective, cited by all the sources as significant but never precisely identified in a painting. Also, in the group of music making angels, we may recognize new reflections on trends in contemporary instrumental music.