The Holy Family
The Holy Family
Fondazione Monte dei Paschi di Siena, Siena, Italy
The painting depicts young Mary sitting and holding baby Jesus in her arms. At her feet there is little St. John, who can be recognized for his attributes; he is wearing lamb skin and holding a long cross in his left hand. Behind them you can see a clear sky and green landscape with hills, a castle and distant mountains.
The composition is simple and well-measured, the design is clear and the colors are light. The painting is a perfect example of Italian purism, which is something that Mussini studied profoundly concentrating especially on the 15th century works of Tuscan and Roman great artists, such as Raphael, whose influence can be seen on the composition of characters and the landscape on the background. Mary’s features and the little boy reaching out to St. John show an approach to naturalism.
Mussini was also strongly influenced the works of Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres. His influence can be seen in the clear and pure design as well as the use of golden light. This suggests the artist had already started the painting when he was still in Paris and continued his work in Siena where he returned in 1851 to work as a Director in the Istituto di Belle Arti.
In August 1853 the work was exhibited in Siena and in the autumn of the same year in Florence. It was criticized by Boschi, because it wasn’t as graceful as the 15th century Tuscan masterpieces, which obviously had inspired the artist. Tommaso Pendola disagreed and dedicated a written eulogy for Mussini’s painting in 1857. He admired the composition, the naturalism and the design of the figures which, according to him, represented affection and gentleness in their expressions and delicate gestures.
The round painting is signed at the bottom right “LM 1853” and it has a beautiful square frame which is gilded and decorated with carved flowers in the four corners.
The painting was commissioned by Maria, Marchioness of Ballati Nerli in 1853. The painting was located in the reception room of her house in Siena, as mentioned in her will in 1856. After her death in 1860 the painting was inherited by Giovanni Palmieri Nuti.
Until recently the painting was only known through a preparatory sketch, which was already in the collection of Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena. Fondazione Monte dei Paschi di Siena bought the work in 2007.
Luigi Mussini was born in 1813 in Berlin. When he was only five years old his family moved to Florence, where Luigi studied music (his father was a composer) and drawing. In 1830 he enrolled to the Accademia di Belle Arti of Florence where he studied under Pietro Benvenuti and Giuseppe Bezzuoli. He won many awards and competitions with his mythological paintings (Telemachus in Calypso’s cave, 1834) as well as religious and biblical paintings (Conversion of St. Paul, 1834, Samuel and King David of Israel, 1836) which already showed the first signs of his purism. In 1840 he won a grant from the Accademia in Rome, where he stayed for four years in Villa Medici. There he met Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, who influenced a lot young Luigi.
In Rome Mussini studied the masterpieces of the 15th and 16th century. This was evident in his works of this period, such as La Musica Sacra (1841, Florence, Galleria Dell’Accademia) which was highly appreciated in Florence and linked to Perugino’s works.
In 1844 Mussini returned in Florence where he opened a studio at San Barnaba and began to paint his first independent works such as The Triumph of Truth (Milan, Accademia di Brera) which was immediately bought by Marquis Ala Ponzoni, who in that occasion invited the painter to Naples. Mussini stayed in Naples between 1845 and 1846. He returned to Florence and worked as a teacher in a school he founded in Via Santa Apollonia with Swiss painter Adolf con Sturler, who was also Ingres’ student during his period in Rome.
In 1848 he volunteered to fight with the revolutionaries, but only a year after, disappointed by the events, he traveled to Paris where he presented La Musica Sacra and the Triump of the Truth in the Salon of Paris in 1849. He received a medal for his works. Mussini met again Ingres and his friend Ala Pinzoni, who introduced him to the cultural circles of Paris and put him in contact with artists like Jean-Léon Gérôme and Auguste Gendron. He painted a copy of La Musica Sacra for the French Government, which is today in Rodez (Musée des Beaux-Arts Denys-Puech) and began to paint I Parentali di Platone (Bourg en Bresse, Musée de Brou).
After Francesco Nenci’s death in November 1851 Mussini returned to Italy to work as a director in the Istituto di Belle Arti di Siena, where he worked until his death.
From the 1860s’ Mussini received important assignments regarding the protection of the Italian artistic heritage. From 1860 he became a member of the council of fine arts (later Giunta Superiore di Belle Arti) and from 1867 he was in the advisory commission of fine arts of Siena and Grosseto. He was a director in numerous award committees in Siena. His undisputed authority also led him to supervise artistic restorations. In 1880 he was elected as a member of the city council of Siena.
Among his most important works are Eudorus and Cymodoce (1855, Florence, Galleria d’Arte Moderna of Palazzo PItti) Les Martyrs of René del Chateaubrieand; Mater Dolorosa (1856, Siena, Museo Civico di Siena) tempera on panel with golden background, inspired by the works of the 15th century, Decamerone Senese (1858) and the portrait of Vittorio Emanuele II (1860, Siena, Palazzo Pubblico). Other works to mention are L’Odalisca (1862, Milan, Accademia di Brera) influenced by the works of Ingres, Spartan Education (1869, Mountauban, Musée Ingres) and one of the few Mussini’s religious works representing St. Crescentius; an altarpiece for the San Filippo altar in the Siena cathedral (1868).
Mussini died in Siena in 1888.
All the artworks of
Monte dei Paschi di Siena Foundation was established on August 28, 1995 with the conferment of banking activity and it is the oldest bank in the world still operating. The headquarters is in Palazzo Sansedoni of Piazza del Campo, Siena, and the main mission is to carry out philanthropic activities in cultural, artistic and environmental sectors.
The foundation owns and preserves two collections: the collection of Artworks and Malandrini collection of photographs. Both collections can be found on digital version online. The artwork collection includes 57 pieces representing prestigious examples of Sienese art, some of which have been lost for centuries. A special committee of scholars and art historians was set up to identify the works of Sienese school between the 13th and 18th century. Among the artworks there are Segna di Bonaventura’s Madonna with Child Enthroned, St. Bartholomew, St. Ansanus and a Donor, Maestro dell’Osservanza’s Santa Lucia, Brescianino’s Madonna with Child and Little St. John, Ventura Salimbeni’s Santa Cecilia, Francesco Vanni’s Lamentation over the Dead Christ, Rutilio Manetti’s St. Jerome in Penitence and Bernardo Mei’s Holy Family with Magdalene.
The Malandri collection was named after the founder, photographer Ferruccio Malandrini, and it was established in 1975. The collection includes historical photographs from Siena territory, taken between 1853 and 1950. There are 135 units in the collection. The units consist of different themes, origins and technical and historical characteristics and in total they include 11,389 photographs.