Embossed and engraved silver plaque
La Madonna del lago (The Madonna of the Lake)
Probably Milan, post 1824
It measures: 16.14 in x 13.85 in (41 x 35.2 cm) and it weighs 10.357 pounds (4.698 g): silver 1.31 pounds (598 g) + brass 9.03 pounds (4.100 g)
State of conservation: some abrasions on the bottom. The frame is old, but not original.
The plaque is made up of a sheet of embossed and engraved silver, and held in a solid brass frame. It depicts the “Madonna del lago” – “Madonna of the Lake” – (the Madonna with Child and San Giovannino) by Marco d’Oggiono (Oggiono, 1474 circa – Milan, 1524 circa), while changing only the background landscape. Almost certainly the subject reproduced in the plaque was taken from a famous engraving by Giuseppe Longhi (Monza, 1766 – Milan, 1831), one of the greatest engravers of his era.
The silver is unmarked, probably because originally the Madonna was due to be exposed in a church: sometimes precious metals destined for worship and liturgical use would be exempted from payment and were, therefore, not marked.
It is very likely that the plaque was made in Milan because in this city in 1824 the engraving by Giuseppe Longhi was made and printed. In addition, in Milan, the alleged lost painting by Leonardo da Vinci in his Milanese period (1482-1500) would be produced; this is the painting from which Marco d’Oggiono took his version.
Marco dʻOggiono was one of Leonardo da Vinci’s most brilliant students and collaborators (D. Sedini, Marco d’Oggiono, tradizione e rinnovamento in Lombardia tra Quattrocento e Cinquecento, Roma 1989, pp. 151-153, n. 56; p. 225, n. 124, with previous bibliography). His style reflects in every way that of the Tuscan Maestro, so much so that he was the one who executed some copies of da Vinci’s paintings. The execution of the “Madonna del Lago” probably draws inspiration from a lost painting by the Maestro, created while he was living in Milan (1482-1500). There are many similarities with other works by Leonardo such as the “Vergine delle rocce” or the “Vergine con il Bambino e San Giovannino, Sant’Anna e l’Agnello”.
The painting, from which the drawing and then the famous engraving were taken, is found today at the M&G Museum of Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina, where it came to rest after the sale of the Harrington Collection in London in 1917.
The work appears in the inventories of the collection of Napoleon and Joséphine Bonaparte at the castle of Malmaison, before 1809.
The Malmaison building was born and developed in the 17th and 18th centuries. In the 18th century it belonged to Jacques-Jean Le Coulteux du Molay, a wealthy banker. Later, during the Directory, Joséphine Bonaparte de Beauharnais bought it on April 21st, 1799, but settled at the castle definitively only after her husband separated from her in 1809. She remained there until 1814, the year of her death. When Joséphine died, the estate passed to her son Eugène de Beauharnais, who moved to Munich with his whole family in 1815, bringing with him the collection of paintings he inherited from his mother. Eugène died in 1824 and his wife Augusta of Bavaria (von Bayern), unable to keep it, in 1828 sold the Malmaison to the Swedish banker Jonas-Philip Hagerman.
It is likely that in this period Augusta also sold part of the paintings inherited from her husband, including the “Madonna del Lago”. This painting then came into the possession of Leicester Stanhope, fifth Earl of Harrington (1784 – 1862) and then was passed down to his descendants.
In 1917, at the death of Charles, eighth Earl of Harrington, his brother Dudley inherited the title and properties and he put up a part of his collections for sale. Among these, precisely, the painting by Marco d’Oggiono was to be found.
On the occasion of that auction the painting was presented as a work by Cesare da Sesto, by virtue of a handwritten note by the Countess of Harrington on the back of the table. However, already in 1857, the German critic Gustav Waagen had identified Marco d’Oggiono as the author of the painting, then exhibited in the dining room of Harrington House in London (Treasures of Art in Great Britain, in 4 volumes, London, 1854 and 1857).
Giuseppe Longhi was one of the most renowned engravers in Italy between the end of the 18th century and the first quarter of the 19th century.
In 1824 Giuseppe Longhi, based on a design by Paolo Caronni, made a famous engraving of the painting of Marco dʻOggiono. The activity of Longhi was then at the peak of his notoriety, enough to earn him very substantial commissions; it is not risky to suppose that some of his successful engravings were also reproduced using other means: in our case in silver. (A. Crespi, a cura di, Giuseppe Longhi 1766–1831 e Raffaello Morghen, l’incisione neoclassica di traduzione, exhibition catalog Monza 11 Aprile -16 maggio 2010 p. 20 e p. 51 n. 59).
This news comes from Ferrario (vice-librarian in the Brera Library of Milan from 1816 and First Librarian since 1838), who wrote in 1836 about Caronni (1779 – 1842), who was active alongside his master Longhi in the engraving of works for the Galérie du Musée Napoleon as early as the beginning of the nineteenth century. Ferrario stated that “having the art of pen dashing par excellence, so that to distinguish one would not know such a drawing from a print conducted with all the finesse and neatness of the burin” (Ferrario G., Le classiche stampe dal cominciamento della Calcografia fino al presente, Tipografia di Santo Bravetta, Milano 1836, pp. 180-194).
A different view was held by Francesco Longhena, who in his biography stated that Longhi began to affect the “Madonna del lago” in 1824 with its own design taken directly from a painting of equal size and designed by Leonardo and painted by his pupil Marco d’Oggiono (in Notizie biografiche di Giuseppe Longhi collected and published by Francesco Longhena, Milano 1831 p. 32).
From the biography of the important and well-known engraver we know that he was engaged with contracts beyond the Alps; that he was summoned to meetings in Lyon as early as 1801 as one of the selected “thirty scholars”, along with Bossi, Appiani and Rosaspina; that he was the author of copies of numerous paintings in the French capital as part of a project to reproduce a large number of works for the creation of the so-called Musée Napoleon. In fact, the suppression of religious orders had brought to Paris a great deal of masterpieces which, on an iconological level, constituted a significant opportunity for scholars to compare and a great opportunity for engravers to work.
His teaching at the Brera Academy was long and fruitful and led to the training of many of the most talented engravers of the time, such as Faustino Anderloni, Carlo Rampoldi, Pietro Anderloni and, indeed, Paolo Caronni. With the latter a close collaboration was born, ranging from the carving of the “Ezechiello” and of the “Quadroni di San Carlo” to the portraiture of Augusta Amalia of Bavaria up to the production of the “Madonna del Lago”, according to Ferrario.
Longhi died suddenly in 1831, an unequaled artist and engraver.
D. Sedini, Marco d’Oggiono, tradizione e rinnovamento in Lombardia tra Quattrocento e Cinquecento, Roma 1989.
Treasures of Art in Great Britain, in 4 volumi, London, 1854 and 1857.
A. Crespi, a cura di, Giuseppe Longhi 1766–1831 e Raffaello Morghen, l’incisione neoclassica di traduzione, catalogo della mostra Monza 11 Aprile -16 maggio 2010.
G. Ferrario, Le classiche stampe dal cominciamento della Calcografia fino al presente, Tipografia di Santo Bravetta, Milano 1836.
Notizie biografiche di Giuseppe Longhi raccolte e pubblicate da Francesco Longhena, Milano 1831.