A Century of Giving

Sebastiano del Piombo (Sebastiano Luciani)

Madonna and Child


oil on panel, diameter 68.5 cm

The Fitzwilliam Museum: PD.55-1997

The Infant Christ twists away vigorously from his mother who tries to wrap Him in her cloak. Her firm hands and calm expression represent love and domestic security. But Christ is clutching - as if to hide from His mother's sight - a gold finch which, in Christian symbolism, is associated with the Passion and His own future suffering.

Sebastiano del Piombo (1485-1547) was a Venetian painter, a pupil of Bellini and a friend of Giorgione. In fact, this landscape background, lit by a brilliant white cloud, is somewhat reminiscent of Venice.

However, this tondo was painted in c.1513 shortly after Sebastiano's arrival in Rome, where he would spend the greater part of his career. In Rome, he encountered the works of Michelangelo and Raphael, and fell immediately under their spell.

Here we see him combining the rich, sensuous colours of the Venetian painters with the monumental forms of the Roman School. The solidity of these figures recalls Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling, the first part of which had been unveiled in 1512.

The painting came from the collection of the great scholar and connoisseur - Philip Pouncey (1910-90). As a young man, Pouncey had helped Cockerell in the Museum and was its Honorary Keeper of Italian Painting.

Acquired in 1997, this tondo was a significant addition to the Italian masterpieces in Gallery 7. As the Director, Duncan Robinson himself attested, its importance for the Museum lay not only in its beauty and quality -

'but also in the place it now occupies in a great teaching collection, where it hangs next to Sebastiano's Venetian masters as eye-witness to the impact of Rome on the talented young artist'

The Friends provided a vital £30,000 towards its purchase - at that point the largest single sum they had ever given. Money was also raised through an important new source: the Heritage Lottery Fund, set up in 1994. It demonstrates how important Friends' money has been in enabling the Museum to approach fundraising bodies for large purchase grants.

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