Joos van Cleve’s Flemish Renaissance composition representing the Virgin and Child, who is holding cherries, was very popular during the 16th century. Its success was due to a perfect mix of Italian and Flemish characteristics. A fair number of versions exist, which are being (sometimes rather arbitrary) attributed to the Master himself, to his workshop or to his followers. Van Cleve’s design is clearly inspired by a now lost Italian original of Leonardo da Vinci, which he must have known through a painting of one of Leonardo’s students, Giampietrino.
A fair number of the Madonna’s with Cherries can be attributed to van Cleve’s workshop, just a few have recently even been given to the Master himself. Others, such as ours, have been painted by followers around the middle of the 16th century one or two decades after Joos van Cleve passed away. Typical of these later versions are the mountainous landscape in the left background that was inspired by Joachim Patinir and the gilded Renaissance sculptures at the top of the painting.
About the Madonna of the Cherries
The so-called Madonna of the Cherries is one of Joos van Cleve’s best-known compositions. Many 16th century versions exist of it:
- two (from the Aachen Museum and a painting sold at Sotheby’s London 16/12/02) are now considered (by Peter van den Brink and by Micha Leeflang) to have been painted by van Cleve himself during the early 1520s;
- at least eight, but maybe as many as twenty-five finely detailed and high-quality paintings would have been painted by his Antwerp workshop circa 1525/1530.
- An additional group of at least thirteen paintings, amongst these our painting, would have been painted later by other Antwerp painters around the middle of the 16thcentury.
Van Cleve (1485 – 1540/41) borrowed the design of the Madonna of the Cherries from a now lost original by Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519), which was adapted by one of his best students, Giampietrino (active 1508 – 1549). it remains uncertain whether the original design by Leonardo was a drawing or a painting; he must have created it during his second Milanese period (1508 – 1513).
It would seem that Joos van Cleve, during his plausible stay in Milan circa 1520, was able to trace on a pricked cartoon the composition of Giampietrino’s painting of the Madonna of the Cherries, sold at Sotheby’s New York, 27/01/11. Van Cleve then used that cartoon to lay out the composition of his and of some of his workshop’s Madonna’s of the Cherries.
About the composition of our painting
Mary and Jesus are represented in a rich interior. Mary wears her traditional blue cloak, referring to the sky and to her virginity, over a rich red robe. The naked baby Jesus sits on a green cushion. He turns his hands, holding cherries (representing the Fruits of Paradise), away from her. The apple at right (which is not in Giampietrino’s version) caused the Fall of Man; the Latin word for apple “malus” also means bad.
Typical of the middle 16th century versions is the Patinir-like landscape in the left background and the gilded sculptures next to it.
Why should you buy this painting?
Because it is a beautiful marriage between Italian and Flemish Renaissance art.