follower of Filippino Lippi, The Virgin and Child with St John and Attendant Angels

Photo courtesy of Dave Penman (All Rights Reserved)


Country House
Mells Manor
The Virgin and Child with St John and Attendant Angels
? c.1500
Medium and support
Oil on wood
Overall height: 131 cm, Overall width: 76 cm
follower of Filippino Lippi
Catalogue Number


It is unclear whether the present picture is complete in itself or was the central section of a larger field, extending to either side, or part of a polyptych: we are unlikely to know more until and unless technical examination is undertaken.

The arrangement of the Virgin and Child with St John is closely based on the central group in Filippino Lippi’s altarpiece in the Nerli chapel in Santo Spirito, Florence (160 x 180 cm), datable to c.1493–5, a date that provides a terminus post quem for the present picture. The angels either side of the Virgin, however, are additions not found in the Santo Spirito panel which depicts the Virgin, Child and St John between SS Martin of Tours and Catherine who present the kneeling donors. It would need to be checked by overlays but if, as the present writer suspects, the figures in the Mells panel and the Santo Spirito panel are the same size, it would imply that the painter of the Mells panel either had access to Filippino’s cartoon or made a tracing of the central group from Filippino’s painting. This in turn would suggest that he was a pupil or close associate of Filippino, working in his shop, although it cannot entirely be ruled out that the painter might simply have obtained the cartoon after Filippino’s death in 1504. However, if the panel does post-date 1504, it would be attributable to a retardataire – and probably provincial – master, for Filippino’s style dropped from favour soon after his death. It is more probable that the painting was produced within Filippino’s lifetime: it might even have been a (partial) repetition licensed by Filippino himself but it should be noted that several derivations exist of the central group of the Santo Spirito altarpiece.

It is conjectural whether the painter of the Mells panel was a direct pupil of Filippino; in the opinion of the present writer, he is more likely to have been a semi-independent –  and possibly short-term – associate. The painting’s colour-range, with a strong emphasis on the articulating power of the Virgin’s scarf, and the density of handling suggest a relation to the work of another important painter active in Florence at this time: Lorenzo di Credi. The types of the angels at either side have some similarity with the types of Filippino, for example the head of Christ in the Musée des Beaux-Arts of Besançon, but they also remind the present writer of the work of Piero di Cosimo.

Concerning Piero di Cosimo, Dr Laurence Kanter has contributed a fascinating observation: ‘Unmistakably like Piero – and like no one else before Pontormo – this painter works as though he is looking into a convex mirror, exaggerating the forward progression of volumes near the center of his field of focus and exaggerating the recession of forms around the edges’.1 This phenomenon implies that the painter had an intellectual and experimental interest in perspectival distortion of a wide-angle kind and this, in due course, may help identify him.

A final thought is whether this painter might be, or might be close to, an artist who operated in Lucca, known as the Master of the Lathrop Tondo, but the connections do not seem close enough to warrant an attribution to him. Christopher Daly has reported to the present writer that a photograph of the Mells picture was filed by the late Everett Fahy with pictures by a painter whom Fahy dubbed the Master of the Holden Tondo and whom he situated among the followers of Domenico Ghirlandaio. Dr Fahy’s knowledge of this area was profound and among those reproductions seen by the present writer, there are certainly some similarities with the work of this master; but the person who painted the Mells panel is closer to Filippino – particularly obviously in the decorated and decorative draperies, which wind around the figure and move in complex ways – rather than to the more sober Ghirlandaio.2 For now, the present writer would attribute the painting to an artist in the circle of Filippino Lippi.

by Paul Joannides


Oliver Garnett, 'The Letters and Collection of William Graham: Pre-Raphaelite Patron and Pre-Raphael Collector', The Walpole Society, vol. 62, 2000, d174, p. 321, as 16th-century follower of Filippino Lippi, previously attributed to Mainardi (WG inventory 209: £200/sale 249, bought Agnew 40 guineas)


  1. Dr Laurence Kanter, private communication, 2020.

  2. Christopher Daly has kindly provided the following note: ‘The bibliography for the Master of the Holden Tondo is very slim. There is a list of his works in Fahy’s Some Followers of Domenico Ghirlandaio; his name-piece has a small entry in the Cleveland Museum’s catalogue of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Italian paintings; and a few of his works are indexed in the Fototeca Zeri as by the “Urbino Crediesque Master”. Also, there is a recent entry by Fahy on a picture attributed to his early phase in a catalogue published by Colnaghi for [The European Fine Art Fare] in 2010’: private communication, 2020. Dr Kanter does not accept that the Mells panel is by the Master of the Holden Tondo: Kanter, private commnication, 2020.


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