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The recovery of the “Madonna and Child reading” by Andrea Solario

The delightful Madonna and Child Reading by Andrea Solario (documented from 1495-1524), which was restored by Paola Zanolini thanks to the generosity of Wannenes, is a happy recovery for several reasons. A supporter had been looking for years for its restoration, not only because the painting was no longer legible in all its parts, but also because of its considerable importance in the art historical panorama and in the collection of the Poldi Pezzoli Museum.
Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli was a passionate collector of the Lombard Renaissance, to which he devoted special care, which continued with the purchases of successive directors, so that today this section is among the most significant and richest in the museum.  No author is more represented in the collection than Andrea Solario: as many as eight paintings by this master.
Why was the museum’s founder so fond of Solario? The main reason is that the artist reached the height of fame precisely in the mid-nineteenth century, in parallel with the rediscovery of the personalities of the Leonardesque circle. In particular, Otto Mündler as early as 1857 understood that the mysterious “Andreas Mediolanensis” who had signed in 1495 a panel already in San Pietro Martire in Murano (now in Milan, Pinacoteca di Brera) was the same “Andrea De Solario” who in 1515 signed a Rest on the Flight into Egypt, a panel that was one of the first fortunate purchases of Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli.
Possessing a ‘name piece,’ that is, a piece whose cartouche bearing a signature and date had made it possible to reconstruct an artistic personality of that caliber, stimulated Poldi Pezzoli to continue his search for paintings by that master. The second opportunity happened in 1862 when art historian Giovanni Morelli sold him two fragments of a horizontal Sacred Conversation with a Saint Catherine of Alexandria and a Saint John the Baptist, the latter dated 1499. Gradually other works would enter the collection, such as the Christ Crowned with Thorns-an absolute masterpiece-and, in 1892, thanks to Giuseppe Bertini, two more small tablets and our Madonnina. A nucleus that made it possible to follow the evolution and mastery of this cosmopolitan artist who, trained under the guidance of his sculptor brother Cristoforo, followed him between 1490 and 1495 in Venice, knowing and making his own the art of Giovanni Bellini, and then returned to Milan and assimilated chiaroscuro from Leonardo in an original synthesis. His fame grew so great that when the French came to Milan after the fall of the Sforza family, the French governor Charles II d’Amboise took Andrea to Rouen, France, where the painter created several masterpieces before returning to the Lombard capital.
The question of Andrea’s training still remains veiled in mystery. The answer it seems may lie even in this small devotional panel, often considered an early work by this artist.
A chronological settlement for the panel will come from the studies that are being carried out in preparation for the exhibition on Andrea and Cristoforo Solario planned at the Poldi Pezzoli Museum for the autumn of next year, on the occasion of the five-hundredth anniversary of the death of the two brothers-both died in 1524-and organized with the collaboration of the Louvre. On this occasion, the painting can be presented in the best possible way.
Created for private devotional use, it returns the iconography in which it is the Child, rather than the Virgin, who holds a book in his hands. Jesus, with his questioning expression, seems to ask his mother for an explanation of what he is reading. The look of understanding between the two is underscored by the Virgin’s eyes lowered toward the Son. Ichnographically, one reference is the reading child that Vincenzo Foppa had painted for the Banco Mediceo in 1464 (now in London, Wallace Collection).
In the painting, probably made within the opening of the 16th century, Andrea’s two main formative experiences coexist. On the one hand, the composition, characterized by a black background and the balustrade that forms a kind of separation with the viewer, is inspired by the Venetian models of Alvise Vivarini and Giovanni Bellini, whom Solario got to know during his stay in the lagoon. The chromaticism based on the subtle accords between blues and pinks, the chiaroscuro rendering and the highlights, would instead derive from Vincenzo Foppa and Bergognone.
Made in tempera, the painting had undergone drastic cleaning that had abraded its pictorial surface. Today it is once again possible to admire the original finesse of execution in some details, such as the gold finishing of the haloes and the hem of the book, or the highlights of the band surrounding the Child executed with transparent lacquers.

Andrea Solario, Madonna with the reading Child, Poldi Pezzoli Museum of Milan, restored with the contribution of Wannenes