La Madonna dei Palafrenieri (1605)

Caravaggio (1571-1610)

La Madonna dei Palafrenieri (The Madonna dei Palafrenieri / Madonna and Child with Saint Anne)
Oil on canvas, 292 x 211 cm
Galleria BorgheseRoma

The painting was commissioned in 1605 by the members of the powerful Palafrenieri archconfraternity which, following the renovation of the basilica of St. Peter’s, asked the painter for a new work to replace an old painting that had decorated the altar of their chapel dedicated to St. Anne. Painted within a few months, in April 1606 the work was shown to the pious devout. It was removed shortly afterward to be moved to the nearby church of Sant’Anna dei Palafrenieri, where it was seen by Scipione Borghese, who bought it for 100 scudi. The motives for its removal are uncertain, though critics cite reasons of decorum – such as the Virgin’s cleavage and the nakedness of the child no longer in diapers – or for theological reasons. Whatever the real reasons, Scipione Borghese managed to obtain the painting for his own picture gallery, satisfying his desire for possession.

The painting depicts Mary, portrayed while, with the help of Jesus, she crushes a snake at her feet – a symbol of sin – assisted by Anne, mother of the Virgin and protector of the confraternity, portrayed as a humble old commoner, with a wrinkled face scarred by time. (GB)