Manner of Marco Palmezzano: An 18thC Oil on Canvas Laid on Board; The Holy Family with St. John The Baptist from The Church of St. John The Baptist, Bridgwater, Somerset

Origin: Probably Italian
Period: Early/Mid Eighteenth Century
Provenance: The Church of St. John The Baptist, Bridgwater, Somerset, UK
Date: c.1700-1750
Canvas Height: 52.5 inches
Canvas Width: 35 inches
The Whole in Frame: 62.5 x 45 inches

The large oil on canvas laid to board painted in the Manner of Antonio Rimpatta Da Bologna, of Italian 16th Century style though almost certainly created in the eighteenth century, presented in its original gilt gesso and polychrome painted carved pine frame consisting of foliate carvings with red berries, the canvas depicting the Holy Family with St. John The Baptist, with later added lower section showing three standing crucifixes, having been hung in the Church of St. John the Baptist, Bridgwater, England for many years.

The picture is in decorative but very tired condition with bowing, some small losses and later re-touching. There are several splits to the canvas, due to it having been laid to board. For the purist, the whole could be extensively restored, but that is the buyers discretion. The frame is probably original to the picture and has suffered in the same way as the work itself with losses and a general crazing to the whole. Both the frame and the picture are tremendously evocative.

The work shows the Holy Family, with the Christ Child standing in front of the Virgin holding rosary beads, while Saint Joseph looks on from behind, and the infant St. John the Baptist on the left holds a cross. The scene recalls popular stories of Saint John's youth, in which he and Christ first meet as children when the Holy Family is returning from Egypt. The young Saint's animal skin tabard and wooden cross refer to his adult roles as preacher in the desert and baptizer of Christ.

The style and overall type of the painting points to it's likely execution during the 18th century, due to the canvas type, weight etc, and probably by an Italian hand and certainly with the Northern Italian/Venetian 16th century influences, the modelling and handling effected by later hand(s) The composition appears to exceed the hand and suggests possibly a talented provincial artist after a known work.

The work can be compared closely on stylistic and compositional grounds to treatments of the subject by Northern Italian masters, Andrea Mantegna and the Bellini studios and Notably Marco Palmezzano (1460–1539). It also has similarities to Caravaggio's 'Madonna of the Rosary' originally in the Dominican church in Antwerp and also to the Holy Family with the Young St John the Baptist by Piero Di Cosimo painted in 1520.

We have spoken with the archivist at Somerset council, and the kindly warden of the church, where this painting resided in Somerset and there isn’t a great deal of information about the picture to hand, with the log books for the Church only going back to the early twentieth century, and there are no vestry minutes or insurance policies which might have mentioned the painting, meaning the work came into the Churches possession before this time.  The Church is not therefore sure where the picture came from, however, she did say that the picture was hung in the nave of the church for years, then fell into disrepair and was stored away. The later (?) addition to the lower part of the picture could either be intended or prosaic. The picture was photographed by the Council of Churches and then cleared for sale after a lengthy process and the sale of the painting has since benefited the church. 

Grade II listed Church of St John the Baptist, Bridgwater, was built on the site of the medieval St John's Hospital which served the then busy Bridgwater Castle. It was built in 1845 by the Revd John Moore Capes at the cost of about £10,000, with designs and features based on Salisbury cathedral and the Abbots Kitchen at Glastonbury, and is purported to be one of the earliest churches of the Oxford Movement. A cholera epidemic hit the Eastover area in the late 1840s with 88 people buried in a remote part of the churchyard marked by a large stone. Not long after burials were stopped for helath reasons and a new plot along the Bristol road was created and still in use today. The church underwent some changes in the 1990s with part of the church, The Lady Chapel, converted to a communal area with new ceilings erected.

Pictures housed in significant ecclesiastical buildings are of great historical importance, not least do they have to be of a certain quality and age to be there in the first instance, their canvases have also heard a thousand choral notes, and the figures they depict have ushered in a thousand attendees through a myriad of happiness and sorrow, heightening their aura and giving them a special magnificence. This picture is no different.