Francesco Albani - inv. 306
The painting shows the Virgin offering her breast to the Child, while a small angel at her feet bears the swaddling clothes and another kneels beside the cradle. Two more angels stand behind a balustrade with Saint Joseph, who has paused in his reading. Three angels on high, one of whom is crying, carry the Cross and Eucharistic chalice, prefiguring Christ’s passion.
This iconography developed with a number of variants during the period of the Counter-Reformation and is linked to meditation on the Passion and on the Blood of Christ. Francesco Albani painted this subject at least twice: in a painting dated like ours to about 1650, formerly in the church of San Gioacchino in Bologna, and now in the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Dijon, and in a work in the Roman collection of Pier Luigi Amiata.
Albani was one of the best pupils of the Accademia degli Incamminati in Bologna, directed by Ludovico Carracci, and is considered one of the leading exponents of Bolognese classicism, in rivalry with Guido Reni.