This stately altarpiece was painted in 1507 for the church of San Francesco in Alba. It is Macrino's second known commission for this church: in the previous year, he painted a multi-panel altarpiece for the high altar, which is now dismantled and mostly preserved in the Galleria Sabuada in Turin. As Eduardo Villata and other scholars have shown, the theory that the present painting was commissioned for the Church of Santa Chiara, which was first proposed by Giovanni Oreste della Piana (op. cit., 1935 and 1962), may be discredited as no church by that name existed in Alba until 1610 (Villata, op. cit., 2000, p. 181). Likewise, there is no archival evidence to support the theory that it was commissioned by Guglielmo IX, the Marquess of Monferrato (1486-1518), despite the fact that Macrino was official painter to the Paleologo court. Giuglielmo delle Valle (op. cit., 1990, note 52) was the first to correctly link the present altarpiece with the painting cited in a 1793 inventory of San Francesco ad Alba: 'Nell'anno sequent  fece per la stessa Chiesa la tavola dell'altare di S. Bernardino' / 'In the next year , he made for the same church the altarpiece for the altar of Saint Bernardino'. The painting was also described in greater detail at the end of the 18th century by the Baron Giuseppe Vernazza, whose notes on Macrino are preserved in a manuscript in Turin that records:
'Nella stessa chiesa [San Francesco ad Alba] all'altare dei Verri conti della Bosia, al secondo altare che si trova a sinistra di chi entra, un'altra pittura con la data dell'anno 1507. Rappresenta la Vergine (siede) seduta sotto un trono, ed ha sulla ginocchia il bambino che dorme. Le stanno a sinistra (santa) Chiara e Stefano protomartire, a destra Bernardino da Siena, e Michele arcangelo. Anch'essa pittura di Macrino.' / 'In the same church [San Francesco ad Alba] on the altar of the Verri, counts of Bosia, at the second altar that is found on the left as one enters, there is another picture with the date of the year 1507. It represents the Virgin seated under a throne, and who has at her knees the sleeping child. On the left are Saints Chiara and Stephen proto-martyr, on the right are Bernardino of Siena and the Archangel Michael. This is also a picture by Macrino' (Accademia delle Scienze di Torino, ms. Vernazziano 1022, Schede e memorie per la vita del Macrino, fasc. 2, f. IV; transcribed in Villata, op. cit., 2000, p. 183.). The Verri were an ancient and prominent family in Alba, who are documented in the city as early as 1209.
For the Verri altarpiece, Macrino utilized the same cartoon that he had employed for the Madonna and Child in his altarpiece of the Madonna and Child with Saints John the Baptist, James, Augustine and Jerome, which was commissioned a few years earlier by Gian Giacomo San Giorgio di Biandrate for the Santuario dell'Assunta in Crea. It is possible that the Verri family knew this earlier work of 1503, and specifically requested that the artist incorporate those figures into their own painting. Macrino did not, however, copy his earlier work with absolute fidelity: the halos are different and in the present picture, the Virgin wears a veil.
It is unclear when the present altarpiece was removed from the church of San Francesco. Around 1871, it was acquired in Italy by the historian and United States Senator, Henry Cabot Lodge (1850-1924), apparently as a wedding gift for his wife, Anna Nannie Cabot Mills Davis (1850-1915). The painting appears in Bernard Berenson's survey (loc. cit.), recorded as housed in Lodge's collection in Washington.
Macrino was born in Alba, probably into the Fava branch of the Alladio family. His first signed and dated work is a triptych of 1495, now in the Museo Civico di Torino (inv. 428 part. 448/D). His early works also reflect a Lombard influence, particularly that of Ambrogio Bergognone. In 1496 he painted a Virgin Enthroned between saints Hugh and Anselm to complete a polyptych that had been begun by Bergognone in the Certosa of Pavia, and in that year created frescoes for the Certosa of Asti (now destroyed). For most of his career, Macrino worked as the Paleologo court painter in Casale Monferrato, where he also enjoyed the patronage of the city's most prominent and wealthy families. He died before 1528, the year he was commemorated by the Alban poet Paolo Cerrato (c. 1485-c. 1540) in De Virginitate (Paris, 1528).
G. Della Valle, 'Prefazione', in G. Vasari, Vita de' più eccellenti pittori, scultori e architetti, Siena, 1793, X, p. 9.
B. Berenson, North Italian Painters of the Renaissance, New York, 1907, p. 253, as signed and dated 1507.
G. Bistolfi, Macrino d'Alba. Appunti su la vita e le opere di un pittore piemontese del secolo XV, Turin, 1910, pp. 73-75.
S. Weber, 'Macrino d'Alba', in Thieme-Becker Kunstlerlexikon, XXIII, Lipsia, 1929, p. 524.
B. Berenson, Italian Pictures of the Renaissance, Oxford, 1932, p. 320.
G.O. della Piana, Macrino d'Alba, Turin, 1935, p. 30.
B. Berenson, Pitture Italiane del Rinascimento, 1936, p. 275, as dated 1507.
A.M. Brizio, La pittura in Piemonte dall'età romanica al Cinquecento, Turin, 1942, p. 241.
G.O. della Piana, Macrino d'Alba, Como, 1962, p. 39, as painted in 1504 and neither signed nor dated, and as acquired by Henry Cabot Lodge in 1880, specifically in Ferrara.
F. Viglieno Cossalino, 'Contributo a Macrino d'Alba', Critica d'Arte', XII, no. 73, pp. 32-33.
B. Berenson, Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Central and North Italian Schools, 1968, I, p. 236, as signed and dated 1507.
G. Romano, Casalesi del Cinquecento: l'avvento del manerismo in una città padana, Turin, 1970, p. 4.
A.B. di Vesme, Schede Vesme: l'arte in Piemonte, Turin, 1982, IV, p. 1458.
P. San Martino, 'Macrino d'Alba', in F. Zeri, ed., La pittura in Italia: Il Quattrocento, Milan, 1987, II, p. 648.
G. Della Valle, Notizie degli artefici piemontesi, G.C. Sciolla, ed., Turin, 1990, p. 48.
E. Villata, 'Le principali committenze di Macrino d'Alba', Alba Pompeia, XVI, no. 2, 1995, p. 48.
E. Villata, 'Per Macrino d'Alba', in G. Romano, ed., Primitivi piemontesi nel musei di Torino, Turin, p. 13.
E. Villata, Macrino d'Alba, Savigliano, Cuneo, 2000, pp. 181-183, no. 17.
PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE COLLECTION
Painted for the altar of San Bernardino in the church of San Francesco, Alba, in 1507, possibly for the Verri family.
Acquired by Henry Cabot Lodge while in Italy as a wedding gift to his wife, circa 1870, and brought back to Washington, and thence by descent to Mrs. Henry Cabot Lodge, Boston; Sotheby's, New York, 14 January 1988, lot 66 ($253,000).
About Gian Giacomo D'Alladio (called Macrino D'Alba)
Italian, active ca. 1495 - before 1528, Alba, Italy, based in Alba, Italy