Supplementary Appendix 272.6

The Cabinet Piece attributed to Correggio in the Söder gallery

(1) Söder par S. S. Roland (=Charles Antoine de Saqui-Sannes) (Göttingen 1797) (in French), 148–50; German translation, Söder von S. S. Roland, aus dem Französischen ins Deutsche übersetzt von C[arl] G[ottlieb] Horstig, mit zwey malerischen Ansichten und einem Grundrisse von Söder, nebst dem Bildnisse des Freyherrn von Brabek (Leipzig 1799), 85–86:

A seated Virgin holding the child Jesus on her lap, a three-quarter-length portrait by Correggio. This painting, a bit larger than the previous [Madonna and child by Raphael], can certainly compete with the former for the preeminent position with respect to beautifying the cabinet. Correggio is one of those painters who demonstrate the highest degree of variety in their works.

The present painting surprises and astonishes us. There [in Raphael’s] one is no less surprised, but only because it is difficult to recognize him in the painting; and often the artist is able to produce these two mutually opposing effects in a single painting. In that which I see before me here one does not find this contrast, or at least it is not as striking here. The figure of the Virgin is beautiful. The child is in every respect a masterpiece. Drawing, coloring, expression, everything is united here.

A correct drawing plays quite securely in the study of the abbreviation in which one views the child’s arms and legs, and the painter has elevated this difficult part of art to a level bordering on perfection. It is not the truth of color alone, as striking as it may well be, that animates this painting. The most beautiful expression in the child’s head together with its movement constitute an extraordinarily effective contrast with the gentle element of peace regnant in the Virgin, and similarly contribute to the rare, striking effect this painting has on all who view it. Nothing has been pettily overdone. A broad, secure brush draws here with boldness, paints with warmth and fusion, and colors with strength and effect.

Whereas Raphael distinguishes himself from others in the purity of his drawing, in the grandeur of his ideas, in the beauty of his characters, in the simplicity and grace of his forms, in the equally light and serious drapery, and in the noble fertility of his composition, Correggio, who undeniably trails Raphael with respect to insight and sublimity, does nonetheless occasionally emerge as his rival, earning merit in the art of producing remarkable effects through chiaroscuro and the subtle play of light, merit that Raphael himself did not earn. Raphael was a master of drawing, Correggio of chiaroscuro, who understood the art of incorporating that particular element of harmony, that grand concurrence and effect into his works, all of which constitute the real magic of painting.

In the painting before me here, Raphael could not have drawn the child any better; he would not have painted with the firmness and freedom of brush that characterize Correggio. His less fruitful color probably would not have attained that element of deception in abbreviation. His more studied brush would not have rendered transparent that light tinge of relaxation or carelessness that enchants us all the more the more it manages to conceal the artist’s work and effort. Anyone might imagine being able to paint like Correggio, but no one would flatter himself for being able to guide Raphael’s brush. One sees the bold course of the one, and it seems so facile; one sees nothing of the carefully considered course of the other, and one is startled.

All that considered, the former has far more difficulty than the latter. One will always be able to copy Raphael more easily than Correggio. It is rare indeed to see paintings by them; and rarely will one find several of theirs together, and even more rarely still two cabinet pieces by these two masters that are as beautiful, perfect, and also as well preserved as these. They produce a far more animated sense of astonishment in this particular salon than in the previous one.

(2) Friederich Wilhelm Basilius von Ramdohr, Beschreibung der Gemälde-Galerie des Freiherrn von Brabek zu Hildesheim mit kritischen Bemerkungen und einer Abhandlung über die Kunst[,] das Schöne in den Gemälden der niederländischen Schule zu sehen (Hannover 1792), 8–10:

Madonna and Child, by Correggio
(1 foot high, 9 1/2 inches wide)

For the connoisseur, proof that the painting has been correctly attributed can be adduced only through actual viewing. Even the most superficial glance would immediately demonstrate to such a connoisseur that both the conception and the portrayal can belong solely to Correggio. No other master organized his groups thus, or chose his forms and expression thus; no other positioned his figures thus, or held his proportions of light and shadow together thus.

This much at least is beyond doubt, namely, that if the picture is not by him, then it is at least a copy after him. Here, however, I do believe I can maintain, after the most precise and repeated examination, that the copyist could not have concealed himself thus. He would have improved certain places, and yet most not as well. In general, no painter is as difficult to copy as is Correggio. His paintings exhibit so little in the way of clear delineation, he fuses and melts his tints to such a high degree one into the other, that all the copies I have seen are either too harsh or too colorful. Neither is the case here. I thus consider this picture to be an original and will now hasten to its description.

The Madonna is sitting and holding the child on her lap with both hands. Her quietly lowered gaze expresses no specific action. She grasps the child with one hand on its right thigh, while placing the fingers of the other hand on his abdomen. The child rocks itself quite relaxed on its mother’s lap, plays with the index finger of the left hand in its mouth, and with the right hand grasps its mother’s thumb. It is stretching out its legs, the one in this direction, the other in that, as relaxed and calm as possible. It is clothed in a white shirt.

What important observations concerning the nature of beauty in painting does this picture not prompt! A mother simply holding her child in her lap, a child simply sitting on its mother’s lap, with no specific action, with no expression of any particular interest in each other. Who in the world could believe that this might provide an interesting subject for art? And yet! One gazes full of admiration on all the masterpieces of the Italian and Dutch school hanging round about, and yet always return with pleasure to the artless boy with its simple mother.

The mother’s face wholly exhibits the form of the faces of Correggio’s Madonnas: the wide eyes, broad nose, and the broad oval. The mouth does not exhibit the charming loveliness usually found with this master, but rather an element of sadness. I must point out, however, that retouching is evident both around the mouth itself and in certain parts of the face. Viewed in the bright sunshine or at evening by candlelight and at some distance, the foreign tints disappear, and the face immediately exhibits its original charm.

Mary’s head is too large compared to the rest of her body, and the entire figure consists almost solely of head and hands, the latter of which are quite beautiful; the hand especially would be a masterpiece in abbreviation if only it had not suffered thus.

The child, though lacking a lower body, is cute enough to eat, and yet so stupidly cute that one it irritated with oneself precisely for being so fond of it. For in the final analysis, it is not at all an ideal, exhibits nothing divine in its physiognomy, and is instead merely a waggish little boy of the sort one thinks one has seen hundreds of times in real life. But its hair and little hands and feet! — most charming! one clings to them the way the mother clings to her child.

One of the arms is beautifully abbreviated. The entire position has been conjured forth through enchantment. This inexplicable charm of pleasing forms is now enhanced by the magic of illumination, by the fusion of colors, and by the harmony of the whole. What a picture it would have been had it come down to us in its original purity! But we must be honest: the piece has suffered. Dirt has penetrated into the recesses between the threads of the coarse cloth and now seems impossible to remove without washing away the color as well.

And indeed, in some places such washing has already taken place, while other places have been retouched by an unskilled hand. But those parts of the picture that are well preserved, e.g., in the boy’s face and the brighter parts of the Madonna’s head, the most beautiful tints emerge, and even the whole as such in its present condition cannot but elicit the admiration of both connoisseurs and non-experts alike.

One might remark in this respect that Correggio is one of those masters among whom one only rarely encounters completely pure and intact pieces.