ALESSANDRO MERLI

? active 1590 1606 Venice

Madonna And Child Enthroned with Donor

gouache on vellum. 85/8 x 61/2" (220 x 165mm).

This newly discovered miniature is by the little known artist Alessandro Merli, active in Venice at the end of the Cinquecento. A signed miniature by Merli is in the Hermitage; it had been exhibited at the Cini Foundation in 1964.1 It too is unfinished, painted on vellum. In fact, it is an uncut leaf with painted borders framing the ornamental gold surround and so it is a bit larger than ours. It too features a donor, along with a cardinal and the Madonna and Child. The donor is a portrait of the prosecutor Dinannzi. The image of the donor on our page is also a portrait, and of an attractive but as yet unidentified man. Another leaf of the same type by Merli depicting Christ (or possibly St. John) with a kneeling Doge Pasquale Cicogna (1585-1595) and perhaps his wife, is in the museum in Budapest and was also exhibited at the Cini Foundation.2 The Budapest leaf is as delicate and beautiful as ours, also with especially well executed portraits. These portraits were of patrons who provided some benefit to the city of Venice. Two contracts would have been drawn up regarding whatever the donor and city of Venice had negotiated and the one with the painted miniature illuminations went to the patron; the contract with only text was kept in the city archives. One can therefore assume that the donor's contract was dismembered in order to procure the above mentioned illuminations.

The scrolling ornament surrounding the illumination is Mannerist in style while the interior foliate designs are early Roman renaissance, based on the antique. The Lion of St. Mark is featured in a central cartouche while the coat of arms appears at the bottom but unfinished.The Dolomites can be seen through the window and the blue of the madonnas dress is a Titian blue. The solemn donor portrait of a good-looking man reminds one of Moroni's portraits. Though unfinished, this is a 16th c. Venetian painting in miniature.
1

Larissa Salmina, Disengi veneti del Museo di Leningrado, Venezia, 1964, cat. #25.

2

Ivan Fenyo, Disegni veneti del Museo di Budapest, Veneia, 1965, cat. #44, pp. 40-41. It is cut as is ours and measures 230 x 164.