Battista Dossi (San Giovanni del Dosso circa 1490-1548 Ferrara)
The Adoration of the Shepherds oil on panel 73.8 x 57.5cm (29 1/16 x 22 5/8in).
PROVENANCE: Acquired by the present owner's grandfather circa 1900
The early careers of Battista Dossi and his elder brother, Dosso, are not well documented and scholars have been much divided when it comes to assessing which of the two artists and to what extent they had a hand in a certain corpus of works dating from the period between 1518 and the early 1530s. In view of this it is notable that the figures of the shepherds in the present work - those standing to the left and those kneeling, lower right - are of superior quality and could support an argument that Battista collaborated with his brother, Dosso.
We are grateful to Professor Alessandro Ballarin for confirming the attribution to Battista Dossi on the basis of a photograph. Ballarin compares the composition to the Votive Nativity with God the Father, on panel, (243 x 165 cm.) in the Pinacoteca Estense, Modena. This is a painting that has been subject to different opinions. According to De' Bianchi's contemporary chronicle, this altarpiece was unveiled in the Duomo of Modena on 10 May 1536 and was 'fatta de mane de Mro ... fratello de Mro Doss eximio depintore', thus suggesting that the chronicler meant to list Battista as the author of the work. However, according to other documentation, this painting was commissioned to Dosso on 20 December 1533, when he was given a first payment of 102 lire, and there were further payments in May and August 1534. While most writers have resolved the apparent conflict in the documentary evidence by assuming that the work was a collaboration between the two brothers, it has been argued that Dosso in receiving payment was merely acting in his capacity as head of the workshop and Felton Gibbons in his monograph of 1968 argues on stylistic grounds that the panel is the sole work of Battista (F. Gibbons, Dosso and Battista Dossi, Court Painters at Ferrara (Princeton, 1968), no. 107, pp. 229-230, ill. fig. 135). The attribution to Battista is a view that has been repeated since by both Alessandro Ballarin and Peter Humfrey, albeit that the former dates this work to circa 1518-19, while the latter suggests a possible date of circa 1530 (P. Humfrey and L. Lucco, Dosso Dossi, Court Painter in Renaissance Ferrara (New York, 1998), no. 51, pp. 253-55, ill, p. 254; A. Ballarin, Dosso Dossi: La Pittura a Ferrara negli anni del ducato di Alfonso I (Cittadella, 1994), fig. CXXIX).
Another comparable work is The Holy Family with the infant Saint John (58.3 x 38.6 cm., sold at Sotheby's, London, 12 June 1969, lot 29 and now in a Private Collection, Switzerland). In certain parts, however, this latter painting is slightly advanced in quality and more developed than some of Battista's early works and Carlo Volpe considered it to be a close collaboration between the two brothers in the early 1520s when their work is hard to separate. However, both Felton Gibbons and A. Mezzetti consider the painting to be by Battista alone, the former perceiving it to be a youthful work by Battista, circa 1519, while Mezzetti dates the picture to the 1540s, during the artist's most intense period of activity (see: Matthiesen Fine Art, From Borso to Cesare d'Este, The School of Ferrara 1450-1628 (London, 1984), no. 42, p. 90, ill. pl. 43).