The attribution of this small devotional panel was first suggested by David Franklin in 1990, who linked it with a 'Vergine ch'il Giesu ricoupre un velo, ed S. Girolamo ginocchioni e San Giosè da una parte, di mano di Raffaello dal Colle' mentioned in the Ducci family collection in Sansepolcro around 1680 (Cinelli Calvoli, op. cit. and Franklin, op. cit.). Franklin considered the picture to be the only devotional work by Raffaellino recorded in such an early source and dated it as 'a relatively early work' by the master.
Born in Colle, near Sansepolcro (a small medieval city formerly known as Borgo di San Sepolcro), Raffaellino joined Raphael in the Vatican in 1519, one year before the master's death. He subsequently worked as Giulio Romano's chief assistant in the Vatican, mastering the late style of Raphael's workshop, and most probably painted alongside Giovanni Francesco Penni in the Villa Farnesina. By 1527, the year of the Sack of Rome, Raffaellino had returned to Sansepolcro, where he fulfilled important local commissions. In the meantime he started collaborating with Girolamo Genga, Agnolo Bronzino and Dosso Dossi, all working for the Duke of Urbino, Francesco Maria I Della Rovere, in the Villa Imperiale in Pesaro. From the mid-1530s he also started painting with Vasari, first in Florence, then in Naples, Monte Oliveto and Rome. In 1548, he returned to Florence, at Bronzino's request, working on the cartoons for the tapestries in the Palazzo Vecchio. Thus involved in vast and prestigious decorative schemes, Raffaellino was instrumental in spreading Raphael's late style both in Umbria and Marche.
This small panel is an example of the type of paintings he was executing for private devotion, in tune with what was so successfully produced in Raphael's workshop. The composition is in fact a mélange of Raphaelesque ideas from various paintings of different periods: the Christ Child and the robe of the Virgin derive from the celebrated Madonna del Velo (or di Loreto; Chantilly, Musée Condé); the pose of the Virgin is taken from a drawing by Tommaso Vincidor (which in turn is based on a drawing by Raphael with the Adoration of the Christ Child with Pope Julius II, Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, inv. P.II.564) for the lost tapestry of the 'Letto de Paramento' (Paris, Musée du Louvre, inv. 4267; T. Campbell, 'Pope Leo X's Consistorial 'letto de paramento' and the Boughton House Cartoons', The Burlington Magazine, CXXXVIII, 1120, July 1996, pp. 436-45); the lion is lifted from the altarpiece by Giulio Romano in the church of Santa Maria dell'Anima, Rome, of 1523; and finally the figure of Saint Joseph takes inspiration from the Holy Family Canigiani (Munich, Alte Pinakothek).
An excellent sportsman and a dedicated politician, William Henry Grenfell was raised to the peerage as 1st Baron Desborough of Taplow in 1905. Edward VII was a frequent visitor to Taplow Court, in Buckinghamshire, home of the Grenfell family from 1852.
We are grateful to Professor Paul Joannides for his thoughts on this panel, on the basis of photographs; he has suggested that this is a work of the artist's early maturity.