Madonna con il Bambino e sei santi
Tempera on panel
Mary, thoughtful, holds baby Jesus in her lap, robust and upright like a little Hercules. Below, next to them, John the Baptist, barely older than Jesus, looks enchanted at his cousin, letting his baby teeth leak out. Around, like an architecture of bodies, are Saint Catherine of Alexandria and four other unidentified saints. The history of this panel seems to begin in June 1480: Bona di Savoia, widow of the Duke of Milan Galeazzo Maria Sforza since 1476, turns to Federico Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantua, in the hope that Mantegna, whose fame is at that moment without equal, may translate certain drawings into works of art that you undertake to send them. Gonzaga denies diplomacy, but declares he is ready to give her another table, most likely this one. The Duchess would then take her with her, once back to Savoy land, in Fossano. A testimony to the presence of this painting in Piedmont as early as the first decade of the 16th century is given by an altarpiece by an unknown Franco-Piedmontese artist, now preserved in Vienna, which copies the composition, expanding it.