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Oil painting - The Virgin Holding the Standing Infant
  • The Virgin Holding the Standing Infant
    Dolci, Carlo, born 1616 - died 1687
  • Enlarge image

The Virgin Holding the Standing Infant

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Date:

    19th century (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Dolci, Carlo, born 1616 - died 1687 (After)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oil on canvas

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Rev. Chauncey Hare Townshend

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Carlo Dolci (1616-1687) was born in Florence and entered the studio of Jacopo Vignali (1592-1664) in 1625 and probably also studied Netherlandish painting. He developed an extreme attention to details and specialised in the production of highly refined and intensely religious pictures. In 1648 he became a member of the Accademia del Disegno and received many commissions. Duke Cosimo III de Medici patronized him throughout his career. He had a large studio and taught his daughter, Agnese, who was also a painter. After the arrival of Luca Giordano in Florence in 1682, whose style was entirely opposed to that of Dolci, Dolci's reputation declined and his psychological balance deteriorated while he was already suffering from depression. Dolci's works were highly praised by the English aristocracy as early as the 17th century but during the 19th century English writers such as John Ruskin attacked his reputation that remained low until the 1960s.

This painting is a 19th-century copy of a composition by Carlo Dolci, of which three versions are known. It shows the Infant Christ standing on a parapet in front of the Virgin, a golden glow around his head simulating the traditional halo that the Virgin however bears. This picture is a good example of Carlo Dolci's graceful interpretation of the traditional representation of the Virgin and Child infused with a sense of great spirituality enhanced by the softness of the modelling and the painstaking execution of whole scene that characterised much of his art.

Physical description

In an octagonal format and set against a neutral dark background the Virgin and the Child are depicted side by side, the Child standing on a parapet in front of her, a golden glow around his head. The Virgin shown in profile is holding the Child by the waist and is looking down.


19th century (painted)


Dolci, Carlo, born 1616 - died 1687 (After)

Materials and Techniques

Oil on canvas


Height: 99 cm estimate, Width: 79.4 cm estimate, :

Object history note

Bequeathed by Rev. Chauncy Hare Townshend, 1868
Ref : Parkinson, Ronald, Catalogue of British Oil Paintings 1820-1860. Victoria & Albert Museum, HMSO, London, 1990. p.xix.

'Chauncy Hare Townshend (1798-1868) was born into a wealthy family, only son of Henry Hare Townsend of Busbridge Hall, Godalming, Surrey. Educated at Eton and Trinity Hall, Cambridge (BA 1821). Succeeded to the family estates 1827, when he added 'h' to the Townsend name. He had taken holy orders, but while he always referred to himself as 'Rev.' on the title pages of his books, he never practised his vocation... . Very much a dilettante in the eighteenth-century sense, he moved in the highest social and literary circles; a great friend of Charles Dickens (he was the dedicatee of Great Expectations) with whom he shared a fascination of mesmerism... Bulwer Lytton described his life's 'Beau-deal of happiness' as 'elegant rest, travel, lots of money - and he is always ill and melancholy'. Of the many watercolours and British and continental oil paintings he bequeathed to the V&A, the majority are landscapes. He is the first identifiable British collector of early photographs apart from the Prince Consort, particularly landscape photography, and also collected gems and geological specimens.'

Historical significance: The present painting is a copy of a famous composition by Carlo Dolci, of which three versions are known: the original version is dated ca. 1630. Painted on a rectangular format whereas the other two are octagonal, the work is housed in the Galleria Borghese, Rome. The other two versions were probably executed in the mid-late 1530s and are respectively preserved in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna and in the Palazzo Pitti, Florence. Of these, 1358-1869 is most closely related to the Vienna version. Another version, which differs in being circular, ascribed to Agnese Dolci, was in the Tatton sale, Christie's, 14 Dec. 1928, lot 126. A technical and stylistic examination of the present painting indicates that it was probably copied during the 19th century.
The subject matter is gracefully executed in a delicate almost pastel palette recalling the softness of Correggio while Caravaggesque chiaroscuro enhanced by the dark neutral background relates to the art of Dolci's master, Jacopo Vignali.
The Infant Christ is shown standing on a parapet in front of the Virgin, a golden glow around his head instead of a proper halo, while she is looking down in the act of humility. He is attempting to make his first steps and appears already in the gesture of the Redeemer, his right hand pointing up and his gaze facing the beholder. This painting is a good example of Dolci's intense religious devotion which he translated here through the delicate balance between the child's fragility and his potential strength as the son of God. Dolci was famous for his production of intensely charged religious images enable to emotionally carry away the spectator. This picture was probably intended for private devotion conducted in a private chapel, monastic cell, or simply in a secluded part of the home.

Historical context note

Objects and images were used for protection, intercession and as votive offerings since Antiquity. Amulets, rings and talismans were common throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and often had pagan and erotic imagery. Popular images were also produced expressly for the purpose of intercession, protection and instruction. In particular the Virgin, Christ and the saints were depicted, for they were considered to be advocates before God and agents of protection against evil. Christians in the Middle Ages and Renaissance periods expressed and strengthened their faith through public rituals, such as celebration of the Eucharist, and personal devotions conducted in a private chapel, monastic cell, or simply in a secluded part of their home. In Western Europe, a form of spirituality that emphasized the emotional involvement of the faithful emerged by 1300. Believers were encouraged to contemplate events from the life of Christ, the Virgin, or the saints, as if they were present. Images of the Virgin and Child were among the most popular images for private devotion and these were primarily small religious paintings suitable as a focus for private worship, as opposed to larger altarpieces intended for public display. Such images frequently emphasized the tender relationship between the mother and her child.

Descriptive line

Oil painting, 'The Virgin Holding the Standing Infant', after Carlo Dolci, 19th century

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Kauffmann, C.M., Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, I. Before 1800, London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973, p. 86, cat. no. 86
Waagen, Supplement, 1857, p. 181.
Baldassari, Francesca, Carlo Dolci, Turin, 1995, pp. 45-47, cat. 15-19.


Oil paint; Canvas


Oil painting


Paintings; Christianity


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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