The girl’s gaze and the subdued tones of the painting won us over even before we turned it around to find the handwritten note at its back.
It hasn’t been easy to decipher the handwriting of the message, nevertheless with the help of two friends English native speakers (thank you once again Mike and Ann!), we’ve been able to understand it. The information provided, rich in names and details, was definitely precious.
The miniature on ivory is a small version copy of a work by ‘Schidone’, aka Bartolomeo Schedoni (Modena 1578 – Parma 1615), a restless artist – we know much about his life thanks to many procedural documents and pleadings against him – whose work was influenced by Carracci’s paintings.
The scene is an oil on board entitled ‘Fanciulla con la tavola dell’alfabeto’ or ‘Il “Padrenostro”’, cm 84,5 x 35,5, which whereabouts is unknown.
In 1607 Father Bernardino da Marradi, a Friar Minor Capuchin of S. Francesco a Fontevivo dictated the new reformed chapters of the local Compagnia delle Putte della Dottrina Cristiana (trad. Company of the Cristian Doctrine’s Girls) which aim was to educate, teach and annually provide for the dowry of twelve honest and marriageable girls, whose names were drawn among the most deserving and in need.
The Capuchins and Ranuccio Farnese – earl of Parma – decided to take full advantage of the favor of the people, who heartily endorsed this charitable initiative: it was then agreed to make the celebrations official and starting from February 2nd 1609, the day of the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary, on that same day for the forthcoming years, the winners of the “charity lottery” would have taken part – wearing the colors of Mary – to a solemn procession leading to the Capuchin churches of Parma, Piacenza e Fontevivo. Ranuccio wanted to commemorate this event entrusting Schedoni with the execution of the painting known as the “Pater Noster”: the scene was delivered on April 25th 1609 with other works by the artist.
The scene depicts “una putina con una tolla in mano” (trad. a young girl holding in her hands a board) on which we read half part of the alphabet letters, the writing “Oratio domenicale” (trad. Sunday prayer) and, few verses of the “Pater Noster”: it was a sort of Summary given to young girls to enable them studying the first rudiments of writing, necessary to learn reading and praying. The young girl kneeling is wearing, with reference to the Immaculate Virgin dress, white and blue clothes; she has just put away her sewing basket and invites to silence the young tempter behind her back.
We only have a black and white picture of the original painting; as a matter of fact nobody knows where it might be located nowadays. According to the notes on the back of the miniature, a copy of the painting was property of the Earl of Gainsborough, and it burnt in the terrible fire at Exton Park in 1810. The last entry of a painting with the same subject – the original maybe? – was noted in London, from the Halborough collection.
Few words on our miniature: the image is certainly embellished by the irregularity of the board which curved sides clearly mark the elephant tusk. According to the notes, transcribed on parchement paper firmly glued to ivory, the miniature in 1798 was owned by Mary Henrietta Elizabeth Finch-Hatton (1753 – 1822), sister (?) of Earl George Finch IX of Winchilsea (1747 – 1823).
Furthermore the preposition ‘by’ written before Henrietta’s name led us also to suppose that the miniature might have been paint by Henrietta herself in that year.
Should you want to personally admire the miniature, please come visit us, we will be glad to show it to you!
Bibliography: “Bartolomeo Schedoni 1578 – 1615” by Emilio Negro and Nicosetta Roio, Artioli Editore, 2000, pagg. 84 – 85