Virgin with Child and Saints Jerome and Francis (Madonna of Loreto) – National Gallery – London
The painting, dating back to about 1507, was commissioned to commemorate a carpenter from Perugia, Giovanni di Matteo di Giorgio Schiavone, to adorn the family chapel in the church of Santa Maria dei Servi: in the contract it is explicitly stated that the work should have represented a glorious Virgin like the Madonna of Loreto (referring to the wooden statue still preserved in the Sanctuary of the city in Marche region, depicting the Madonna and Child, both crowned), from which the altarpiece takes its name, along with Saint Jerome and Saint Francis. The work was also probably completed by a predella, now preserved at the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria.
Perugino respected the commission, depicting the group within a rectangular parapet, beyond which a hilly landscape fades into the horizon. In the center of the scene, the Madonna, standing on a pedestal, the right leg bearing while the left is softly flexed, holds the Child, gently lying on his mother’s arms. Maria’s red robe, richly decorated on the edges with some gold embroidery, is partially covered by a dark green cape, which, thanks to the skillful hand of Perugino, perfectly returns the effect of velvet. A light veil is woven between the hair of the Virgin also descending on her shoulders: the Child Jesus grabs one end with his small right hand, in a playful childish gesture.
On the left, Saint Jerome, represented as an old man with a long white beard and dressed in the red cardinal’s habit, turns to Our Lady while holding a book; the same gesture is made by Saint Francis, on the other side: the Saint wears the Franciscan robe and looks towards an indefinite point, outside the pictorial space.
Above the central composition two angels floating in the air are about to crown the Virgin: the two figures are specular with each other, and Perugino probably painted them by reversing the same cardboard, a typical custom especially in his mature production; also the physiognomy of San Girolamo recalls the depiction of the same saint in the fresco of the Chapel of San Severo in Perugia.
The work, which has been part of the collection of the National Gallery in London since 1879, is currently on loan to the Victoria and Albert Museum.