Vasari, our 16th century proto-Art Historian, writes that Pinturicchio:
“…painted, above the door to the private rooms, Ms.Giulia Farnese in the likeness of Our Lady Mary; and within the same painting the figure of Pope Alexander prone in adoration.”
So far so good… weren’t it for the fact that the private rooms in question were Pope Alexander’s Vatican sleeping quarters, and that Ms.Farnese was this infamous Borgia pope’s mistress, as well as one of his daughter’s best friends.
Not surprisingly, future popes would have all signs of this most “Renaissance” of princes (but least pious of spiritual leaders) removed. And in case you were wondering, yes. Macchiavelli based much of his political treatise The Prince on Pope Alexander and his equally charismatic and dictatorial son Cesare Borgia.
Fortunately however the painting was copied (1st photo) in the 17th century before being cut into smaller pieces and torn out of the niche. Thanks to this copy we are close to certain that the recently found fragment of a Renaissance masterpiece is probably one of the original pieces of Pinturicchio’s (scandalous) adoration scene.
The fragment is called “Il Bambin Gesú delle Mani” due to the number of hands in the small piece; two are obviously Mary’s, two belong to the Christ Child, and the fifth, a man’s hand…
Tenderly cradling His tiny foot? Or his son’s? We’ll leave that to better historians than us to answer, and appreciate instead how incredibly touching the painting is no matter what.