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Title The Christ Child Learning to Walk
Alternative Title The Presentation in the Temple
Collection Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery
Artist Attributed to Dossi, Dosso (Italian painter, ca. 1486-1542)
Previously attributed to Dossi, Battista (Italian painter, ca.1490-1548, active in Ferrara)
Previously attributed to Filippi, Sebastiano (Italian painter, ca. 1532-1602)
Previously attributed to Italian (Roman) School
Date Earliest possibly about 1509
Date Latest possibly about 1525

The Virgin Mary sits on a raised central dais flanked by columns. Behind is a niche. She wears a pink tunic and a blue cloak around her knees and stretches both arms out towards the Christ Child on the left. He is being helped to mount the steps of the dais by a woman in red. A white-bearded Joseph leaning on a staff watches from the right. To Mary's right, a haloed female figure points towards a flight of stairs and an open door at the far right of the composition.

The theme of the Christ Child learning to walk is very rare in art. However, when it does appear the subject is normally made more explicit by the presence of a walking frame. Also unusual is the Nottingham representation in the Temple setting. A series of paintings by the seventeenth-century artist Francisco Providone purport to illustrate the life of the Holy Family when they were guests of Prince Alsamander Porlac of Egypt, as told in the Arabic Gospel of the Infancy. They include one canvas of the Family in a luxurious architectural setting encouraging the child to walk. The same location may be implied in the Nottingham picture.

Current Accession Number 1910-65
Subject religion (Christ Child learning to walk); figure
Measurements 43.9 x 41.9 cm cm (estimate)
Material oil on panel
Acquisition Details Given by Sir Kenneth Muir Mackenzie 1910.
Provenance Collection of William Graham M.P. (1817-1885); by marriage to Kenneth Augustus Muir Mackenzie from 1874; on loan to Nottingham Castle Museum (then Midland Counties Art Museum) from 1879.
Principal Exhibitions Jubilee Exhibition 1878-1928, City of Nottingham Art Gallery, 1928, cat. no. 56, as The Presentation in the Temple, by Roman School; From Borso to Cesare d'Este: The School of Ferrara 1450-1628, Matthiesen Gallery, London, 1984, cat. no. 35, p. 86.
Publications Wallis, G. H., Illustrated Catalogue of the Permanent Collection, City of Nottingham Museum and Art Gallery, Nottingham Castle, 1913, 2nd edn, p. 156, as Presentation in the Temple, by Italian Roman School, sixteenth century; Garnett, Oliver, 'A Dosso Discovery in Nottingham', Burlington Magazine, vol. 126, no. 976, July 1984, pp. 429-31, illustrated; Ballarin, Alessandro, Dosso Dossi: La Pittura A Ferrara Negli Anni Del Ducato Di Alfonso I, 2 vols, University of Padova, 1994-95, no. 387, p. 318, as Battista Dossi, illustrated, vol. 2, no. 547.

Inscriptions on the back: 1. a modern yellow printed label: 'This painting is on loan from Nottingham Castle Museum' (presumably refers to the exhibition at the Matthiesen Gallery, London, 1984); 2. label with blue border: '328'; 3. label: 10-65/ Room D.47 (probably relates to a previous location of the painting at Nottingham Castle Museum, where the galleries are labelled A-F); 4. label (handwritten): 'W. Graham Esq - 31 -'; 5. label with red border and docked corners: '34850'; 6. in black paint: 'CM'; in black paint: '1 or l: 883M' (NB. Cassidy has transcribed this mark as: 383M' ); 8. In very faint white chalk: '102' (;).

Between 1984 and 1985, a research assistant, Dr Brendan Cassidy, was employed by Nottingham Castle Museum to research and write a catalogue of the foreign oil paintings in their collection. The catalogue never materialised, but drafts and notes relating to Cassidy's research can be found in the Artist Files and in the archive at the museum. All references to Cassidy relate to these documents.

The attribution to Dosso Dossi was first suggested by Philip Pouncey in 1983, who considered it to be from the very early part of the artist's career. This attribution was supported around the same time by other scholars including Felton Gibbons and Oliver Garnett. Alessandro Ballarin, in his catalogue raisonné of Dosso Dossi (Ballarin, 1994-95), has attributed the painting to Battista Dossi. In 1997, an attribution of Sebastiano Fillippi was suggested by May Morris of the Getty Research Institute. The painting has been linked to a drawing of a similar subject in the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, that is inscribed 'del Dosso' and catalogued as Studio of Dosso Dossi. Scholars are undecided as to whether this drawing is conclusively by Dosso Dossi (there is not a single drawing that is universally accepted as from his hand) and it is unclear if the drawing is related to this painting as either a preparatory study or a free copy after it. The dating of this painting is based on several approximations given by scholars which include; 'c.1517' (Ballarin, as Battista); 'soon after 1510' (Garnett, as Dosso); 'c.1509 to c. 1525' (Cassidy, as Dosso).

It has been suggested by Elizabeth H. Beatson, Princeton University (letter dated 8 November 1984 to Cassidy) that the female figure with the halo to the right of the Virgin Mary could be her mother, Anna, and that the gesture towards the flight of steps and open doorway off to the right could prophesy the trials that Christ must face in the future ('might she be suggesting that though the Child can mount a single step now, much greater difficulties await Him in the future;').

Baron Kenneth Augustus Muir-Mackenzie (P.C., G.C.B., K.C.B., KC, C.B., J.P.) was born on 29 June 1845, the fourth son of Sir John William Pitt Muir-Mackenzie, second baron of Delvine, Perthshire, and Sophia Matilda, fifth daughter of James Raymond Johnstone of Alva, County Clackmannan.

He was educated at Charterhouse and Balliol College, Oxford. In 1874 he married Amy Graham, one of the daughters of William Graham, M.P. for Glasgow. They had four children, a son William Montague, who died in 1900, and three daughters. He was made a Barrister at Lincoln's Inn in 1878 and appointed Permanent Principal Secretary to the Lord Chancellor in 1880. In 1884 he was created Clerk of the Crown in Chancery and in 1892, Companion of the Order of Bath. He was knighted in 1898 and created Baron Muir Mackenzie on his retirement from office in 1915. He died in London on 22 May 1930.

Although Kenneth Muir Mackenzie did not have any local connection with Nottingham, he loaned 103 paintings to the art gallery soon after it opened in 1878. The first of these arrived on 5 March 1879 from Graham House, Cathedral Street, Glasgow. This was the address of Mackenzie's father-in-law, William Graham M.P., from whose art collection he inherited most of the paintings he later gave to Nottingham Castle Museum. In 1886 a number of the loaned paintings were recalled for the sale of William Graham's collection at Christie's in March and April of that year. The Christ Child Learning to Walk was given to Nottingham Castle Museum on 10 May 1910.

References: Who Was Who, vol. 3, 1929-40, London, 1947, p. 979; Donor File 1910-52-65, Nottingham Castle Museum archive Loan Ledger A (Day Book A), Nottingham Castle Museum archive; www.naa.gov.au/; www.nga.gov/

Rights Owner © Nottingham City Museums and Galleries: Nottingham Castle
Author Dr Rebecca Virag



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