Frieze Masters: Virgin. Muse. Heroine.London
Fernando Yáñez de la Almedina
The Holy Family, c. 1523
ProvenancePrivate Collection, France.
Fernando Yáñez is a key figure in the introduction of the Italian High Renaissance style into Spain. Born in Almedina around 1475, the young Yáñez travelled to Italy in the first years of the sixteenth century. He visited Florence, where he studied the works of Raphael, Perugino and Leonardo, and perhaps also spent time in northern Italy. A document of 1505 lists among Leonardo’s assistants for the mural depicting the Battle of Anghiari in Palazzo Vecchio in Florence one “Ferrando Spagnolo”, usually identified as Yáñez rather than his compatriot Fernando Llanos, with whom he often collaborated upon his return to Spain. The earliest secure documentation for Yáñez is a record of September 1506, and thus after his Italian sojourn, and this places him in Valencia and working together with Llanos on an altarpiece depicting Saints Cosmas and Damian in the city’s cathedral (the work was lost during the Spanish Civil War in 1936). The following year the two artists executed a second altarpiece with the stories of the life of the Virgin for the high altar of the same church (fig. 2). Ground-breaking in its time, the altarpiece attests to the two artists’ introduction of a new Leonardesque idiom into Spanish art.
In the years that followed, Yáñez worked in Barcelona, Murcia, and Cuenca before returning to Valencia, where he died in 1536. In their works, from large altarpieces to more intimately scaled pieces made for use in private devotional practices, Yáñez and Llanos were able to present an alternative to the Flemish models that had dominated Valencian art since Jan van Eyck’s stay in the city in 1428, introducing Leonardo’s highly original compositions as well as his pioneering sfumato technique into the lexicon of Spanish painting.
The present work offers a clear homage to Leonardo, and is clearly modelled on the famous Madonna of the Yarnwinder. That painting is today known in two versions, the one most accredited by scholars being the Buccleuch Madonna (fig. 1), on permanent loan to the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, from the collection of the Duke of Buccleuch. The Madonna of the Yarnwinder was commissioned from Leonardo in 1499 by Florimond Robertet, the secretary of King Louis XII of France, around the time that the French conquered the Duchy of Milan. Leonardo was still working on the painting in Florence in 1501, as noted in a letter from Fra Pietro da Novellara, the head of the Carmelites in Florence, to Isabella d’Este, and the work was probably not delivered to Robertet until 1507. It seems highly likely that Yáñez had direct access to Leonardo’s painting while he was in Florence, and that he thus had ample opportunity to study and copy the composition. Indeed, Yáñez returned to this model many times over the course of his career, quoting it in a number of different works, including the high altarpiece for Valencia cathedral, mentioned above, paintings in the collections of the National Gallery of Scotland and the National Gallery of Art, Washington (fig. 3), and in the present work and a related version recently on the art market (Christie’s, New York, 30 January 2014, lot 225, fig. 4). In these last two paintings, Yáñez in fact combined two different Leonardesque prototypes—while the Madonna of the Yarnwinder offered a model for the Virgin and the Child, Leonardo’s physiognomic studies offered inspiration for the expressive and naturalistic head of the elderly Saint Joseph. A similarly craggy visage also appears in the Adoration of the Kings painted by Yáñez for the cathedral of Cuenca (fig. 5). An inscription on the back of the painting formerly at Christie’s dates that work to 1523, and a similar date might also be suitable also for the present painting, to which the artist added two figures of shepherds at the left-hand side.
Paintings by Yáñez attest to the deep impact that Leonardo’s revolutionary art upon every significant European school of painting, and indeed well beyond the Milan, Florence, and the court of France, where he lived and travelled in his lifetime. Furthermore, as noted by Jonathan Brown (Painting in Spain: 1500-1700, New Haven, 1998, pp. 10–11), Yáñez's fidelity to Leonardo's prototypes, so evident in the present painting, made him, along with Llanos, the first non-Italian artist to paint in the High Renaissance style outside of Italy, even before the French followers of Leonardo.
The attribution of the present painting has been confirmed by Professor José Gomez Frechina on 19 January 2019, whose expertise is available for consultation in addition to this sheet.
Please note that the price and availability of the above work are subject to change without prior notice.