Oil on panel, arched top, 76cm by 55.5cm.
In his very distinctive hand, Brownlow, 9th Earl of Exeter (1725-1793) wrote on the back of the frame: ‘By Leo da Vinci, from the Barberini Palace at Rome.’
The 9th Earl had clearly thought that he was purchasing a painting by Leonardo.
However, van Cleve, a Northern artist, working in Antwerp, was gradually adapting his eclectic Northern style to absorb some of the themes and techniques of Italian art, in particular that of Leonardo.
He had done so with such success, particularly in his use of ‘sfumato’, that this painting was accepted as by the great Italian master.
Antwerp was at the centre of European trade at the time and the wealthy, cosmopolitan merchant class were keen to acquire altarpieces and other religious works, many of which they transported to the other great trading cities of Europe.