The work Madonna con il bambino is clearly legible in its formal values and with the original polychromy still visible on the faces. The Child Jesus, exceptionally preserved, holds a pommel in his left hand, the fruit of the Tree of Good and Evil, a symbol of the Redemption from Original Sin. The Virgin sits on a throne with her hips embellished with Renaissance-style candelabra, which share the antique taste of the local red stone pilasters that decorate the portals and altar displays of Veronese churches. This apparently marginal detail is actually very significant, because it denounces Antonio Golfino’s figurative updating, made even more evident by the monumentality and importance conferred on the entire wooden group.
The artist, after a probable apprenticeship in his father's workshop of which no evidence remains, must have been attracted by the ways of Domenico Morone and Liberale, but above all by the example of the triptych by Andrea Mantegna, to which his father Bartolomeo had never paid attention, as evidenced by the polyptych of Pressana signed and dated 1470, now preserved in the Gallerie dell'Accademia in Venice. In addition to the grandeur and plasticism of the Mantegnesque figures, Antonio tried to emulate the great Paduan artist by replicating the crushed and dense gore pattern of the Madonna's robe starting from the works after 1480.
The attribution of the Madonna and Child to Antonio Giolfino is made clear by the famous Morellian motif that characterizes many of his sculptures, the tucking of the cloak on both shoulders, a real guiding element for the reconstruction of his catalog. This solution is in fact encountered in his work Madonna col Bambino in the parish church of San Bartolomeo in Gerola and in the second Madonna col Bambino in the church of Riva del Garda.
The discovery of the documentation of this commission in 1991 by Frumenzio Ghetta, as well as the consequent identification in that same year by Giuliana Ericani with Antonio Giolfino of the "magister Antonius sculptor fuit quondam magistri Bartholomei de Clavica Veronae" paved the way for a series of clarifications and additions to his catalog, which now has twenty-seven works. These are mostly Madonne con il Bambino, with the exception of a Sant’Antonio abate and a San Pietro l’Apostolo in cattedra, some of which were part of larger complexes, like that of the Verona cathedral, now unfortunately lost.
Our sculpture can be considered a "twin" of the most famous work of the Veronese carver's catalog, the Madonna con il Bambino from the parish church of Riva del Garda, not only for the presence of the Virgin's large cloak raised to the height of the shoulders, but also for the elegant punch work with which the “pine cone” motif of the dress was traced.
This decoration technique also appears in the Madonna con il Bambino in the parish church of Santi Pietro e Paolo di Brentonico, datable to the same year, and it is probable that it is also hidden under the repaintings of other sculptures by Antonio.
The gradual focus on the artist’s catalog has allowed us to grasp the centrality of his role not only within the city of Verona, but throughout the Veronese countryside. In fact many works attributed to him are located in Bovolone, Isola della Scala, Fagnano of Trevenzuolo and Badia Polesine, on the border with the province of Rovigo. But his fame also extended to the neighboring territories, from north to south, from east to west, in the churches of Gerola and Bema in Valtellina, of Avio, Brentonico and Rovereto in southern Trentino, of Bedizzole, Calvisano and Castel Goffredo in the border area between the lowlands of Brescia and Mantua, of Arzignano, Monteforte d’Alpone between the Veronese and Vicenza areas, and of Bogliaco, Magugnano di Brenzone and Manerba del Garda in the Benaco area.
Antonio Giolfino Biography
Antonio Giolfino (1437 ca. - ante 1515 [?]) is the son of the carver Bartolomeo and his first wife Agnese Badile. He was born in Verona in about 1437, as can be seen from the 1501 register of the district of Santa Cecilia, where he is mentioned as sixty-four years old. He was the son of Bartolomeo (c. 1400-1486), the most accredited carver in Verona in the early fifteenth century, and grandson of the late Gothic painter Giovanni Badile (c. 1379 - 1448/1451). At that time Antonio lived in his father's house in the district of Falsorgo, a beautiful building still existing a few steps from Porta Borsari, celebrated by the sources for the beautiful facade decorated with late fifteenth-century frescoes and skulls traditionally attributed to Andrea Mantegna. Grandfather Antonio, a carver of Piacenza origins, had inherited it together with his surname from Guglielmo Giolfino, grandson of the famous judge and jurist Agostino, remembered by Scipione Maffei in Verona Illustrata.
The signing of the contract for an ancon of the church of San Bartolomeo in Gerola in Valtellina documents the oldest existing work by Antonio, of which only the central element with the Madonna con il Bambino is preserved, still in situ. His second and last certain work still in existence was requested of him by the confraternity of Santa Maria della Pieve in Riva del Garda, with which he undertook to create a gilded Madonna con il Bambino by Holy Week of 1488.
However, most of his works can be traced back to local commissions: an altarpiece destined for the church of San Giovanni della Cucca (now Veronella), which in May 1488 was not yet finished, due to his brother who was late in completing painting and gilding; a San Sebastiano destined for the chapel of San Biagio in the church of Santi Nazaro e Celso, which was paid to him in 1490; both works are lost.
The following year he received his most prestigious commission, namely the carved, painted and gilded wooden ancona, commissioned by the Confraternity of the Madonna for the high altar of the cathedral of Verona, which had to be delivered by 7 September 1489. Also in this case of a lost work, the copy of the contract that has reached us allows us to get a precise idea of its appearance.
Antonio's consecration came in the early nineties, when he was chosen by the city council on 9 October 1492, and then on 26 February 1493 together with Liberale da Verona and Domenico Morone to judge the statues made by Alberto da Milano for the Loggia del Consiglio .
His biographical story certainly ended after 12 October 1511, the day of the commission by the notary Nicolò Novarini of an ancon intended to adorn the altar of Santa Placidia in the church of Santo Stefano. His death probably took place at an unspecified moment between 1511 and 1515, when the appraisal sample from the district of Santa Cecilia records a "Franciscus quondam Anto nii intaliator", probably identifiable as Francesco Giolfino. Antonio had certainly already died on July 8, 1519, when he was mentioned as a "quondam" in his son's will