This painting is an accomplished portrayal of Michelangelo’s sculpture The Virgin and Child with the Infant Saint John, also known as the Taddei Tondo.
Dating from the 1920s, the painting is a fine example of trompe l’oeil, or trick of the eye. The artist has used realistic imagery to create an optical illusion of depth. The image is a faithful depiction of Michelangelo’s marble sculpture, which today can be found in the Royal Academy galleries. Sadly we do not know the identity of the artist, but the ESK blind stamp indicates that this is a student work exhibited at the South Kensington Museum as part of an examination. Amongst the tasks set for the students in the Art Schools was an exercise in faithfully copying the work of a well-known artist.
At the left side of the painting stands the infant figure of St. John the Baptist, with his attribute of a baptismal bowl. He presents what appears to be a goldfinch (representing the Passion) to the infant Christ, who momentarily turns away, towards his mother, symbolically anticipating his future destiny.
Michelangelo is believed to have executed his sculpture in 1504/5, whilst he was working in Florence. It is one of several unfinished sculptural works by Michelangelo, probably because he was over-committed to too many other projects. Vasari suggested that he did not complete certain compositions out of creative frustration, an idea which has given rise to the notion of the artist as troubled genius.