Rosso Fiorentino: Unmerry Prankster

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John Haber muses on the enduring "strangeness" of Rosso Fiorentino's Holy Family with the Young Saint John the Baptist on view in the exhibition Fantasy and Invention: Rosso Fiorentino and Sixteenth-Century Florentine Drawing at The Morgan Library, New York, through February 3, 2013.

Haber writes: "On loan from the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, the Holy Family has not lost its strangeness. That may sound impossible after so many years. Now that anything goes, plenty of people have needed Robert Hughes to reawaken and then assuage 'the shock of the new' even for modern art, much less Renaissance Italy… Rosso starts with a tight-knit family right out of the High Renaissance, but after that, all bets are off. Only Jesus has anything to stand on, a green cushion way too plush for a manger, while John and Joseph without their lower bodies barely fit into the picture. An insensitive later owner—or a prankster like Rosso—might almost have cropped a much larger composition, but no, this is it. The background is dark, confused, and indefinite, and the foreground is insanely crowded. Jesus clings to Mary for comfort, while Joseph presses up against her in worship and fear. Revision of the past has slipped into subversion."

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