J. Gage, History and Antiquities of Suffolk (Thingoe Hundred), 1838, p. 307, ("Library, The Virgin and Child and St. John, 3 ft. 6 in. x 3 ft.- Andrea del Sarto");
B. Ford, "The Earl-Bishop: An Eccentric and Capricious Parton of Arts", in Apollo Magazine, June 1974, pp. 426-434, (note "The Finest of the Italian pictures is undoubtedly a Madonna and Child with the Infant St. John by Andrea del Sarto").
Frederick William Hervey, 5th Earl and 1st Marquess of Bristol, by 1838;
Thence by descent at Ickworth House, Suffolk, until 1993.
The second half of the 1520's was a particularly productive time for del Sarto, and despite the political and social upheavals which Florence was experiencing at that time, the artist's inventive genius had remained undimmed, and the demand for his work undiminished. He had completed his monumental Cenacolo for the refectory of San Salvi, Florence (1526/7) and was busy producing panels for the King of France, for the Medici, and other patrons, all at the moment as his biographer Baldinucci noted of "rovine di tutti i borghi della città, monasteri, spedali, e altri edifice vicini a Firenze (F. Baldinucci, Notizie?.1681-1728; ed. F. Ranalli, 1845-7, vol. II, p. 79)." This chaos (and the siege of Florence by Emperor Charles V in particular) would eventually lead to the plague that claimed the artist's life.
It is from this moment that the present Madonna and Child with the Infant Baptist would date. In a letter dated 27th November, 2000, Dr. John Sherman confirmed the autograph status of the present panel and suggested a dating of circa 1526, relating the picture to the Sacrifice of Isaac in the Cleveland Museum of Art. He had apparently seen the painting first hand as early as the late 1960's, just after the publication of his monograph and catalogue raisonné on the artist. It is one of a group of paintings which he intended to publish as a supplement to his earlier work. Other opinions have supported a slightly later dating of composition, and brushy technique of painting has lead some to suggest that it may have remained unfinished. In fact, the composition of the present painting has striking parallels with the Madonna and Child in the Pitti (inv. 476) which has generally been dated to 1528/29. The positioning of the arms and hands of the Virgin as well as the splayed legs of the Bambino closely correspond to the present panel (the position of the heads of the figures and the torso of the Child differ significantly). In fact, this same dynamic pose of the Infant Christ appears to have been a variation on a theme that del Sarto worked through in the second half of the 1520's, starting with the Madonna del Sacco (SS. Annunziata, Florence, dated 1525) through the Pala di Sarzana (Pitti, Florence, dateable to 1528) and further (see Andrea del Sarto: Dipinti e disegni a Firenze, exhibition catalogue, Florence 1986, p. 161).
Despite the fact that the present panel was until the mid-1990's relatively unknown to the larger body of scholars, it has a distinguished provenance. It is first recorded in a list of possessions of Frederick William Hervey, 1st Marquess of Bristol at Ickworth House, Suffolk (see Provenance below) dating to circa 1837 where inscribed in the Marquess' own hand is the following notation: "Library- 4 The Virgin & Child with St. John on her right?fine picture by A. del Sarto." It was to remain in the Library at Ickworth until the death of the 4th Marquess in 1951, when it was moved to the family wing of the house. It may have been one of the pictures collected by the 1st Marquess' father, the somewhat unconventional Frederick Hervey, 4th Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry. The Earl Bishop had amassed a substantial collection of Old Masters and sculptures in Rome where he lived with the idea of sending them to decorate a remodelled Ickworth. His collections, however, were confiscated by the invading French armies, and were dispersed in public auction in Rome in 1804 and by other means. The panel is not mentioned in either that auction listing or in a subsequent group that was bought back in 1819 by his son in France after the Napoleonic war.