Virgin and Child Enthroned with the Doctors of the Church and the family of Ludovico il Moro (“Sforza Altarpiece”), 1494 - 1495
Master of the Pala Sforzesca - Tempera and oil on panel - cm 230 × 165
The work depicts the family of Ludovico il Moro kneeling before the Virgin and Sts. Ambrose, Gregory the Great, Augustine and Jerome. It was commissioned for the Milanese church of Sant’Ambrogio ad Nemus and, on the basis of the documents in the archives, was executed over the course of 1494. The representation combines an expression of the client’s religious piety with a celebration of his power, as it alludes to an attitude of divine benevolence toward him and the future of his dynasty, guaranteed by the birth of an heir. At the time he commissioned the Sforza Altarpiece, Ludovico il Moro was trying to obtain a legitimization of his rule over Milan from Emperor Maximilian of Habsburg, following his usurpation of the legitimate heir Francesco Maria Sforza on the death of Gian Galeazzo (1494). So the work was conceived as an operation of political propaganda, in which Ludovico was presented surrounded by the pomp of his rank, protected by St. Ambrose – who places his hand on his shoulder – and accompanied by his wife Beatrice and his heirs, one of whom is probably a child born out of wedlock. To give pictorial form to this complicated set of messages Ludovico chose an artist whose name is unknown today and has been variously identified with one of the Lombard followers of Leonardo. The result is a sort of compendium of the Milanese culture of the time, chronologically precocious but stylistically unresolved. Despite the discrepancy between the formal quality and the significance of the work, the extraordinary visual impact of the gold, the pearls and the precious fabrics is fascinating.