Artist unknown

Historically attributed: After Esteban Murillo (Spanish, 1618-1682)

After Francesco Vanni  (Italian, 1564-1610)

Late 18th to early 19th century, Italian       

Oil on canvas 

H. 45”; w. 35”

Exhibitions:  Nashville Centennial Exposition, 1880

Provence:  Purchased at the 1888 estate sale by J. Louis Valentino; to his daughter Anne Christina Valentino; to Belmont Mansion Association by purchase.

83.09 Belmont Mansion Association purchase

The Holy Family (Madonna of the Cherries, Madonna della Pappa)

  • This painting, often referred to as The Holy Family is listed an 1881 Louisville Courier Journal article as hanging in the Tete-a-tete Room at Belmont Mansion. Additionally, the painting was included in Adelicia’s will and promised to her daughter, Pauline. All things did not go according to plan and the painting was sold in the 1888 Belmont estate sale. The buyer, Lewis Vanlantanio paid $23 for the work, which at the time was believed to be the work of Esteban Murillo. The painting descended to Vanlantanio’s daughter and then purchased by Belmont Mansion Association in 1982.


    After re-acquiring the painting in 1983, Belmont Mansion Association established that the painting was in fact, not in the style of Murillo, nor was it after the artists who painted two other The Holy Family images at Belmont. After much research, it has been determined that this painting was copied after the ca. 1599 painting by Siena artist Francesco Vanni, which is now housed in the Yale University Art Gallery [1]. Yale acquired the painting in 2003 and it is only one of two original paintings by this artist located in the Western Hemisphere.


    Most of Vanni’s wprk was commissioned for altar pieces in Italian churches and the works remain in their original locations. The painting in the Yale collection is entitled: Rest on the Flight into Egyp, but is more affectionately called: Madonna della Pappa. “Pappa” is moistened bread that is seen being fed to the Christ Child in this painting. Modern scholarship believes that the Vanni original was purchased from Vanni by Cardinal Paolo Emilio Sfondrato and then take to Rome. While in Rome, the painting was copied by many artists. By 1786, the painting is out of the Roman art center and nearly forgotten. The Belmont copy could date as early as the end of the 18th century, making the painting around fifty years old when the Acklen Collection was being assembled.

    It is unknown if the painting was purchased on Adelicia’s Grand Tour in 1865-1866 or had been purchased earlier from art dealers in New York or New Orleans.  Most likely, the Belmont painting would have been made for the tourist market from one of the copies in Rome.  The Belmont painting is within an inch of being the same size as the original painting.  By the mid-nineteenth century Francesco Vanni had fallen into obscurity [2]. The attribution to a more well-known “old master” such as Murillo would have been a better sell.  



    [1] We are indebted to James Hoobler, Curator of Art and Architecture at the Tennessee State Museum for this discovery.  In 1983, he was on the Belmont Mansion Association board and picked up the Belmont painting from Miss Valantaino.

    [2] He does not appear in Painters Sculptors Architects and Engravers Painters Sculptors Architects and Engravers by Clara Erskine Clement published in 1875 or Samson’s Art Criticism by G. W. Samson in 1868.  Vanni did not make the list of important Siena painters in the 1867 addition of Baedeker’s Handbook for Travelers.  It appears that his Holy Family painting is reference as being at Collegiate Church of St. Quirico, 22.  


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Belmont Blvd & Acklen Avenue 

Nashville, TN 37212


1900 Belmont Blvd

Nashville, TN 37212


Photos by Ed Houk

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