With thanks to Dr. Francis DeStefano
for pointing out this one.
There was in the collection of Lord
Shrewsbury, at Alton Towers, a Riposo attributed to Giorgione, remarkable
equally for the beauty and the singularity of the treatment. The Holy
Family are seated in the midst of a wild but rich landscape, quite in the
Venetian style ; Joseph is asleep; the two children are playing with a
lamb. The Virgin, seated, holds a book, and turns round, with an
expression of surprise and alarm, to a female figure who stands on the
right. This woman has a dark physiognomy, ample flowing drapery of red and
white, a white turban twisted round her head, and stretches out her hand
with the air of a sibyl. The explanation of this striking group I found in
an old ballad-legend. . . . .The religious ballad I allude to must
have been popular in the sixteenth century; it exists in the Provenšal
dialect, in German, and in Italian ; and, like the wild ballad of St. John
Chrysostom, it probably came in some form or other from the East. The
theme is, in all these versions, substantially the same. The Virgin, on
her arrival in Egypt, is encountered by a gypsy (Zingara or Zingarella)
who crosses the Child's palm after the gypsy manner, and foretells all the wonderful and terrible things which, as the Redeemer of
mankind, he was destined to perform and endure on earth.
An interesting sideline on this is that the word 'Gypsy' is of course derived from 'Egyptian', and tradition has it that Gypsy people are therefore cursed for their unwillingness to provide shelter for the Holy Family on their flight. As with other persecuted minorities, this and other legends grew and grew - they were descended from Cain, they made the nails that crucified Christ, and so on.
Just a thought then - could the ballad referred to by Anna Jameson and Francesca Alexander have a Romany origin, in an attempt to set the matter straight? Of course, the 'gypsy' appellation was not used in Italy, but it's not impossible that these unpleasant associations were nevertheless attached to that particular group of people.
You can find more on it here:
And Dr DeStefano's thoughts on it here: