Raffaello: the works
Sebastian was a Roman soldier who converted to Christianity and was martyred. He is shown half-length against a landscape background holding an arrow, the instrument of his martyrdom. The little information that is available about this painting says nothing about the client, but the unusual iconography leads scholars to be believe that it was a private commission. The relationship of this early painting to the style of Raphael’s teacher, Pietro Vannucci, Il Perugino, is evident in the figure’s soft, composed classicism, the oval face, the angle of the head and the landscape background. Even the subject is drawn from a small panel painting that Perugino did early in his career.Iconography
The Blessing Christ
In this extremely simple painting characterized by a strong devotional spirit, Christ shows the wounds of the crucifixion as he gives a blessing. This painting is practically a summary of earlier figurative experiences that reveal Peruginesque figures, an attention to atmosphere typical of Leonardo and the monumentality and luministic clarity of Piero della Francesco. In the pose of the Christ, with his head tilted and raised hand some scholars also denote a reference to Michelangelo’s Bacchus that Raphael had seen in Rome in the home of the banker Jacopo Galli.
This painting is known as the Colonna Altarpiece for the noble Roman family that acquired the central panel and the lunette, it was sold to the king of Spain and then was purchased by J.P. Morgan in 1901 who bequeathed it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Today the several parts of the altarpiece are scattered among various museums: the central part, the crowning and a panel of the predella depicting the Prayer in the Garden are in New York. The other sections of the predella are in the College Gallery in Dulwich, Boston and the National Gallery in London. The altarpiece was ordered by the sisters of the convent of Saint Anthony in Perugia and took a long time to complete as we can see from the stylistic differences between the lunette with its strong influence from Perugino and the main panel that denotes Raphael’s contacts with Florentine artists, and specifically Fra Bartolomeo.
Vision of a Knight
The theme of this painting is taken from Macrobius’ Somnium Scipionis (“The Dream of Scipio”) that reached the humanistic culture via the poetic version by Silius Italicus that Poggio Bracciolini discovered in 1417. It is a moralistic and philosophical painting that was particularly appropriate to the refined, early sixteenth century cultural ambient. The sleeping Scipio Africanus is invited to embark on the difficult path of knowledge and Virtue represented by Pallas Athena, the female figure on the left and to abandon the easier and dangerous road of lust and indulgence symbolized by Venus on the right. This small painting may have been done for Scipione di Tommaso Borghese, born in 1493, as an exhortation to lead a virtuous life.Iconography
Marriage of the Virgin
This painting was done for the Albizzini family for a chapel in the church of San Francesco in Città di Castello. The signature and date, 1504, are visible above the central arch of the temple. In this painting it is easy to understand the difference between Raphael and Perugino. Typological similarities make it possible to make a comparison between Perugino’s painting of The Giving of the Keys to St. Peter in the Sistine Chapel. Raphael had a different way of interpreting composition and space, rendering the temple more harmonious and making it the meeting point of the perspective lines. While in Perugino the figures and architecture are arranged in parallel planes, here the figures are in a semicircle that harmonizes with the centerline of the table, the dome and the tight circularity of the temple. The temple itself is modern and reflects Bramante’s plans for central-plan churches such as San Pietro in Montorio in Rome, dated around 1502, and that is two years prior to this painting.Iconography
The Ansidei Madonna
Bernardino Ansidei ordered this altarpiece for the family chapel in the church of San Fiorenzo dei Serviti in Perugia. It portrays the Virgin Mary reading enthroned with the Child between St. John the Baptist and St. Nicholas of Bari. On the edge of her cloak there is a date that has been read as 1505, 1506 and even 1507. The Perugino-style matrix is abandoned thanks to the monumental arrangement. The luminous clarity and harmony that pervade the entire composition are comparable to the great Venetian altarpieces.
Portrait of Maddalena Doni
The portrait of Maddalena, daughter of Giovanni Strozzi was painted on the occasion of her marriage to Agnolo Doni of whom Raphael also painted an identically sized portrait. The wedding took place in 1504, so the paintings date from about the same year. There are marked similarities with Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, both in the pose and the landscape setting. An x-ray examination revealed that originally Raphael though of setting it in a room with a window overlooking a landscape. As opposed to Leonardo’s portraits that are more intimate, this has an almost official mark to emphasize the social status of the young woman who is wearing precious jewels and fashionable clothes made from fine fabrics.
Madonna of the Goldfinch
Next to the Virgin who is seated against a vast landscape, with a book in hand that identifies her as Sedes Sapientiae are the young Saint John and the Infant Jesus. The painting, made for private worship was done for the marriage of the merchant Lorenzo Nasi and Alessandra Canigiani during Raphael’s second Florentine sojourn. It was still in the Nasi home in 1547 when a ceiling collapsed and broke it into seventeen pieces. After it was restored it became part of the collection of cardinal Carlo de’Medici where it was inventoried in 1666. This, like the other Madonnas he painted during his Florentine period reflects the influence of Leonardo in the pyramidal construction and the use of soft sfumato. But it also reveals a close relationship with Michelangelo’s Bruges Madonna in the Child between the Virgin’s knees.
Portrait of Agnolo Doni
The portrait of Agnolo Doni was done along with that of his wife, Maddalena, shortly after their wedding in 1504. The rich Florentine merchant was a patron of the arts and a collector. Some time around 1507 he commissioned Michelangelo to do a painting of the Holy Family with the young Saint John that is known as the Tondo Doni and is the Uffizi Gallery. The two portraits were to have been a diptych in the manner of the Piero della Francesca’s portraits of the Duke of Montefeltro and his wife, Battista; Their unity is emphasized by the same light source. Here, however, the stiff archaic profiles of Piero’s portraits give way to a freer and more natural arrangement inspired by Flemish and Florentine models – in particular Leonardo’s style – that Raphael became familiar with during that period.
Lady with a Unicorn
Raphael painted this portrait during his Florentine period, as we can see in the similarities, both in style and arrangement, with the Doni portraits. We do not have any data to help identify the young woman, but the unicorn, the imaginary animal that symbolized chastity in Medieval bestiaries, would indicate that it was done for the girl’s wedding. There is an interesting story about this painting. For centuries, because of an over-painting that covered the unicorn the subject had been considered to be Saint Catherine of Alexandria, and the painting by Perugino. Then, in 1935 x-rays revealed the animal in place of the wheel. After restoration the portrait revealed the unmistakable hand of Raphael.
St. Michael Vanquishing Satan
Critics agree that this painting was one of the panels of a diptych completed by St. George and the Dragon which is the exact same size and also in the Louvre. Presumably it was Giovanna Feltria della Rovere who commissioned the diptych to celebrate the investitures of her husband, Giovanni della Rovere as a Knight of the Order of St. Michael, and her brother Guidobaldo da Montefeltro as a knight of the Order of the Garter. The episode is taken from the Apocalypse of St. John and shows the Archangel Michael killing the Satan disguised as a dragon. With his enormous figurative background Raphael enriched the story with various elements. On one side we see motifs drawn from the Northern tradition such as the monsters that recall Bosch’s paintings, and on the other the inspiration from Dante’s Inferno with the damned in the background.Iconography
The Granduca Madonna
This painting gets its name from the fact that Ferdinando III, Grand Duke of Tuscany purchased it in 1799 to place in his bedroom. Among Raphael’s many paintings of the Virgin Mary, this is without a doubt the most essential. The Madonna is portrayed in a three-quarter view and standing, she is turned slightly to the right; the Child in her arms is moving in the opposite direct and this balances the composition. The image stands out against a dark background that was probably added in the seventeenth century; x-ray examination showed that there was originally a window opening onto a landscape behind the two figures. This discovery, along with its Leonardesque touches makes it possible to date the painting around 1506 as opposed to 1504 that had been assumed prior to the restoration.Iconography
The Madonna and Child with St. John (Madonna del Prato or Belvedere Madonna)
Raphael did this painting for Taddeo Taddei during his Florentine sojourn and the date 1506 is painted on the Virgin’s neckline. It passed over to the hands of Ferdinand of Austria in the eighteenth century and was long displayed in the Belvedere Palace in Vienna from which it gets is name. The influence of Leonardo is evident in the pyramid arrangement, the affectionate exchange of looks between the Virgin and the two children, and the delicate sfumato.
Canigiani Holy Family
This painting that belonged to the Canigiani family became part of the Medici collections and was taken to Germany by Anna Maria Luisa de’Medici when she married the Palatine Elector. The painting is dated between 1507 and 1508, close to the Baglioni Deposition. The pyramid composition is based on Leonardo, but the arrangement of the figures; gazes and affectionate gestures complicate the structure. Michelangesque motifs are evident in St. Joseph and St. Anne.
The Deposition (Baglioni Altarpiece)
In the lower left we can see both the signature and the date, 1507 that presumably indicates the date this painting was ordered by Atlalanta Baglioni a noblewoman from Perugia to commemorate her son, Grifonetto who had died seven years earlier. Tradition holds that Grifonetto was portrayed as the bearer on the right as opposed to the preparatory drawing in which he is the youth. The style of the painting reveals the influence of Michelangelo, and specifically the Tondo Doni as we can see in the female figure supporting the Virgin Mary who has swooned, much like the twisted pose of the Madonna in the Tondo. The painting was placed in the Baglioni chapel in the church of San Francesco al Prato in Perugia where it remained until 1608 when cardinal Scipione Borghese took it into his collection.Iconography
Madonna of the Canopy
The Virgin Enthroned with the Child between saints, known as the Madonna of the Canopy was painted for the Dei family chapel in the church of Santo Spirito during the last period of his Florentine sojourn. He never finished the painting because he left for Rome in 1508. The painting had been in the parish church of Pescia since the sixteenth century, but the grand duke Ferdinando de’Medici was so fascinated by its beauty that he had it taken to Florence to add to his collection. This is a highly complex composition that Raphael’s pupils also worked on. It is a modern interpretation of the late fifteenth century altarpieces and of Piero della Francesca’s Brera Altarpiece. The monumental arrangement influenced the work of the already renowned Florentine Fra Bartolomeo who copied it in his great altarpieces such as the Wedding of Saint Catherine done in 1512.
The Alba Madonna
Raphael did this painting in 1511 on a commission from his friend Paolo Giovio. It is known as the Alba Madonna because at the end of the eighteenth century it became part of the collection of the Duke of Alba in Spain. In 1837 this painting that had been done on a round wood panel was transferred to canvas for conservation purposes. Stylistically, the Alba Madonna bears some resemblance to the Pitti Tondo and the Taddei Tondo Michelangelo’s relief sculptures that Raphael saw during his stay in Florence. It is on these that he seemed to base the dynamics of the lines that generate helicoidal movement. In the figure of the Virgin Mary we can also see the influence of Michelangelo’s Sibyls in the Sistine Chapel – such as her turban-type head covering.
The Triumph of Galatea
Raphael painted this fresco in a room of the villa that belonged to the pontifical banker, Agostino Chigi of Siena. The villa became known as the “Farnesina” after it was purchased by the Farnese family. The subject is drawn from the tale by Theocritus and Ovid, revisited in the late fifteenth century by the Florentine humanist Poliziano. It is completed with a fresco on the same wall by Sebastiano del Piombo portraying Polyphemus, in love with a Nereid who loves Acis who is transformed into a spring to escape the giant’s envy. Nothing of this tragedy filters through to Raphael's radiant and classical portrayal of the nymph who rides the waves among other sea creatures. It has a rather moral significance: Galatea, looking upward represents platonic love as opposed to the earthly love of the tritons and nymphs surrounding her.
Madonna of the Chair
This is one of the most famous and widely reproduced works of art in the world. It portrays the Virgin and Child with the young Saint John. The tight composition follows the circular motion of the panel in the tilt of the Virgin's head, her curved arm and the way the Child’s feet rest. This is an outstanding painting in terms of quality and fascinating because of the simplicity and sense of intimacy that characterize it. The Virgin is wearing plain clothes with a towel on her head and a green shawl. This extremely “human” reference to motherhood may hide a higher meaning and allude to the Mother-Church.
According to Vasari this is a portrait of Margherita Luti whom Raphael loved, and was better known as La Fornarina; she also sat for the Sistine Madonna. In the sixteenth century this painting was already in Florence in the home a wealthy merchant, Matteo Botti and remained there until 1615 when it became part of the Medici collections. The portrait is known as La Velata because of the veil on the young woman’s head. There is no landscape in the painting and attention focuses on the figure and the details of her lavish clothing.
Ecstasy of St. Cecilia
This altarpiece was painted for the chapel of Elena Duglioli dall’Olio in the church of San Giovanni in Monte in Bologna. Here too, Raphael gave an extraordinary interpretation of an iconographic theme that was to become popular in the following century, ecstasy, that is the “effect” that contact with the divine causes in the saint’s soul. This painting does not portray the divinity, but five saints each of who personally interiorizes his own mystical experience. St. Cecilia looks towards the choir of angels enraptured by the mystical vision. The divine and celestial music makes Cecilia, who was a musician, realize the futility of earthly music and she throws her instruments to the ground. The still life of instruments in the foreground that may have been done by Raphael’s pupil, Giovanni da Udine who specialized in this genre is truly exquisite.
Portrait of Pope Leo X with Two Cardinals
This painting of Leo X with cardinals Giulio de’Medici and Luigi de’Rossi was commissioned to portray the pope who could not attend the wedding of his nephew Lorenzo de’Medici to Madeleine de la Tour d’Auvergne. Leo, a great bibliophile, had himself portrayed with a fine illuminated manuscript. This is a masterpiece of virtuosity: it is sufficient to note the Flemish-type detail with which Raphael reproduced the book, the bell and lens, the silky texture of the cloths and the metal knob of the seat that reflects a window. In this painting, however, Raphael also revealed an extraordinary skill in psychological introspection, portraying the absorbed and fleeting pope in the instant he stopped looking at the manuscript.
Portrait of the Artist with a Friend
In this double portrait, the figure in the background gazing at the spectator is Raphael, while there are several ideas for the identification of the man in the foreground who is looking at the master while pointing to someone outside the painting. Certainly it had to be someone close to Raphael who has a friendly hand on his shoulder. It may have been a pupil, or perhaps his fencing master since there is sword hilt the foreground, or his friend Giovanni Battista Branconio who had Raphael design his palazzo near St. Peter’s around 1518 which is also the likely date of this painting.
This sensual portrait of a young woman is known throughout the world as La Fornarina and this identification is confirmed by the strong resemblance to La Velata and the faces of several madonnas and saints this woman posed for. Margherita Luti was the daughter of a baker (fornaio in Italian) from Siena who had a shop in the Santa Dorotea district in Rome, where Raphael also lived. Raphael was so smitten by her that he was often distracted from his work. Vasari recounts that Agostino Chigi had him stay at his villa so that he would complete the cartoons for the Psyche loggia without distractions. In this painting Margherita is portrayed with an Oriental headdress and covering her breast with a gesture that actually seems to be offering it. The artist’s signature is on the bracelet.