Art: celebrating Raphael, the Renaissance master


International travels seem to be far at the moment, thus making travel planning a time-waste activity. It is definitely not so. Although it might takes some time before being allowed to travel again in a safe mode, travel planning still is the most necessary activity we can invest our time with. Just put our travel suggestions into your bucket list and take it out in 1 year from now.

Today, with the help of my very good friend Luca Simoncello, art expert, I start a new section of my blog dedicated to those of you who are art lovers with the aim of pointing out to you some works and some museums you might have never thought visiting before.

Post by Luca Simoncello (aka Luca Boerio)

In history af art, painters have very rarely signed their works (for example Caravaggio signed just once in his entire career), thus making the process of pairing a painting to a specific master, a pretty complex task. Then, when works were successful, several copies were usually made by other artists and in some cases even the original author would do another copy.

Raphael – Madonna del Velo (Vierge de Lorette) – Canthilly Castle, France

Taking advantage of the celebration for the 500th anniversary since the death of Raphael, I am going tell you something about one of his least known works called “Madonna del velo”. Rapahel is one of those artists that best represents the epic of the Renaissance, which gave us the most important works in history, nowadays disseminated to several private and public collections around the world.

When I first discovered Raphael, as a kid, I madly fell in love with his works, mostly for his ability of depicting perfection and for the extraordinary symmetry of his paintings. When I grew up, I started nicknaming him “il Madonnaro” (the painter of the Madonnas) as pretty much all of his production includes or is fully inspired by the Madonna.

Copy from Raphael – Madonna del velo. Private collection

The “Madonna del velo” depicts the holy family: the child lays on a pallet, Maria holds an impalpable veil intending to cover him, while behind her Joseph observes the scene with loving fatherly affection. The composition makes reference to Leonardo da Vinci’s geometric forms, however the painting is permeated by a sense of serenity that offers a completely family like ambience, thus showing Raphael’s abilitiy to transform something sacred into an almost homey universe, wrapped by the loving embrace of family affections.

Caravaggio – David and Goliath

The painting was so successful that several copies were made. It is not a surprise that Caravaggio, (who saw Rapahel’s work in the church where he painted the canvases for the Cerasi Chapel), transformed the figure of the Virgin into his young David, one of his last known paintings , with the same outstretched arm transforming a loving gesture into a terrifying celebration of death. However if you just remove the dark and macabre elements, the boy shows the same posture as Raphael’s Madonna and the same loving gaze. Could it be just a coincidence?
At a certain time in history the original Raphael’s “Madonna del Velo” starts being untraceable: several copies of it were kept in different museums around the world, but nobody had any idea what the original version was.

Galleria Borghese Museum – Rome, Italy

The painting in fact was made for a side chapel at the church of St. Mary of the People, in Rome, in 1511/1512 and this is where a real scavengers’ hunt starts. In the 17th century, art collectors scanned all the masterpieces of the Renaissance masters and the painting fell into the property of the Cardinal Sfrondati. Upon his death, it was bought by another cardinal: Scipione Borghese, one of the biggest collectors of that time, who also paved the way to the establishment of one of the most beautiful museums on earth: the Galleria Borghese in Rome.

Then, the Borghese collection discontinued and Rapahel’s work was supposedly sent to the Sanctuary of Loreto, in central Italy. Unfortunately, the large number of copies made it impossible to understand if it really was the original. In the 1970s, after scanning the inventory of the former Borghese collection, it was found that Rapahel’s work was  listed with n. 133. Among all the copies, the only one displaying such number stamped in the frame was a painting kept at the Castle of Chantilly, close to Paris, whose lord, the Duke of Aumale, bought believing it one of the several available copies, in the 19th century.

Castle of Chantilly (Domain de Chantilly) – France. Photo by SofieLayla Thal

The painting underwent a tight restoration process and is nowadays in very good conditions. It can be seen at the enchanting museum of the Castle of Chantilly under the name “la Vierge de Lorette”.

By statutory regulation of the museum, no piece of the collections can be borrowed to other organisations, not even for temporary exhibitions. Thus if you want to see this extraordinary masterpiece of the Renaissance arts you must go France and give yourself the chance to discover one of the most beautiful art collections on earth, framed by gardens, ponds and curious apartments painted by frescoes displaying monkeys wearing human clothes.

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