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Seen from the lap up, a woman wearing a marine-blue robe over a crimson-red dress holds a nude baby boy on her lap in this vertical painting. Both people have smooth, pale, peachy skin. The woman sits with her body angled to our left and she looks down at or toward the baby. Her blond hair is pulled back with a blue ribbon or covering at the back of her head. She has delicately arching eyebrows, a long, straight nose, and her small pink lips are closed. The moss-green underside of her blue robe is visible where it turns back over her wrists and around her neck. Her red dress is edged with black along the squared neckline and tied at the waist with a black band. She supports the seated baby with her right hand, on our left, and holds her other hand at the ready near his legs. The baby sits angled to our right, toward the woman, but he turns to look over his shoulder to our left. His blond hair falls to a point over his forehead. He has delicate features with light brown eyes, a small, pointed nose, and a small, pink mouth. He also has pudgy, baby-like cheeks, tummy, arms, and legs. The horizon of the landscape behind the pair comes about three-quarters of the way up the panel, behind the woman’s shoulders. Hazy blue mountains, trees, and the suggestion of a town with buildings and a church spire line the horizon in the deep distance beneath a pale blue sky.


The National Gallery is fortunate to possess this country's finest collection of paintings by Raphael, the youngest of the three artists whose styles epitomize the High Renaissance. What Leonardo achieved by sheer intellect and Michelangelo through passionate intuition, Raphael acquired by persistent study and assimilation. Through the works in this room we can trace the process by which he transformed the fifteenth-century style of his earliest teachers into something new and of enduring influence. For later generations, Raphael's art came to represent an ideal of perfection, the very definition of easy grace and harmonious balance.

Raphael must have studied first with his father, a painter at the court in Urbino. After his father's death, Raphael entered the workshop of Perugino, whose graceful, open landscapes and gentle figures were widely admired. An adept student from the outset, Raphael mastered his teacher's delicate, ornamental style. Late in 1504 Raphael moved to Florence, where he responded quickly to the innovations of Florentine painters, especially those of Leonardo da Vinci. Leonardo's works must have seemed stunningly new. Softly shadowed forms recreated the appearance of reality to an extent never before achieved. Figures were convincingly integrated into their settings and related naturally to each other. In the words of Vasari, a sixteenth-century artist and biographer, Raphael "stood confounded in astonishment and admiration: the manner of Leonardo pleased him more than any other he had ever seen...."

Raphael's artistic evolution continued when he moved to Rome in 1508. There he was influenced not only by the idealized, classical art of the city's ancient past but also by the more energetic and physical style of Michelangelo, whose works he also had studied in Florence.

Pietro Perugino, Italian, c. 1450 - 1523, Madonna and Child, c. 1500, oil on panel, Samuel H. Kress Collection, 1939.1.215

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A man stands, leaning on a staff used like a crutch, in a deep, rocky landscape in this round-topped vertical painting. The cleanshaven man has tanned skin and sparse gray hair. He is nude aside from a slate-gray cloth that wraps around his hips. The hand not bracing the crutch is held in a loose fist at his chest. A few plants grow and bloom along the bottom of the panel. The dirt path on which the man stands winds through low, grass-covered mounds to a cave opening at the base of a tall, steep cliff face. A lion stands on the path between the man and the cave. An owl perches in the bare, spike-like branches of a spindly tree growing to our right of the man.

Once considered to be an early work by Raphael, this altarpiece is recognized today as one of Perugino's most successful. Its cool, silvery atmosphere and poetic mood are typical of what a contemporary described as Perugino's "aria angelica et molto dolce" (angelic and sweet air). The work's quiet piety differs from the more intense emotion found in many crucifixion scenes. Elevating Christ's body high over the landscape seems to raise him literally above human suffering. The saints who witness the event appear more grave than grief-torn.

Some of the figures apparently were painted from the same model in Perugino's large and busy workshop. Compare, for example, John the Evangelist, at the foot of the cross, with Mary Magdalene in the right-hand wing. Except for a slight variation in their hands, their poses are identical. Even their expressions are the same.

When this altarpiece was completed, the artist was reaching the height of his popularity and receiving prestigious commissions. Later, however, Perugino found his style to be outmoded and his work criticized for its over-reliance on stock figures and formulaic compositions.

Pietro Perugino, Italian, c. 1450 - 1523, The Crucifixion with the Virgin, Saint John, Saint Jerome, and Saint Mary Magdalene [left panel], c. 1482/1485, oil on panel transferred to canvas, Andrew W. Mellon Collection, 1937.1.27.a

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A woman and nude child, both with pale skin, sit in front of a deep landscape in this vertical painting. Shown from about the knees up, the woman’s body is angled slightly to our right, and she supports the baby under his bottom with her left hand, on our right. She wears a long-sleeved, crimson-red dress with a sheer, nearly translucent fabric around her shoulders. Fern-green drapery, nearly matching the color of the grassy landscape, is gathered behind her hips, and a deep lapis-blue cloth lies across her lap. Her blond hair is pulled back. She has a straight nose, rosy cheeks, and her pink lips are closed. Her head tilts to our left, and she gazes down and to our right with brown eyes. Her right hand, on our left, rests in her lap, and she holds the baby with her other hand. The blond baby half sits, half stands on the woman’s lap so one foot rests on the hand in the woman’s lap. He reaches his arms around her neck and turns to look over his left shoulder, also gazing down and to our right. Thin, gold halos above their heads are barely visible against the pale blue sky. An expanse of green grass extends behind the pair leading to a cluster of trees to our left and buildings on a distant hill to our right. Hazy blue hills line the horizon in the distance below a blue, nearly cloudless sky.

Raphael was in Florence from late 1504 until 1508. Seventeen images of the Virgin and Child from those few years survive today, two of them are on this tour. Probably many of these works were made for the art market—images of the Madonna and Child were often given as wedding presents—rather than to fulfill a specific commission.

The Small Cowper Madonna mirrors in style and sentiment what Raphael had seen, and helped produce, in Perugino's workshop. Compare it with Perugino's own Madonna and Child, also in the Gallery's collection. The two Virgins share a graceful turn of the head and wistful expression. Compositionally, however, the two works differ significantly. Stock figures from Perugino's workshop repertoire fill his composition. Their gestures are particular, but unrelated and unexplained. In Raphael's painting, by contrast, both figures look out to the viewer, a unifying device he would have seen in terracotta reliefs by Luca Della Robbia. The figures' interlocked gestures reveal another and more important source of inspiration: Leonardo.

Raphael, Italian, 1483 - 1520, The Small Cowper Madonna, c. 1505, oil on panel, Widener Collection, 1942.9.57

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A man wearing armor, sitting astride a cream-white horse, drives a long lance down at a lizard-like dragon as a woman kneels with her hands in prayer in the landscape beyond in this vertical painting. Both people have pale skin and thin, gold halos floating above their heads. At the center of the composition, the man faces our left in profile as he looks down at the creature. The man has a straight nose and honey-brown hair under his gold-trimmed, pewter-gray helmet. Armor covers his entire body, and a celestial-blue cape billows behind him from where it fastens around his neck. A narrow, indigo-blue and gold band is tied around his left calf, and is inscribed with the word “HONI.” A black sword hangs from his left side. The horse is white with a silvery-white mane and tail. It rears on its hind legs as it turns its head to look at us with hazel-brown eyes. The horse wears a blue saddle and bridle, the same color as the man’s cape, trimmed with gold. A strap around the horse’s neck is painted in gold with the name, “RAPHELLO.” The rider thrusts his foot into the stirrup we can see as he plunges a lance down at the dragon under the horse’s front feet. The dragon has tawny brown skin with a mint green, dog-like head. It grips the earth with clawed feet as at pushes at the lance with one front foot. It twists its long, snake-like neck to look at the man with dark eyes. The dragon opens its pointed snout to show its teeth, and bat-like wings splay out. A tall outcropping over a cave rises along the left edge of the composition, behind the dragon. In a field a little farther back, to our right, the woman kneels with her body angled to our left. She tilts her head away from us and gazes past the man and horse. She has a straight nose, pale pink, bow-shaped lips, and her blond hair is pulled back in a bun. She wears a ruby-red dress and a sheer white wrap around her shoulders and across her arms. Around the woman, straw-yellow hills with bands of pine-green trees roll into the distance. Two terracotta-orange towers rise from a row of trees along the horizon. A few taller trees are outlined against the baby-blue sky, which lightens toward the horizon.

This panel—one of the best-known images of Saint George—was meant to be seen at close range. Its highly detailed and precise setting is reminiscent of the Netherlandish paintings then popular with Italian patrons. It appears, in fact, that Raphael may have copied some landscape motifs from Hans Memling's Saint Veronica.

Other elements of Raphael's painting were inspired by Leonardo's cartoon for the fresco of The Battle of Anghiari, a work that Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574), author of Lives of the Painters, said first drew the younger artist to Florence. The rearing horse and the rider's fluttering cape can be traced through Raphael's own drawings of Leonardo's influential design. Raphael used the diagonal thrust of the saint's lance to organize and energize the entire composition with a tightly knit, dynamic naturalism.

George was patron saint of England and of the English Order of the Garter. The ribbon tied around his calf reads honi, opening of the order's slogan Honi soit qui mal y pense (disgraced be he who thinks evil of it). It was once thought that the duke of Urbino had commissioned Raphael to paint this as a gift for King Henry VII of England after the duke was inducted into the English knightly order. It now seems more likely that it was intended for the king's envoy instead. In either case, the commission signals Raphael's growing prestige.

Raphael, Italian, 1483 - 1520, Saint George and the Dragon, c. 1506, oil on panel, Andrew W. Mellon Collection, 1937.1.26

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A woman holds and looks toward a nude, young child, who sits on her lap and looks out at us, smiling, in this vertical painting. They both have pale skin and thin, gold halos floating above their heads. The clear sky behind them deepens from teal blue along the top edge to ice blue behind their shoulders. To our right, the woman is shown from the lap up with her body angled to our left, toward the child she holds. She looks down at the child almost in profile with dark eyes under faint brows. She has a long, straight nose, smooth cheeks, and her petal-pink lips are closed. Her blond hair is braided and twisted back from her face under a sheer, gold-trimmed, white veil, that flutters as if in a breeze. Her rose-pink dress has a wide neckline and the elbow-length sleeve we can see falls loosely over a tighter, spring-green sleeve. The neckline is trimmed with gold decorations and an inscription: “MDVIII.R.V.PIN.” A peacock-blue robe drapes over the shoulder farther from us and across her lap. That arm wraps around the child’s back, and she holds her other hand to her chest, near where the child grips the neckline of her dress. The child sits on a white pillow with one leg flung across the woman’s lap and the other, closer to us, dangling between her knees. Slightly slouched, his body is angled to our right, toward the woman, but he looks over his shoulder at us with dark eyes. He has faint eyebrows, a delicate nose, a dimpled chin, flushed cheeks, and his pale pink lips curl into a smile. He has wispy blond hair and pudgy, toddler-like cheeks and body. His other hand rests on the pillow between his legs. A band of gauzy, sheer fabric decorated with gold stripes wraps around one shoulder and around his upper chest.

This may be the last work Raphael painted in Florence before he left for Rome. It is more complex than the Small Cowper Madonna, both named after former owners, made only a few years before. The child, at once imposing and playful, grabs at his mother's bodice as if wanting to nurse. The two figures are now more closely related than in the earlier Small Cowper Madonna, both by the geometry of their poses and the intimacy of their actions. Their physical and psychological connection, so effortless and natural, is perhaps the most important lesson Raphael derived from Leonardo. (The Madonna and Child with the Infant Saint John, attributed to Fernando Yáñez de la Almedina, gives some sense of the appearance of Leonardo's own work. That painting was once believed to have been painted by Leonardo himself, since it closely follows the artist's pyramidal figure groups and modeling of form with smoky shadows.)

In Raphael's Niccolini-Cowper Madonna, large figures nearly fill the frame to concentrate attention fully on mother and child. Although presented in a moment of tender, maternal exchange, their increased size gives the pair a new monumentality. This and the infant's energetic outline suggest that young Raphael had been studying the works of Michelangelo as well.

Raphael, Italian, 1483 - 1520, The Niccolini-Cowper Madonna, 1508, oil on panel, Andrew W. Mellon Collection, 1937.1.25

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A woman and two children, all with pale skin and flushed cheeks, sit together in a landscape in this round painting. The woman takes up most of the composition as she sits with her right leg, to our left, tucked under her body. Her other leg, on our right, is bent so the foot rests on the ground, and that knee angles up and out to the side. She wears a rose-pink dress under a topaz-blue robe, and a finger between the pages of a closed book holds her place. Her brown hair is twisted away from her face. She has delicate features and her pink lips are closed. She looks and leans to our left around a nude young boy who half-sits and half-stands against her bent leg. The boy has blond hair and pudgy, toddler-like cheeks and body. The boy reaches his right hand, on our left, to grasp the tall, thin cross held by the second young boy, who sits on the ground next to the pair. This second boy has darker brown hair and wears a garment resembling animal fur. The boy kneels facing the woman and looks up at her and the blond boy. The trio sits on a flat, grassy area in front of a body of water painted light turquoise. Mountains in the deep distance are pale azure blue beneath a nearly clear blue sky.

The Alba Madonna stands out as the most important painting in the United States from Raphael's time in Rome. There he continued to respond creatively to new artistic stimuli, combining old and new influences with his own inventive imagination. The round format of this painting, for example, was popular in Florence, yet this picture looks very different from his more intimate Florentine madonnas. Its grandeur suggests greater seriousness. The Virgin's pose resembles a work of classical sculpture. Also, she no longer wears contemporary dress but the robes of ancient Rome, and the landscape has become an idealized view of the Roman campagna.

Addition of a third figure, the infant John the Baptist, creates a broad and stable group that is fully integrated into the setting yet dominates the space effortlessly. No longer part of an iconlike devotional schema, these full-length figures appear to be a natural part of the environment. The focus of their gestures and glances is centered on a slender reed cross that actually defines the work's meaning. Church doctrine holds that from birth Christ had an "understanding" of his fate. Here he accepts the cross of his future sacrifice, an action understood as well by his mother and cousin.

Raphael, Italian, 1483 - 1520, The Alba Madonna, c. 1510, oil on panel transferred to canvas, Andrew W. Mellon Collection, 1937.1.24

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A young man with smooth, pale peachy skin and long blond hair looks over his right shoulder at us in this vertical portrait painting. He has light green eyes, a straight nose, full pink lips, and a narrow chin. His hair falls over his shoulders, and a long sideburn reaches to his jawline on the side facing us. Shown against a background of emerald green, he wears a black floppy cap and a blue garment that splits over his shoulder. A ruffle of white is visible at the wide neckline, and the sleeve of his right arm, which faces us, is black. He holds his left hand, farther away from us, to his chest, and he wears a gold ring with a green stone on his pointer finger.

This arresting image was thought in the nineteenth century to be a Raphael self-portrait. However, we know today that this handsome young man was Bindo Altoviti, a wealthy Florentine banker and friend of the artist in Rome.

He turns in a dramatic, almost theatrical, way to fix the eye of the viewer. Perhaps one viewer in particular was meant to receive his captivating look: Bindo's wife Fiammetta Soderini. Renaissance poets and courtiers were unanimous in believing that a person first fell in love through the eyes. They were called the "guides of love," which could "reveal the passion within more effectively than the tongue itself, or letter, or messengers." Bindo's flushed cheeks contribute to the impression of passion, and a ring is prominent on the hand he holds above his heart. The robe slipping from his shoulder reveals a bare nape caressed by soft curls. Their golden color would have underscored the nobility and purity of his love.

Bindo and Fiammetta, daughter of a prominent Florentine family, were married in 1511, when Bindo would have been about twenty. The couple had six children, but Fiammetta continued to live in Florence while Bindo's business with the papal court required his presence in Rome. This portrait, which apparently hung in the couple's home in Florence, would have provided Fiammetta with a vivid reminder of her absent husband. It remained in the Altoviti family for nearly three hundred years.

Raphael, Italian, 1483 - 1520, Bindo Altoviti, c. 1515, oil on panel, Samuel H. Kress Collection, 1943.4.33

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Various explanations are given for Francesco d'Ubertino Verdi's nickname, Bacchiacca. It is tempting to see a connection with abbacchiare or bacchiare, Tuscan words used to describe harvesting of nuts or olives—this painter "harvested" figures, motifs, and landscape elements from many sources. In this one painting is a crag from a Lucas van Leyden print, a bare-breasted woman derived from a Raphael, heads based on Michelangelo drawings, and a kneeling figure from one of Bacchiacca's own paintings.

This is not appropriation by an artist unwilling or unable to devise something new, however. Bacchiacca was a court painter to Cosimo de' Medici in Florence, where patrons would have delighted in puzzling out his sources. Admirers of the then current mannerist style, which depended on complexity and artifice over naturalistic representation, they would also have appreciated his pictures' copia and varietas (plentitude and variety). More than eighty people crowd this scene along with domestic goats and cattle, exotic cats, and even a giraffe. (Bacchiacca would never have seen a giraffe but copied paintings of the one that had been given to Cosimo's forebear Lorenzo the Magnificent.)

Among all these creatures only the quail relate to the biblical story. A day after the birds arrived to alleviate the Israelites' hunger, God provided manna from the sky. Here Moses—in bright pink, light emanating from his head—commands his people to gather the almost invisible bread. Perhaps this painting was part of a campaign to depict Cosimo as a new Moses, one who would provide the Florentines with prosperity—an abundance suggested even in the fullness of Bacchiacca's composition.

Bacchiacca, Italian, 1494 - 1557, The Gathering of Manna, 1540/1555, oil on panel, Samuel H. Kress Collection, 1952.5.4

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