An extensive exhibition in Dresden marks the 500th Anniversary of Raphael's Sistine Madonna, one of the most legendary works of art of all time. It could be said that the show actually traces the story of the life of a painting, featuring an abundance of passions, schemes and surprising twists of fate. To quote Goethe, if Raphael had only painted this single work of art, he would still be immortal.
The great Renaissance genius was commissioned to paint the Sistine Madonna - La Madonna di San Sisto - by Pope Julius II as the altar piece for the Monastery of San Sisto in Piacenza. Raphael created the painting in Rome; interestingly, the masterpiece remained practically unnoticed for almost 250 years until the agents of Augustus III, King of Poland and Prince Elector of Saxony, stumbled upon it at the monastery. The King decided to purchase the painting there and then: after all, most prominent European art collections featured Raphael's works at the time; His Majesty wanted one for himself as well. The deal was concluded in 1753 when Augustus III paid a mind-boggling amount of money for the picture. Legend has it that, when the painting was brought into the King's reception hall in Dresden, Augustus III had exclaimed: 'Prepare a room for the great Raphael!' The exhibition features some of the historical documents pertaining to the purchase of the famous painting.
A separate section of the exhibition is dedicated to the 'mythology of the myth' - interpretations of the painting in literature, art, music and design. In the early 1800s, the masterpiece was already being enthusiastically copied. During the times of Biedermeier and the German Empire, it became a popular theme in magazines, advertisements, caricatures, etc. The two cherubs featured in the painting have also long since launched a 'career' of their own, soon enough falling into the trap of delusional consumerist culture and getting entangled in the steely embrace of kitsch. In the aftermath of World War Two, the Sistine Madonna ended up in Moscow: according to a Soviet-era legend, the painting was rescued by the Soviet Army. It was returned to Dresden in 1955 and, according to a press release by the Dresden Museum, its miraculous rescue is the subject of a painting by Mikhail Kornetsky, The Rescue of Madonna, part of the holdings of the Latvian National Museum of Art.
Raphael (1483-1520) - Raffaello Santi - was the greatest student of Perugino, the genius of the Umbrian school of altarpiece painting. Raphael met Pope Julius II in Rome when he was asked to create frescoes for some rooms at the Vatican Palace. Unlike his contemporaries Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, Raphael was an artist who was filled with positive energy. While the painter possessed immense working capacity, there was at the same time an incredible lightness to his way of painting. The most admired feature of Raphael's style must be his brilliant simplicity and unbelievable feel for harmony, his ability to create serene and spiritual beauty. His Madonna is also a seemingly ordinary, warm-hearted and loving woman. Allegedly, Raphael did not use a sitter for the piece, choosing to put on the canvas a vision created by his imagination instead - an ideal so genuine that we are still compelled to believe in it. The great painter died at the age of 37.
Alongside the Sistine Madonna, the exhibition also features a number of other works dating from Raphael's Roman period; the paintings have been lent by different European museums.
Raffael (Raffaello Santi)
Urbino 1483 - 1520 Roma
Die Sixtiinische Madonna. 1512/13
Ol auf Leinwand; 269,5 X 201 cm
Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister
© Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister
Keywords: Dresden, exhibition