RAPHAEL 1520-2020


The Canigiani Holy Family, ca. 1507

Pappelholz (Populus sp.), 131 x 107 cm
1691 als Geschenk des Großherzogs Cosimo III. von Toskana an Johann Wilhelm von der Pfalz.
Inv. Nr. 476


RAPHAEL 1520-2020

Alte Pinakothek
Room V


Raphael celebrated the greatest success with his art in Rome where he died 500 years ago. The many panel paintings and wall frescoes that he managed to complete there in little more than a decade have secured his international fame to this day – especially the painting of the so-called Stanze in the Vatican Palace and large altar paintings such as the Sistine Madonna.

Raffaelo Sanzio, who was born in 1483, started his career, however, in Umbria and Tuscany. It is uncertain whether he completed his apprenticeship in the workshop of his father, who worked as a painter in Urbino, or under Pietro Pierogino in Perugia. He doubtlessly showed exceptional technical skill as a painter at an early age and ambitiously modelled his works on those of prominent colleagues such as Perugino, Pinturicchio and Signorelli. Between 1504 and 1508 Raphael remained mostly in Florence and explored Leonardo da Vinci’s and Michelangelo’s spectacular creations in his compositions. He also used his sound knowledge of Fra Bartolommeo’s works equally masterfully for his own pictorial inventions. In this way he upheld his position among Florentine painters and attracted significant commissions for private devotional paintings, several portraits and an altar painting. This exhibition is devoted to Raphael’s depiction of the Holy Family commissioned by a Florentine merchant.

As the painter of pictures of sublime beauty Raphael attained cult status in the 19th century, in particular. Ludwig I of Bavaria and his gallery director, Johann Georg von Dillis, revered him as the ‘king of painting’. The 500th anniversary of Raphael’s death provides an occasion to recall the history of his fame and to reflect on the extent his works influenced the pictorial language of the western world in the modern period.

The Canigiani Holy Family — The first Raphael of the Pinakothek

Thirty-seven years ago the Canigiani Holy Family was restored to mark the 500th anniversary of Raphael’s birth. In the process, eight angels floating in clouds, that had been overpainted at a later date, came to light. They tell of the chequered history of the painting.

The subject of the painting

The subject of the Holy Family with the infant John was a very popular pictorial motif in Florentine painting during the Renaissance. Unlike the encounter of John and Jesus at the baptism described in the bible (Mark 1:9–11), the meeting of the two children is embellished with apocryphal narrative. When Joseph, Mary and Jesus, fleeing from the atrocities wrought by Herod, returned to the Holy Land from Egypt, they met John who was living in the desert with his mother, Elizabeth.

In Raphael’s work the setting of the subject takes second place to a harmoniously consolidated group of figures in a pyramidal shape. Joseph stands behind the women and the playing children like a shepherd protecting his flock. Elizabeth, likewise advanced in years, looks up at him while speaking. With her fingers she references the Secret of the Holy Trinity and the role Joseph has been given as the foster-father of Jesus on earth.

The scene, embedded in an idyllic landscape, reiterates the concept of the locus amoenus from Antiquity – a tranquil place in the countryside. However, the picture is enriched with references to the Passion of Christ: the children are playing with a scroll that hints at the words John the Baptist says at the baptism of Jesus and of his sacrificial death on the cross. The Virgin Mary closes the book she is holding in her hand to devote her attention to the Christ Child. In so doing, she tenderly touches her son’s right side, later to be pierced by a lance at the crucifixion.

Various stimuli

Depictions of the Virgin Mary in their many variations were the most popular subject of devotional paintings in the Italian Renaissance and gave competing artists the opportunity to make their own mark right at the beginning of their careers. Raphael’s composition, painted around 1507, testifies to his intense study of the works of Leonardo and Michelangelo who were so highly acclaimed at that time. Leonardo’s Virgin and Child with Saint Anne (1, LOUVRE) and Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo (2, UFFIZI) inspired Raphael to his figurative group that fills the pictorial space and forms an artistic, interlacing entity of interhuman relationships. Furthermore to enliven the scene, he used portrait studies of small children.

Raphael also examined works of art from north of the Alps. The view of a town in the right-hand half of the picture is a free adaptation of a print by Albrecht Dürer (3) whose works he collected and valued highly. The composition of the area of grass – with individual plants that can be clearly identified (dandelion, violet and acanthus) – probably comes from Hans Memling’s John the Baptist with the Lamb (Alte Pinakothek, Room I, inv. no. 652) that Raphael would have been able to see at his close friend, the cardinal and poet Pietro Bembo. VIEW THE WORK BY HANS MEMLING IN OUR ONLINE COLLECTION

The history of the picture

Detail from the catalogue of the Düsseldorf Gallery (Nicolas de Pigage und Christian van Mechel, La Galerie Électorale De Dusseldorff, Basel 1778, Bd. 2, Taf. XII u. XIII) VIEW DIGITIZED BOOK AT UB HEIDELBERG

In 1507 the wealthy cloth merchant and Medici partisan Domenico Canigiani married the patrician Lucrezia Frescobaldi. Probably to mark this occasion he commissioned Raphael to create the Holy Family as an altar painting for the private chapel in his palazzo in the Via de’ Bardi.

It was here that Andrea del Sarto (1486–1530) must have studied the panel that he adapted artistically for his own Holy Family of around 1515. The Florentine painter omitted Joseph in his composition as well as the narrative additions, concentrating instead entirely on the psychological intensity of the figurative group and its reflection on the Passion of Christ.  VIEW THE WORK BY ANDREA DEL SARTO IN OUR ONLINE COLLECTION

On the occasion of the grand wedding celebrations of Ferdinando I de’ Medici and Christina of Lorraine in 1589 in Florence, both panels entered the Medici collection and, from then onwards, were shown in the Tribuna, the octagonal main hall in the Uffizi in Florence. In 1697 Johann Wilhelm II, Elector Palatine, arranged the marriage between the brother-in-law of the Grand Duke of Tuscany with his sister-in-law. Out of gratitude, Grand Duke Cosimo III de’ Medici gave the Elector, his son-in-law, the Holy Families by Raphael and Andrea del Sarto for his gallery in Düsseldorf. It was there that Raphael’s painting was inappropriately restored in 1755. The French restorer François-Louis Collins (1699–1760) damaged the angels’ heads and subsequently overpainted the upper section of the picture. The painting reached Munich as part of the Düsseldorf Collection in this state in 1806. 

Raphael as Patron of the Pinakothek

The foundation stone for the Alte Pinakothek was laid in 1826 on Raphael’s birthday. As such, he became the patron of the museum built in the Roman-Florentine Renaissance style. With great zealousness King Ludwig I and the gallery director, Johann Georg von Dillis, strove to acquire other works by the universally highly esteemed Raphael on the international art market. In 1819 Dillis succeeded in securing the purchase of the Madonna della Tenda in England. With the revolutionary monumentality of the figures and the work’s colouration, executed with supreme skill, this painting is an impressive documention of Raphael’s creative period in Rome as well as his artistic development.

Commissioned by Ludwig I, the Nymphenburg porcelain painter Christian Adler (1787–1850) created a series of porcelain copies of important works from the Alte Pinakothek in a reduced format. Ludwig’s intention was ‘to have copies of the most exquisite pictures made in overglaze colours for posterity, for when the originals have been destroyed by the ravages of time’. Adler’s version of the painting, documenting the state without the angels ‘for posterity’, nevertheless satisfied aesthetic requirements and, up until 1916, was exhibited in the rooms of the Neue Pinakothek along with many other copies in porcelain.

The painting Mary and Elizabeth with Jesus and John the Baptist of 1825 by Friedrich Overbeck (1789–1869) was acquired by Ludwig I for the collection of the Neue Pinakothek and is exemplary of Raphael’s importance in German Romanticism. For the Nazarene artists in Overbeck’s circle living in Rome, the ‘Catholic Raphael’ represented the paragon to be emulated. The careful balance of the sharply defined figures, the systematically tiered pictorial composition and the work’s luminous colouration testify to Overbeck’s intention to create a work in the spirit of the Renaissance painter without merely imitating him by copying or adopting his motifs. VIEW THE WORK BY FRIEDRICH OVERBECK IN OUR ONLINE COLLECTION

Overbeck saw the Canigiani Holy Family without the angels that only came to light again when the work was restored in 1983. Their history is symbolic of the continuously changing view of Raphael during his lifetime and afterwards.