September 10, 2011

Heavenly Splendor

Raphael, Madonna di Foligno

The two “sisters” probably last saw each other in Raphael’s workshop, during the brief moment of their more or less simultaneous creation. I’m talking of two of the most celebrated works the great Urbinate dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the “Madonna di Foligno,” which normally hangs in the Pinacoteca Vaticana (Vatican Picture Gallery), and the “Sistine Madonna,” relocated to Dresden from 1754 and hanging in the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister.

Well, now the two are together again in an exhibition currently taking place (September 6, 2011 through January 8, 2012) at the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen of Dresden. The exhibition is called Heavenly Splendor. Raphael, Dürer and Grünewald paint the Madonna, and is held on the occasion of the Apostolic Visit to Germany of Pope Benedict XVI. Thus, once again, the Holy Father is the bearer of an important cultural and artistic event, just as last year during his visit to London when he made possible, for the first time in nearly 500 years, the display of four tapestries of Raphael next to the Urbinate’s original cartoons in a major exhibition in the British capital’s Victoria and Albert Museum.

Needless to say, the Sistine Madonna, besides being one of Raphael’s best-loved masterpieces, is one of the most beautiful paintings ever. Take the two little angels—reproduced in countless postcards, t-shirts and souvenirs—with the mischievous air, or the Divine Child, with those strange, far-away-looking eyes that even in babyhood seem reading the future, in the Mother’s arms … But how not to love the Madonna di Foligno’s sacra conversazione, in which St. Francis of Assisi, St. John the Baptist, Sigismonde de’ Conti, St. Jerome, and the little angel seem to converse and draw the viewer into their conversation?


Raphael, The Sistine Madonna

~ First written for The Metaphysical Peregrine ~



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