Raphael 2020

Museums around the world are celebrating the artistic legacy of Raphael (April 6, 1483–April 6, 1520), as this year marks the 500th anniversary of his death. Few artists have been as widely or historically admired as Raphael, whose innovations in fresco decoration, altarpieces, portraits and devotional paintings represent the zenith of Italian art in the 16th century. His work influenced generations of artists, including Guido Reni, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, and the English Pre-Raphaelites.

Madonna and Child with Book, 1502–3, acquired in 1972, is the only painting by this great Renaissance master on the West Coast. Seated before a distant landscape, the Madonna cradles the robust Christ Child with one hand as she supports a book with the other. The breviary or prayer book is open to the Ninth Hour, which concerns the Passion and Death of Christ. To focus attention on this intimate exchange of thoughts between mother and child, Raphael frames them within the triangular silhouette of the Madonna’s blue mantle. Their tender interaction is emphasized by their touching hands and loving gazes. In the landscape, the cloudless sky is beginning to darken and shadows appear on the hill, all to underscore the ninth hour after sunrise and their knowledge of the Child’s fate. The scale of this exquisite and highly finished panel suggests that it was displayed in a private home to help the devout visualize the lives of the Madonna and Child, and to imagine their joys and sorrows. While Raphael’s painting was meant to encourage meditation and prayer, his subtle psychological depiction of this maternal relationship demonstrates the master’s humanistic and modern view of art.