Scholarly consensus on Raphael's self-portrait is not uniform
The moment I was most transfixed when visiting Florence last year was when I stood in front of Raphael's iconic self-portrait. I even tweeted about it from the Uffizi:
Those who have been following my adventures at 3PP, or who may have perused my interview will know that I am quite fond of Raphael. His amazing achievements at such a young age are due in part to an immense natural talent, but also to a tremendous work ethic and dedication to his craft.
A rare image of the portrait as framed in the Uffizi, courtesy of interzone.com
It is simply wonderful to look at Raphael's rapid development when comparing his earlier works to his later pieces. As he came in contact with Perugino, Leonardo and Michelangelo, the profound effect of these (and other) artists on his style is clear to see, and in each instance he takes the great lessons from these masters and adapts them to serve his own style. This is very much a scientific, research based approach to image making which I find supremely intriguing - partly because I am am scientifically trained, but moreso because it makes studying Raphael so exciting.
Raphael's sensual portrait of his lover, Margerita Luti contains this signature detail in the armlet
Hence, it is not unusual for Raphael fans to get excited when the apple of their artistic eye enters the news. Last year we had the case of the Modena Madonna, an elaborately framed portrait which led some to suggest it was drafted by the great master and perhaps finished by a student such as Giulio Romano.
Before we go further however, it must be mentioned that the famous Uffizi portrait is not accepted by all as a self-portrait. Some sources state it was a later adaptation of the self-portrait seen in School of Athens. The extent and quality of evidence these claims are based on have been difficult to discern.
Today's revelation reached me via Discovery News, with the report of a copy of Raphael's famous self-portrait re-surfacing from a bank vault. This work had been re-discovered many years ago, but the art historian behind the find, Gian Lorenzo Mellini passed away and the painting never got full exposure, until now.
Alessandro Vezzosi (director of the privately operated Museo Ideale Leonardo da Vinci) and Culture Ministry operative Claudio Strinati returned this painting to the limelight, using it to promote their new book, Raffaello Universale (nb. here is an impressive online preview of this book. It is in Italian of course.) It is interesting to note this book is a limited edition work which according to Il Giornale Dell'Arte costs €2650 (Euros), or about $3600 USD at current rates. Despite the interesting tidbit that the work contains an appendix of scientific discoveries made by the famed Maurizio Seracini, that cover price is a bit too rich for me, and says a lot about how accessible these authors want to make their work.
Like other stories coming out of the Italian art press, big claims are abundant, actual evidence is less clearly stated. Unlike the alleged hidden letters in Mona Lisa however, we at least have a picture to gawk at.
The 'new' self-portrait of Raphael
Am I the only one who finds the information reported on this new portrait unsettlingly incomplete? According to the article the portrait has been dated to 1505 - but what this date is based on is not revealed. A record of the painting can only be traced as far back as 1885. It makes sense that some 19th century art lover commissioned a copy for their home - but the argument that is 'another self-portrait' by Raphael can not be made without more conclusive evidence.
Other reported Raphael self-portraits from School of Athens and Double portrait with a friend
Panel dating, undersurface scans and pigment analysis are a better way for these authors to demonstrate the veracity of their claims - until they can prove it is physically from the late 15th/early 16th century, I am sticking with the graceful Uffizi piece as my idealised young Raphael.