Raphael's doppelganger resurfaces

January 29, 2011

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:

Raphael's lovely self portrait is in a delightfully unique looking frame.. love itWed Sep 29 15:05:37 via HTC Peep

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.


David Packwood said...

Thanks for the info H.

Well, it's been some months since we've had a Raphael claim. I was prepared to give the Modena "Raphael" the benefit of the doubt- but not this. I've never seen this "rediscovered self-portrait" before, and as far as I'm concerned it should be rejected from Raphael's oeuvre since it's clearly not by him.

You're right- it lacks the grace and beauty of the master. The background looks untypical of him also. The best course of action would be for it to be returned to the vault. I don't think I'll waste time on the book either, though it's nicely presented.



Alberti's Window said...

Wow, I hadn't heard about this. (I'm glad that you can keep me updated on the latest Renaissance-related news!) Like you, I'm quite skeptical that this is a self-portrait. It looks like a copy of Raphael's original portrait. I also don't agree with the article statement that the paintings are "almost identical." They look pretty different to me, not only in terms of facial features, but the execution of the painting. The brushstrokes and use of color for this "new" portrait are quite different than the portrait which is more familiar to us.

I'm sure you'll keep us posted with more news regarding this discovery...

Unknown said...

Cheers for the comments David and M!

I must admit, it is extremely worrying that the two behind these claims are so highly placed in Italian Cultural life - one being a Museum Director and the other a Culture Minister.

The line demarcating professional and academic integrity, and marketing nouse to turn something a buck(or Euro) seems to be blurred somewhat.

Kind Regards

Anonymous said...

H, that's mostly because running a museum and being a minister are now matters of politics and money and not art. Also, these two most obviously don't have a classically trained eye. To make these kinds of claims impartially and most importantly competently one should be a practicing artist in the classical tradition or a restorer with a lot of experience with the time period concerned. Leonardo has suffered similar tragedies with his body of work (the fakes are easy to spot and don't match up with the development of his work or the styles of any of his studio assistants, portrait of a musician springs to mind. His portrait of Ginevra is an actual leonardo and painted 16 years before the musician!! Does one practice art for 16 years to paint in such a retrograde way?) and I think it will be a damning condemnation of our present museum systems if raphael is disgraced in a similar way.

Dr. F said...


No comment on the image except that forgery is also an art form in Italy and you think a forger would have done a better job. It's hard to believe that two ranking officials would risk their reputations without good evidence.

Also, I think you should give some credit to Raphael's father. With all the natural talent in the world, if Raphael had grown up in some peasant household, I doubt we would ever have heard of him.


Unknown said...

Cheers for the comments!

@Anon - it's saddening to hear that such prominent positions are awarded to those with political and financial talents at the expense of professional integrity. I would like to hope that the UK and US aren't quite there yet, but from Guggenheim director Richard Armstrong's recent comments at the World Economic Forum that he likes uneducated visitors to museums because their misunderstanding enriches his views, I'd venture to say that some UK/US museum officials are not entirely the best people for the job either!

@Frank - It's hard to say if this was a deliberate forgery, or simply an homage to Raphael, which was very popular in the 19th Century in particular. The 1885 record mentioned in the article was not clearly stated as to whether it identified the image as a 'porrtait of Raphael' or 'portrait by Raphael'. Maybe this detail is clarified in the book?

As for Giovanni Santi, he has been mentioned in previous posts of course. I did not feel it was necessary to bring him into this discussion specifically. Raphael was orphaned by age 11, so the extent of his father's inspiration would have been an ever present memory, but not perhaps as tangible as what he experienced under Perugino and Leonardo particularly.

Many cite Raphael's numerous mother and child images as homages to the parents he lost at such a young age, and a nod to his father who commonly painted Madonna and child scenes.

I find Giovanni Santi particularly interesting as one of the rare examples of an Italian artist that spoke quite highly of the Northern Renaissance painters.


Unknown said...

Edit Notes: included link to Il Giornale Dell'Arte piece on the book in question, and a comment on its ridiculous price!


Heidenkind said...

Oh sexy, sexy Raphael. Rawr. I agree with M and David--I don't think the "new" portrait looks like his style AT ALL. But whatevs, I'm not the expert.

Sergio Momesso said...

The painting has long been known, but no serious student of Raphael considered it seriously. Although we have not seen in public, it seems only a copy or a forgery.
I know very well the Uffizi's painting and the painting, that now someone wants to attribute to Raphael, it seems too mediocre to be taken seriously.

I agree on wonder about the protagonists of the revaluation of this work.
Even the publishing operation and the price of the book seem really ridiculous and misleading.

You did well in reporting the thing.

Unknown said...

Cheer for the comments!

@Heidenking - you are more qualified than me in this business!

@Sergio - thank you for your comments. I also am stunned by the price of that book. I can understand that collectors like limited editions, bit they should also release a standard and digital version to make their scholarship available to all for scrutiny. You would think a Museum director and Culture Minister would have a better idea of making knowledge accessible to scholars, students and curious members of the public!


Sergio Momesso said...

Yes, I agree with you. This is more of a marketing operation that knowledge.
But Roberto Longhi probably would have said: "Lei รจ un illuminista!"


Sergio Momesso said...

I forgot ...
If we shocked for this painting attributed to Raphael, what we think of this: http://goo.gl/4sfpR ?

See you soon,


Unknown said...

@Sergio - from the article on your site and other links, it definitely would be cause for great concern if they have seen fit to adopt the manager of McDonald's Italy to a prominent position safeguarding the Cultural Heritage in Italy!

Commerce is of course part of the practise of running Museums, buit you would hope the people put in charge have a greater level of expertise in cultural matters.

Here's an English article from The Economist to fill people in - I think the title says it all:

A man from McDonald's takes over Italy's heritage


Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

Yikes, that is a harrowing thought--having a McDonald's manager in charge of Italy's art heritage. As you said, you would hope people have greater sense than this. And yet, somehow, I'm not optimistic.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to spoil the party chaps, but this one's far more profound and "lifelike" than you have perceived, and for the painting's sake I must
defend it. More will come out in the future. GC.

Unknown said...

@GC - Thank you for your comments. Profound and lifelike don't necessarily go together. Our subjective experiences of any work are our own.

Aesthetic concerns aside, I'm more concerned about the dating evidence on this work. Until that can be unequivocally shown to be contemporary to Raphael, the reaction to this work will be the incredulity it has currently garnered.

The only people that do seem excited about this work are not Raphael scholars, who would jump at the chance to verify a serious contender for a 'new' Raphael, but the two entrepreneurs behind that ridiculously overpiced book!

Kind Regards

Anonymous said...

Kind thanks for your considerate comments, howver I must differ with your view, from long experience and actual case histories, after 40+ years of fruitful research, that Raphael or Leonardo scholars for that matter, will "jump at the chance to verify a serious contender". It is just not the case at all.
In fact the true situation is precisely the reverse, unless you are an "accepted" member of the one or other of the prevailing cliques who preside over the Leonardo and Raphael and specific artist's oeuvres. Should a factual/scientifically based case by presented by an "outsider", with serious definitive evidence and sound findings and conclusions,
(also assisted by a fortunate gift of "connoisseurship"), it is curtly disregarded and viewed as a "threat" to the status quo, in favour of maintaining present unsubstantiated "hypothetical/conjectured" positions, rather than advancing the cause of Art History, which I naively earlier believed would be the case, and as you have assumed. If you think this is not the case, David, who is aware of this work, may enlighten. The second major problem is that should your research be considered, then those who might assess it and the painting concerned, most often will lack the required "connoissuership" to perceive its actual qualities and status, as seen even in the case of the above work. I purposely chose my words about that, and you will see why both are aplicable soon. Since we are discussing Raphael and Leonardo, there has been a most significant research reassignment of a previously celebrated Giorgione, which the all definitive evidence indicates is in fact his lost 1512 original of, "The Judgement of Paris", from which the Raimonde engraving derives, and not from a lost drawing. This features his early Rome self portrait as "Paris" and the youngest known 1512 image of the "Fornarina" as one Goddess. This was a very personal work, and the impoertant missing third "masterpiece", which completes the Trilogy of that period of, "The Ethereal Picnic". Connjointly with this reassignment, the true identity of the "Mona Lisa" will be definitively revealled, with actual evidence from Leonardo's own hand. It will be proven not to be "Lisa Gherardini", nor "Leonardo in Drag", nor "Salai as a Woman", together with many other extraordinary Leonardo research insights into his unknown working methods, all in a new Book which is due to be released in the next few months. Thank you again. GC

Unknown said...

Thank you for your comments GC. I look forward to learning of this new research. I am not a member of the conoisseur crowd. For me new data is worth getting excited about, as long as it is valid and subject to reproducible methods of verification beyond the connoisseurs' magical gut instincts.

'Ethereal Picnic' is my own description of Pastoral Concert - are you saying this is not a Titian or Giorgione but a Raphael? As much as I would like that personally(to have my favourite painting be attributed to my favourite artist), it would need some blockbuster evidence!


Anonymous said...

Thank you again H. Absolutely. It's a fascinating saga of one of 19thC Britain's famous and most exhibited paintings, The Earls of Malmesbury "Giorgione". It earlier gained the admiration of all the great doyens, Ridolfi in 1658 at Casa Leoni, Venice,, Waagen, Passavant, Eastlake and Conway, amongst others, and its Venetian palette & provenance understandably misdirected them, with even Titian still being mistaken with its origins. Notwithstanding, its qualities are self evident, but they all missed Raphael and Fornarina's pivotal physiognomies within, unique to this prototype. Considered the prime work, at least Eight copies and versions, attest to its importance, at the Uffizi, NG Sweeden, Dresden,(destroyed WW2),Gubbio etc, whilst its sub surface "pentimenti" are a revelation. Yes I intentionally used that term from your your earlier insightful article, which had links to the subject of this composition. GC

Unknown said...

@GC - I'm curious to see an image of this work. Do you have a link? I recently read Herbert Cook's old volume on Giorgione, who mentioned this work, but there was no image.

Kind Regards

Unknown said...

Looking a bit more into this painting has been an interesting affair!

I have yet to come across an image of a painting, but there was a reconstruction done in Eller's volume on Giorgione(cheers to Dr Frank DeStefano for that info).

If anyone else has information they would like to supply, my email address can be found by clicking my profile (where it says 'About 3PP' up on the left of the page)

Kind Regards

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