The circular fortunes of the von Baden Madonna

January 20, 2012

The von Baden Madonna c.1500. Private collection

An upcoming old masters sale at Sotheby's New York offers a Madonna and Child with the description circle of Raphael. In terms of attribution, a piece labelled in this manner indicates that the author is not conclusively known, its style instead likened to a type of work produced by an artist working in a similar manner and sharing common influences to Raphael. To add further intrigue, tucked into this entry in the Sotheby's catalogue is this fascinating revelation:
The painting exists in a larger version, formerly in the collection of Prince Max von Baden (1867-1929), which has been tentatively attributed to the young Raphael. That work is of equally high quality though slightly different in execution, perhaps due to its slightly different scale.
One of the delights in examining an artist's complete set of works is the discovery of lesser known examples related to or executed by them, often present in limited publications. The following report will summarise the published data on two pieces - the Sotheby's Madonna and its larger counterpart, hereby referred to as the von Baden Madonna. 

First however, a summary of Raphael's early years in necessary. There is great debate among scholars as to the nature of Raphael's training and his exposure to Perugino in the 1490s. It is widely believed that Raphael spent some time either in the workshop of, or in collaboration with Perugino during this period. This description primarily comes to us from two writers commenting well after Raphael's death - Fornari da Reggio in 1549, and Giorgio Vasari in 1550, in his first edition of The Lives of the Artists.  Others add the influence of Pinturicchio as significant, particularly as Raphael arrived in Perugia after 1501 (Henry). Earlier writers such as Crowe and Cavalcaselle went as far as calling Pinturicchio Raphael's "second master", with  reasoned arguments presented in more recent publications by Oberhuber and Henry among others.
Less clear is whether Raphael was directly apprenticed to Perugino. There is no extant document which links an adolescent Raphael as an apprentice to Perugino directly. Shearman cites one surviving example from Raphael's lifetime - a document drawn up for Pope Julius II in October 1511. It assigns to Raphael (then 28 years old) the post of Scriptor Brevium - the writer of Apostolic Briefs. The key words cited by Shearman are Johannis de Urbino scolaris - which he translates as disciple of Giovanni of Urbino - a clear reference to Raphael's father. This documentary source is often missed or omitted by art historians attempting to describe Raphael's training and relying more heavily on Vasari's later account. Shearman clarifies that Perugino, having recently been in Rome himself, would have been acknowledged in this description had Raphael been a pupil of his. Another publication on Raphael in Umbria by Mancini also contains evidence of Raphael "studying with" Perugino for a period in early 1503.

While the debate over who provided Raphael's training will continue, it is permissible to say that Raphael would have been exposed to Perugino's works and had rendered pieces demonstrative of his influence. This was a pattern repeated by Raphael throughout his career, continually exploring and experimenting with innovations made by other artists. Stylistically, Raphael exhibited a dazzling progression in a relatively short span of time. This is part of why Raphael studies are particularly captivating - it is akin to studying many artists at once, with about a dozen artists (at last count) being published as stylistic influences on Raphael, from Memling to Pinturicchio to Sebastiano del Piombo.

Acknowledging the difficulties in studying early Raphael, we now turn to these two fascinating pieces. The Sotheby's catalogue entry is available online and describes in great detail the relevant history of the composition, seen numerously in works by Perugino and his followers in the 1490s. Hence, a reader of this entry would wonder why the catalogue authors are not using the description circle of Perugino. To attempt to explain this as anything more than a way to attract attention to the piece in the catalogue, we must acknowledge the larger von Baden Madonna as providing the link to a discussion of Raphael's involvement. 

i. The Sotheby's Madonna

The Sotheby's Madonna
Madonna and Child in a Landscsape
Oil on panel
29 x 21 cm
Catalogue listing as circle of Raphael, with compositional links to Perugino clearly stated. Successfully sold at auction on January 26th 2012.

1860 Purchased in Rome for the Otto von Bissing Collection [d.1896], Bonn, Germany
on loan circa 1909-1927 to Provinzialmuseum, Bonn

1935 Purchased by Wallraf Rheydt collection, Von Bissing estate sale, Cologne, Lempertz, (November 27), Lot 79 as "style of Pietro Perugino"

Stylistic features
Brown points out the background landscape highlights an Italian artist aware of Flemish visual traditions.  A suggested model for this composition is Martin Schongauer's engraving of the Madonna and Child on a Grassy bench, although the links between this composition and Raphael or his father's workshop are not elucidated - only Giovanni Santi's written praise of Flemish artists in Disputa della pittura is cited in this instance.

 Martin Schongauer. engraving c.1474. Madonna and Child on a Grassy Bench

This particular arrangement of the Madonna and Child is reported as based on a type often used by Perugino. Key examples of this are seen in the central panels of the Fano Altarpiece (Pala di Durante) and the Decemviri Altarpiece, the latter now at the Vatican, both dated to the mid-late 1490s. Some scholars have argued this motif was also used in works by Giovanni Santi. Pietro Scarpellini and Paul Joannides (among others) argue the design was created by Perugino, whereas Rodolf Hillier von Gaertringen presents Giovanni Santi as the originator of the design, citing the Sacra converszione fresco (c.1490) for the Capella Tiranni in the Church of San Domenico in Cagli.

Figural antecedents Left: Giovanni Santi's sacra conversazione in Cagli Middle, Right: Fano and Decemviri Altarpieces attributed to Perugino.

Whatever the origins of the design may have been, when the von Baden piece entered the market in 1995 it was stylistically linked with Perugino. Subsequently, differences noted in the rendering of the face in particular suggested another hand at work, leading to further technical investigation. Examining a catalogue of Raphael's known works, the most viable candidate for comparison are the figures seen in the remaining fragments of the altarpiece dedicated to the Coronation of Saint Nicholas of Tolentino. A fragment showing the head of an angel is, now at the Pinacoteca Martinengo in Brescia is commonly cited as an example of early Raphael. Usually dated between 1500-1501, it marks a point where Raphael began to infuse something of his own style into the faces and features of his figures, a certain tenderness which was to become characteristic for the duration of his career.

Panel and pigment analysis
Not surprisingly for a circle of piece, the amount of technical data available is presently quite thin. A higher resolution image, condition report and X-ray image was made available by Sotheby's on request. Pigment has been described as oils, but the chemical basis for this is not clear. Panel species is also not clarified.

The condition report was submitted to Sotheby's by Mr. Simon Parkes, an independent restorer working in New York. It comments specifically on the condition of the painting and the degree of restoration evident via ultraviolet and visible light examination. It does not, and is not intended to throw any light on aspects of the execution that are related to questions of authorship:

This panel is flat and has no reinforcements on the reverse. The paint layer is stable and has probably been quite recently restored....Under ultraviolet light there are restorations visible around the extreme edges in the red dress of the Madonna around her breast, but no other restorations are visible. However, with the naked eye one can possibly detect restorations in the dark shadows of the blue gown in the lower portion of the picture and a few other spots in the sky. Presumably the Madonna's halo has been re-gilded or retouched, but in general the condition of this painting is very good.

The X-ray itself is a fascinating image that would serve as an interesting case study for anyone interested in the use of undersurface scanning modalities in art. Specialist expertise is not needed to observe key differences between the visible image and the X-radiograph.

Of particular interest is the apparent lower depiction of the leg of the Christ child. The report indicates that the final painting may have been over another composition. Alternatively, it could be stated that the position of the Christ child was altered, literally transposed to a higher vertical position.  Due to limited data on any aspects of underdrawing or mode of transfer (tracing, pouncing etc) the full extent of the differences noted on X-ray cannot be adequately described.

ii. The von Baden Madonna

The von Baden Madonna
Madonna and Child in a Landscape
Oil and tempera on poplar panel
47 x 33.7 cm
Private collection

Attribution history
Published in 2001 - An Art Odyssey by the Matthiesen Fine Art in London. Forwarded as a possible early Raphael by Nicholas Penny, John Shearman and Filippo Todini. Doubts towards Raphael attribution expressed by Paul Joannides.

For the 1995 auction (when sold as a Perugino), and prior to cleaning  Everett Fahy submitted Perugino followers Tiberio di Assisi or Sinibaldo Ibo ; Pietro Scarpellini cited the Master of the Greenville Tondo as possible author.  

It is understood that Raphael catalogue authors, Jürg Meyer zur Capellen and Pierluigi De Vecchi have either not seen, nor have publicly commented on the piece. A reference to the work (either as an accepted or rejected attribution) is hence missing from Meyer zur Capellen's comprehensive (ongoing) assay of Raphael's works, though may be added in a subsequent revision.

Prior to 19th century Unknown via documentary sources. Some speculation is made towards a link to the Alfani collection, but this is not clearly indicated from extant documentation.

?Late 1800s Prince Max von Baden [d.1929], Submitted as allegedly purchased in the late nineteenth century. Von Baden's mark is noted on the cradling

1995 Sale of Die Sammlung der Markgrafen und Grossherzöge von Baden, Sotheby's Baden-Baden, 5-21 October, lot 2272 (attributed to Pietro Perugino)

Panel and pigment characteristics
Panel is noted as poplar, pigments described as a combination of oils and tempera. A description of pigment characteristics was provided by Beverly Louise Brown in a 2002 presentation made at the National Gallery London. A summary of key findings is listed below:
*Application of colour in background landscape giving an "atmospheric" effect - styled on northern antecedents.
*White highlights in nails of Madonna and Christ child, and the baby's nipple [in pink] depicted in profile are noted as unique features, unseen in the work of Perugino followers.
*Red applied to cheeks to give flushed appearance - also noted in Raphael's Norton Simon and Solly Madonnas.
*Colours of Virgin's clothes are the same as the Decemviri Altarpiece, but applied in a different manner, noted as analogous to the opaqueness seen in Giovanni Santi's work.
*For the Virgin's eyes, exaggeration of  tear ducts, with a fine red line along eye socket and dark brown lines used for lashes is cited as congruous with the Head of an Angel in Brescia.
*Thinly executed strands of hair similar to the Angel with Scrolls Tolentino Altarpiece fragment in the Louvre.
*Application of flesh tones is noted as less thin and translucent than seen in Perugino or later Raphael pieces, more akin to the manner of Giovanni Santi. Similar levels of Lead White seen on X-ray also noted in Santi's Madonna and Child in London and the Louvre angel fragment.
*Depiction of folds in Virgin's drapery, including small triangular indentations in outer garments  and long folds descending from neckline also seen in Louvre angel fragment.

 Angel with Scrolls. Attributed to Raphael.c.1500-1. Louvre Museum

Reported in good condition with no significant areas of loss. Cleaning occurred after the purchase, completed by Mr. David Bull in 1996 - who confirmed retouching of golden halos. A previous restoration had also erroneously added vegetation covering the halo, rather than being visible through it.

Undersurface scans
Infrared reflectograms show lead point underdrawing in faces and hands, also mostly visible to the naked eye. It is noted thickness of the ground and the layers of paint in the drapery did not allow the underdrawing to be read in many areas. Multiple X-Radiographs were cited, including a digitised version rendered in Florence and others taken in London. These allowed comparison of prevalence of lead white used in flesh tone modelling, but otherwise noted as difficult to read due to presence of cradling. They also demonstrated incised lines in the clothing, noted as an early technique for indicating drapery folds. There was no indication of spolveri or other means of mechanical image transfer from a cartoon.

von Baden Madonna X-radiograph

Several small changes were discerned (via Brown 2001, 2002)
*Change in the curved shape of the Christ child’s left hand, affected by shortening the forefinger and bending the thumb outwards
*Small changes to the Virgin’s left hand - the hand may originally have been positioned higher up beside  the child’s body.
*Hatching and scoring in the paint layers (not the underdrawing) in the areas of deep shadow in the drapery (Brown 2002).
*Small changes in the lower portion of the Christ child’s right hand as the artist explored how to depict the hand interacting with the Virgin’s bodice and for the child’s thumb to press into and pucker the folds of the red smock.

This playful tugging of the Virgin's blouse is seen again in Perugino and his followers, including Pinturicchio. It is also to be noted in varying forms in Raphael works such as the Colonna and Orleans Madonnas, but was arguably perfected in the c1508 Niccolini-Cowper Madonna, now in Washington:

Critical reception
To date, the only publication which examines the von Baden piece at any length, including mentioning the possible involvement of Raphael is a 2001 volume released by Matthiesen Fine Art in London. It is understood this gallery once had both the Sotheby's and von Baden versions and was engaging the opinion and analysis of noted experts to discern their authorship. While the piece does have some notable supporters as a tentative early Raphael, their lack of publication beyond the 2001 volume is noted. A consensus seems elusive, and supporters of the attribution seem loathe to press the point. Exploring the factors contributing to this, while incredibly fascinating to contemplate, is beyond the scope of this article.

For further study
The authorship of this piece seems currently locked in stalemate due to a lack of consensus. This has  resulted from differing opinions based primarily on stylistic factors. A common thread in the available information for both pieces is a depleted amount of technical data. The von Baden piece has more published findings, yet a thorough analysis permissible by modern standards is presently lacking. With the increasing amount of technical data now published on the painting methods of Raphael and Perugino, a more detailed comparison examining panel, ground and pigment types, layering of paint and undersurface preparation would be welcome. It may not reveal an author, but could take us a step closer in describing similarities of both pieces to known works by Perugino and Raphael.

Congratulations to the new owner(s) of the circle of Raphael piece, which was successfully sold at the Sotheby's New York January 26 auction for $290,500 USD, above the original $150,000 top estimate. It is hoped the new owner(s) will have further tests conducted to reveal the finer details of this smaller version and allow further comparison to the von Baden piece and other related works.

3PP would like to thank staff at Matthiesen Fine Art London and Sotheby's New York for providing additional images and data used in the preparation of this report.

Beguin, S. The Saint Nicholas of Tolentino Altarpiece in Raphael before Rome. Studies in the History of Art. Vol. 17. Beck, J. (ed.). National Gallery of Washington/Eastern Press. 1986. pp.15-28

Brown, BL. Raphael's Earliest Work? Transcript of presentation at National Gallery London, 8 November 2002. link

Brown, BL in Matthiesen, P et al. 2001 - An Art Odyssey 1500-1720: Classicism, Mannerism, Caravaggism & Baroque. Matthiesen Fine Art Ltd. 2001. p.48

Ferino Pagden, S. The Early Raphael and His Umbrian Contemporaries. ibid. Beck, J. (ed.) pp.93-107

Henry, T. Perugia 1502. Pintoricchio (exh. cat. - ed. Garibaldi, V. Mancini, FF) Galleria Nazionale Perugia & Spellor. 2008. pp.121-129 link

Mancini, FF. Raffaello in Umbria: cronologia e committenza : nuovi studi e documenti. Volumnia. 1987. p.33

Mottin, B, Martin E, Laval, E. Raphael's Paintings in French Museums: Some new results from recent technical investigation. Raphael's Painting Technique: Working practices before Rome. (ed. Roy, A, Spring, M). Nardini Editore. 2004. pp.13-24

Oberhuber K, Raphael and Pintoricchio. Beck, J. (ed.) op.cit. pp.155-172

Russell, F. Perugino and the Early Experience of Raphael. Beck, J. (ed.) op.cit. pp.189-201

Shearman, JK. Raphael in Early Modern Sources. Vol. 1. Yale University Press. 2003. pp.150-151

Sotheby's Old Masters Sale Jan 26 2012. Lot 16 Circle of Raphael - The Madonna and Child in a Landscape.  Accessed January 2012 link


Alberti's Window said...

That x-ray image is especially interesting to me, especially revealing that the composition was altered or moved to place Christ on a higher plane. I didn't seem to catch in your entry who performed the x-ray image. Was it done by Sotheby's associates?

I agree that a comparison of technical data between Perugino and Raphael would be welcome. That seems to be the next step, doesn't it? (Of course, I imagine that a painting associated with the circle of Raphael reaches higher market prices than one by Perugino. Some may be hesitant to make comparisons, for fear of lower market value.)

Unknown said...

Hi M! I have a name with the scan but not a report or source. This type of thing is usually outsourced and comes with some deliberately cautious language as you can see in the above condition report.

The authorship comparisons and extrapolations seem to be the territory of bold academics :) For the von Baden piece, that we have a list of six specialists, and 3 different suggested authors makes me shudder as a data analyst thinking about "inter observer reliability" - but I think this is something I will have to get used to in the world of art attributions :)

In the Sotheby's version, an infrared scan would have been more useful but was not supplied in this instance. As mentioned, there is little fuss made over "circle of" pieces so I'm amazed we have the XR for starters.

That being said, I'm fascinated that such big names supported the von Baden piece and yet it barely made a blip in the literature. There seems to be a chapter missing in this story but I daren't speculate!

In any event, I'm pleased to bring a summary of the history of the pieces and available tech studies to a wider audience.

Kind Regards

Historyscientist said...

It really is a stunningly beautiful painting. Thanks for all the research, but especially just for bringing it to my attention.

Glennis said...

Beautifully deep & jewel-like colours, bringing to mind several of Perugino's works I recently saw in Munich.

Edward Goldberg said...

Many thanks, Hasan! This is clear, concise and right on target—and you continue to put “professional art historians” to shame with your relentless focus on the facts of the matter. Needless to say, it makes no sense to label the Sotheby’s picture “Circle of Raphael”. Raphael had a “circle” when he was in his early teens? Who knew?! The Italian "Ambiente di Raffaello"/"Environment of Raphael" might have been possible, but it is of course far easier to fudge things in Italian! In any case, both pictures are splendid things in their own right and fascinating glimpses into the artistic possibilities of a particular time and place—even if the exact time and place remains open to discussion.

Dr. F said...


Two comments. Does the x-ray indicate that the Madonna's head was initially covered with a veil that extended over her chest?

The most significant iconographical element in both paintings is the Madonna's hand pointing to her Son's genitals. She is providing the viewer with proof of his humanity. this concept was explored brilliantly by the late Leo Steinberg in "the Sexuality of christ in Renaissance Art and Modern Oblivion."


Unknown said...

Cheers for the comments!

@Historyscientist - Welcome to 3PP! I am pleased more people can find out about this now - this was the entire aim of the post! It does the debate no favours for the information to remain buried in obscure volumes and auction catalogues.

@Edward Goldberg - Many thanks for the kind feedback! You are most definitely right, regardless of the author, they are wonderful - and in relatively good condition!

@Glennis - I was wondering what you would make of the colours! Beverley Brown's talk at the NGL (see refs) did make some discussion about the pigments and source. She seems to feel that the artist, possibly a young Raphael, seemed to be hovering between Giovanni Santi and Perugino, or at least influenced by both of them.

@Dr F - cheers for that Frank. I could see no mention of a veil in the scan reports. As for the theme, Steinberg's amazing contribution in this area is not discussed as much as it should be! I had to slice the "stylistic/thematic" section out of this review for the sake of length, but will incorporate it in the Raphael project entry. Like so many of the iconographical elements in these infant scenes, there is a foreshadowing of the passion.

In addition to the "nudus nudum Christum sequi" (to follow the naked Christ naked) described via Saints Jerome and Francis, the Virgin's gesture towards the Christ child's humanity seem to also exclaim "Ecco Homo" and hence become a direct foreshadowing of the scourging of Christ.

It is always valuable to make these considerations as they remind us how emtionally resonant these images were intended to be. It's an interesting facet of Raphael's character that he manages to infuse his figures with such playfulness and calm - one can argue that he is elevating them to something approaching divine, whereas others would opt for a more anguished presentation, as we were to see glimpses of in Michelangelo, and in the Baroque in particular.

For those interested in a summary article of Steinberg's conribution in this area, a wonderful piece by Dianne Phillips can be read here: link (cheers to Dr F for the link)

More information on Steinberg's ground-breaking book on the sexuality of Christ in Renaissance art can be seen on the University of Chicago's Press Page here: link

Kind Regards

Peter Triantos said...

I have one that's earlier than all three of these works

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