Prado Raphael Symposium: Day 1 Report

June 27, 2012

Day 1 of the Prado Raphael Symposium was a fascinating look at the later period of Raphael's career, as well as a glimpse into some of the major issues affecting the study of Raphael and Renaissance art. In attempting a summary of the day, I have provided the abstracts of the presentations issued to attendees by the Prado. Some clarifying notes are also included, which are primarily descriptions of audience reactions to presentations. A publication of the symposium proceedings will give the fullest possible account, and is due in the first half of 2013.

The introduction by Dr. Gabriele Finaldi and Dr. Miguel Falomir set the scene for the day. Dr. Falomir mentioned that the Prado was delighted with the attendance at the exhibition to date, exceeding 50,000 visitors in the last 2 weeks. He also thanked the presenters and attendees of the symposium for their interest in the subject. The day was divided into two sessions - with questions addressed to presenters cumulatively at the end of the each session. The second panel incited quite a lot of discussion and ended up going 15 minutes over time. I have also included a few responses posted on twitter by those following my ongoing updates on the conference.

Session 1

Paul Barolsky 
The Elusive Raphael

If we ask ourselves, "who was Raphael?" we find that the basic facts pertaining to his life story tell us very little about the inner man. This is so because Raphael assumed a carefully crafted, highly impersonal courtly persona. Focusing on the Self-Portrait with a Friend from the Louvre, this talk will focus on some of the ways in which Raphael's manner of adapting a mask is related to the courtly decorum found in the Book of The Courtier written by Raphael's friend, Baldassare Castiglione.

Professor Barolsky was the perfect choice to start the day's proceedings. Those familiar with his work will know his approach to art history is somewhat unique, and this was no exception. The talk did indeed focus on the Louvre double portrait, but also ventured into an intriguing iconographic interpretation of two columns seen in the upper architecture of the School of Athens, to which the figure of Plato is seen pointing. These two columns seem to have eluded most commentators, and today Professor Barolsky proposed an interpretation, describing the columns as abstractions of the human body, particularly the spine. He then went on to add that this abstraction could have a possible Neoplatonic inference, particularly the notion of mind surpassing all form. 

Professor Barolsky openly admitted that such interpretations were difficult to prove, describing this reading of the columns as "a hunch." The artist’s program for the painting does not survive, and as the Professor noted in his exploration, the remaining primary sources seem to have been crafted carefully by Raphael and Castiglione, resulting in the "prince of painters" so famously described by Vasari. All in all, a wonderful talk, and laced with some of the Professor's well known dry humour - when asked by audience members about speculating on the Louvre double portrait, he deliberately said he did not wish to do so - adding that each time he reads an interpretation identifying the man beside Raphael, he is equally convinced they are right!

via Twitter

*apologies to Prof. Barolsky for my misspelling his name in the tweet

Sheryl E. Reiss
Raphael, Leo X and Cardinal Giulio de Medici

Following Raphael's death in April of 1520, contemporaries noted Pope Leo X's profound grief. Leo (reg. 1513-1521), second son of Lorenzo the Magnificent de' Medici, a patron of great discernment, had commissioned Raphael (and his workshop) to execute an astonishing array of works in the Vatican and to be sent elsewhere. These included the completion of the Stanza d' Eliodoro, the cartoons for the Sistine Chapel tapestries, the pope's loggia, the vault of the Sala de' Pontefici, the commission of for the Sala di Constantino, and the gifts for King Francis I of France and his family. Raphael also painted the magnificent portrait of the pope now in the Uffizi, in which Leo is flanked by two cardinals: Luigi de' Rossi and the pontiff's first cousin and trusted "right hand man," Giulio de Medici, the future Pope Clement VII (reg. 1523-1534). Cardinal Giulio commissioned Raphael's Transfiguration (intended for the cathedral of Narbonne in southern France) and he was the primary patron of the villa designed by Raphael on Monte Mario, known today as the Villa Madama. This paper will consider Raphael's work for Pope Leo X and Cardinal Giulio de' Medici in the last years of the artist's extraordinary career in Rome. Topic to be considered include Raphael's relationships with the pontiff and the cardinal, the highly competitive environment at the Leonine papal court, and the patrons' ambitions, priorities, and concerns. 

Those with a particular interest in assessing and interpreting the specifics of  primary source accounts would have especially enjoyed this presentation. Using the Villa Madama and Transfiguration as key examples, Professor Reiss constructed a strong case demonstrating Cardinal Giulio's influential relationship with Raphael. This interesting area of research constitutes an important contribution in discerning the nature and extent of Giulio's involvement in matters of patronage, which previously had been viewed exclusively in the context of Giulio's inter-mediation for Leo X. The logic of the presentation was cogent and insightful, the full write-up in next year's publication should make for a landmark paper on Giulio's role in patronage. For more from Professor Reiss on Raphael's patrons in Rome, her wonderful contribution to the Cambridge Companion to Raphael is highly recommended:  Raphael and His Patrons: From the Court of Urbino to the Curia and Rome.

via Twitter

Carmen Bambach
Leonardo and Raphael, circa 1513-16

The careers of Leonardo and Raphael intersected at two points in their lives, in Florence between circa 1503 and 1508, and in Rome between circa 1513-1516 when Leonardo was in the service of Giuliano de' Medici, who was a patron of both artists. The career of Leonardo in Rome in 1513 and 1516, however, is controversial, not the least because there is still a relatively unclear sense of his activities as an artist and "non-artist," while Raphael could be said to have been at the peak of his career. My paper will propose a detailed overview of Leonardo's accomplishments during his Roman years, including an assessment of the state of his notes for the treatise on painting, which I see as one of his major (if misunderstood) contributions of this time, together with the progress of the influential paintings which Leonardo had begun a number of years previously, and continued to rework into his late maturity. I shall also attempt to clarify which in my opinion are the contributions of Leonardo to Raphael's art and which are due to in their Florentine and Roman periods, as a number or problems in this chronology still bear some rethinking.

Carmen Bambach is a renowned Leonardo scholar, so the focus of her talk was most immediately on Leonardo, and specifically the dangers and difficulties in navigating the evidence relevant to Leonardo's time in Rome It is a challenging area to examine, perhaps made more difficult by the intense public interest in the artist. During the course of her talk she presented a contested document that refers to a "Raphael of Urbino" but has been met with skepticism by both Leonardo and Raphael scholars as not referring to the famous artist but to another Raphael from Urbino. She described the two groups of scholars as Leonardisti and Raffaelisti and expressed concern that the document may be too quickly discounted and hence obscured from consideration. Establishing the validity of source documents seems to figure less in some art historical presentations, hence it was refreshing to see Professor Bambach strongly advocate for the ongoing assay of relevant evidence. The full presentation of this topic in next year's symposium publication will be eagerly anticipated.

Lorraine Karafel
Raphael's Tapestries

Among Raphael's most innovative works were the tapestry designs he produced with his workshop between 1515 and 1520 for his patron Pope Leo X. These included, the famous ten-piece Acts of the Apostles; the eight piece antique-style Grotesques ; the twenty-piece allegorical Playing Children, and a magnificent ceremonial bed with an illusionistic canopy, that was recently, that was recently acquired by Spain's Patrimonio Nacional. In a period of unprecedented creativity, Raphael pursued his investigations as a painter in his textile designs, fashioning complex compositions that celebrated Pope Leo, and that challenged traditional concepts of tapestry. This paper looks at Raphael's tapestry designs and their relationship with his paintings to offer a new understanding of the artist's use of both media to create spectacular decorative environments melding image and meaning.

It was encouraging to hear of current efforts to more fully describe the creative output of Raphael and his studio. This presentation explored in detail the complex astrological symbolism and elements from Virgil's Fourth Eclogue. It would have been interesting to know if there was evidence regarding those who might have assisted Raphael and his workshop in designing these complex astrological and symbolic programs. It is hoped this will be further elaborated in the symposium publication. This talk was also particularly memorable for Dr. Karafel's description of Raphael as a talented "multi-media" artist, which is an exciting new direction for Raphael studies.

Left to right Sheryl Reiss, Lorraine Karafel, Gabriele Finaldi, Timothy Clifford, Paul Barolsky, Carmen Bambach

Timothy Clifford
Raphael and the Decorative Arts

Almost every aspect of Raphael's work as a draftsman, painter, designer of tapestries, architect and specialist in classical antiquities has been subject to in-depth study. We know surprisingly little about his as a designer of arti minori. There is however, a considerable body of evidence to show that he had very close relationships with goldsmiths, but as these objects no longer survive, they have been ignored. Raphael also designed coins, medals and also probably engraved gems as well as tiled floors and mosaic ceilings. This paper is an attempt to show how the artist, as an uomo universale, was properly concerned with with the Fine and Decorative Arts but must also have encouraged his able assistants like Polidoro, Giovanni da Udine, Peruzzi, Perino and Giulio to explore, with great imagination, the aesthetic possibilities of providing designs for many different craftsmen.

This complemented Lorraine Karafel's presentation nicely, with both exploring these lesser known aspects of Raphael's career. Sir Timothy demonstrated a personal passion for broadening the exclusive study of paintings by artists in this period, advocating the inclusion of designs realised for execution by gold and silversmiths, and potters among others. His talk presented the most amusing primary source quote of the day, a complaint that "Raphael will do as he likes as not as he is told" - somewhat disparate from the saintly personality described by Vasari.

Session 2

Christa Gardner von Teuffel
Raphael's Visitation: law, concord, female hierachy and peace

Raphael's Visitation is uncommon as an altarpiece composition foregrounding two female protagonists. Raphael draws on earlier Florentine precedent as well as classical motifs to produce an unusually pointed message. The iconography and the feast it celebrates are shown to have specific contemporary political references. 

This was a delightfully thorough presentation, tracing the obscure but fascinating depictions of the Visitation, which included versions by Piero di Cosimo and Ghirlandaio. It sparked an extended discussion (via a query from the audience) about the attribution of the work, as well as the exaggerated depiction of St. Elizabeth's pregnancy which is not strictly in accordance with descriptions with Biblical and extra-Biblical sources. The result of this discussion was that curators of the exhibition, Dr. Tom Henry and Professor Paul Joannides were to meet in front of the Visitation at 9am on the second day to outline their reasoning for the attribution presented in the exhibition.

Roberto Bartalini
From Raphael to Sodoma: Regarding the Nuptial Chamber of Agostino Chigi at the Farnesina

Beginning with a cumulative re-examination of the decoration of the nuptial chamber of the Villa of Agostino Chigi, its iconographic program and its perceptible literary sources, this presentation proposes the involvement of Raphael in the first phases of the commission and then the transferal of the task to Sodoma. In this second period, we focus on the selection of the histories of Alexander the Great that were to be painted in the chamber, following however the direction that had been established at the outset. In the elaboration of this project, Agostino Chigi’s secretary Cornelio Benigni must have had a defining role, being a humanist who enjoyed a significant degree of fame in the early sixteenth century but is now largely forgotten. In representing the Marriage of Alexander and Roxanne, Sodoma certainly made use of Raphael’s celebrated drawings of this subject and from these drawings he was able to retrace other very recent works of the Urbinate. This constituted a decisive phase for Sodoma, which we seek to define chronologically, with a significant effect on his further activity.

This presentation was made in Italian, which unfortunately was not translated by the audio service provided by the Prado. The panel after the session 2 presentations was translated however, and this particular talk generated a protracted debate, including some open disagreement on aspects of the presentation. It would be prudent to wait for the full presentation before commenting further.

Costanza Barbieri
Sebastiano del Piombo, Raphael, and Agostino Chigi's patronage

The rivalry between Sebastiano and Raphael, as discussed by Vasari, is usually related to the first public commission for the Venetian painter in Rome, the Viterbo Pieta, realized with Michelangelo's help. However, the paragone between the Venetian and the painter from Urbino went back the the first years in Rome, when both worked for Agostino Chigi. Indeed, the comparison between the Poliphemus and the Galatea, in the Farnesina Loggia, is a central issue un the development of their artistic personalities and for their future achievements. This study focuses on the first years of Chigi's patronage, and on his decision to create a contest between Sebastiano's "maniera disforme", the richly coloured style brought from Venice, and Raphael's highly classical images. Chigi's collection of antique statues and cameos will be analyzed as a source of inspiration and as an ideal model for both artists, with remarkably different outcomes.

Although the abstract was presented in English, the talk was presented in Italian. The key question generated from the audience on this topic addressed the negative perception Vasari's account bestows to Sebastiano. In answer to this, Professor Barbieri clarified that an artists's competency and originality in design and draftsmanship was viewed as superior to coloring at this time in Rome. There is also an added bias towards the Florentine perspective (via Vasari), which viewed draftsmanship in ascendancy over colour. Professor Barbieri further added that as the earlier frescoes of Venetian artists such as Titian and Giorgione are lost, we have no stable base of comparison to track the earlier development of Sebastiano's technique and influences. Readers interested in the Sebastiano/Raphael rivalry should also track down Barbieri's previous exploration of the topic, The Competition between Michelangelo and Raphael: The Role of Sebastiano del Piombo, which was included in the Cambridge Companion to Raphael, edited by Marcia Hall.

Many thanks to Gemma Garcia for her kind assistance in Madrid, and to Dr. Edward Goldberg for his prompt translation of the Bartalini abstract. Also, a special thanks to those sending their support via twitter.


Benjamin (Ben) said...

This is fascinating!

Thanks for sharing the abstracts and for allowing us to follow the conference from afar. I particularly enjoyed your description of Barolsky's paper, and I love the idea of a q&a session including a promise to continue the discussion in front of the painting in question (bravo Dr. Henry and Prof Joannides!).

I look forward to hearing about Day 2....

Anonymous said... do you do it H?!

I love that you are reporting impressions from the audience on each topic - both in the auditorium and from those following on twitter.
Sometimes what a presenter has in mind ends up going in a different direction depending on how the concepts are received by the audience.

We are lucky to have you there, setting such an example. In Renaissance studies at least, I can not recall such immediate and detailed coverage - it's wonderful to read, and your obvious delight in being there is evident for all to see.

Looking forward to Day 2!

Stephanie S

Edward Goldberg said...

Congratulations, Hassan! This is all very exciting - and the first coverage in real time of a scholarly art historical conference, I think? I greatly admire your ability to produce such cogent commentary in the small hours of the morning after a twenty hour flight from Melbourne to Madrid.

Edward Goldberg said...

Oops! In my excitement, I added a superfluous "s" to "Hasan" - a mistake that I managed to avoid for quite some time!

Alberti's Window said...

Wow, Plato's finger pointing toward the columns is a really interesting "hunch" on Barolsky's part. I never would have considered anything along those lines.

I just got back from my trip to Istanbul - I'm so happy that I'm back in time to follow your posts on the Raphael symposium! Great work!

Unknown said...

Thanks to all for the kind comments!

I am currently working on the day 2 recap. It was a wonderful symposium, and I was also delighted to meet a few of the scholars. Meeting Professor Reiss was particularly delightful, which only came about because one of her students (David) spotted her in a photo I sent out via Twitter. Thanks David!


Alexandra said...

Ed is right, this must be a first - twitter and live blogging at an AH conference. I am impressed by your summarizing ability (though we've seen that in every post you write) and most of all your physical resistance and concentration. You make the conference look quite fun ;)

Serena said...

Great job Hasan!

Thank you for sharing this experience with us!


Unknown said...

Thank you for the kind comments Alexandra and Serena.

There was less physical stamina involved here than in a normal week at 3PP, where I also have to go to work. This was relatively easier.

It was also wonderfully cool inside the Prado, compared to the 40+C we had outside, so we can hardly complain!

Kind Regards

Karen Barrett-Wilt said...

Thanks for this, Hasan! I'm going to have to keep this format in mind -- the abstracts and your notes together give a complete yet compact summary. Nicely done!

Unknown said...

Cheers Karen! In considering the format - I thought about a few different options. My original idea was to actually "liveblog" it like a tech conference (eg.often seen at tech sites such as engadget). However, this was not technically not feasible at the Prado, and also would have given a more fragmented presentation.

We were not given the abstracts until the first day of the conference, so the idea for this format came sometime after I had received some tweeted responses to photos of the panels. It was only then that the "official/intended" vs "impressions/reactions" format came to mind! I think it suits the topic nicely in this instance, much more so than a "liveblog"

Kind Regards

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...