Art: Madonna

2 minute read

Last week, Sir Joseph Duveen purchased from Lady Desborough, after secret bidding had determined his offer of $875,000* to be the most advantageous, Raphael’s Madonna and Child, painted in 1508, probably the most notable Raphael Madonna extant outside of museums.

Having bought this brilliant and tender painting, Sir Joseph assured its English owners and authorities of the government that he would leave his possession in England for a fairly long period at least before taking it to the U. S. Lady Desborough, who had inherited the canvas indirectly from the third Earl Cowper who in turn had bought it from the Niccolini Palace in Florence 150 years ago, had dealt with Sir Joseph before. In 1913 she sold him the “small Cowper Madonna,” also a Raphael, which now hangs in the Widener collection at Philadelphia.

In reporting the news of the sale it was not too extraordinary that the Hearst syndicate, raising the price with habitual exaggeration to $1,250,000, should have described the painting as “Raphael’s masterpiece,Madonna and Child . . .”; or that the Daily News, Manhattan tabloid, should have printed a reproduction of a Raphael Madonna which was not the one Duveen had bought, in the apparently idiotic assurance that there exists only one Madonna and that Raphael painted it.

Raphael is pre-eminently the painter of Madonnas. Before his time the vogue for this form of religious representation flourished, after him other painters carried it on. But Raphael Sanzio, who died on Good Friday when he was exactly 37 years old, more than for his frescoes and his figure paintings from mythology, his portraits and historical panoramas, is remembered for being the man who made the best pictures of the Virgin Mary and her son. His portraits of her cool and smiling face have been more often copied than any other painter’s; notably the Madonna of the Chair (Pitti Gallery, Florence) and the Sistine Madonna (Dresden).

*Exceeding by $75,000 the previous record price for a single painting, paid by Sir Joseph Duveen for Gainsborough’s Blue Boy (now in the Huntington Library in Pasadena, Calif.).

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