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The "most beautiful woman in the world" turns 500

The Sistine Madonna. Raphael's iconic painting turns 500
An exhibition by the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden
26 May to 26 August 2012
Exhibition site: Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister
Opening hours: daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Thursday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

In 1512, Raphael (1483-1520) was commissioned to paint the Sistine Madonna. In 2012, the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden celebrate with a major exhibition the 500th anniversary year of the commission and the creation of the painting.
In view of this event, the Federal Ministry of Finance together with the Vatican issued the special postage stamp “500 Years of Sistine Madonna”, which can be purchased in all branches of the German Post Office as well as in Vatican City. Sales start on 1 March 2012. During a festive ceremony yesterday and in the presence of the Saxon Prime Minster Stanislaw Tillich, the stamp was presented by Hartmut Koschyk MP, Parliamentary State Secretary to the Federal Minister of Finance, in front of the world-famous painting in the Semper Building in the Dresden Zwinger.

Parliamentary State Secretary Hartmut Koschyk handed first editions of the stamp over to:
Prof. Dr. Dirk Syndram, acting Director General of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden
Stanislaw Tillich, Prime Minister of the Free State of Saxony
Archbishop Dr. Jean-Claude Périsset, Apostolic Nuncio in the Federal Republic of Germany
Dr. Henry Hasenpflug, State Secretary in the Saxon Ministry of State of Science and Arts as representative of State Minister Prof. Dr. Dr. Sabine von Schorlemer

The director of the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister and of the Kupferstich-Kabinett, Prof. Dr. Bernhard Maaz, thanked the Federal Ministry of Finance and the Vatican: “The extensive reception history of the Sistine Madonna will be enriched by another aspect due to its reproduction on a stamp issued by the German Post Office and by the Vatican City. The Madonna will now also draw attention in the international postal traffic, similar to a heavenly ambassador. What a wonderful present for her 500th birthday!” Prof. Dr. Bernhard Maaz used the celebration to introduce the concept of the jubilee exhibition, which will be on view in the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister between 26 May and 26 August 2012. Divided in four sections, the exhibition will shed light on the art and cultural historic context as well as on the reception history of this masterpiece:

I. Raphael in Rome
This section of the exhibition presents the “Sistine Madonna” in the context of other Roman works by Raphael and those by other artists of the Renaissance. Important works by Raphael lent from international museum will be on view. Among them are the “Garvagh Madonna” (c. 1509/10) from the National Gallery in London or a fragment of an angel (c. 1512) from the Pinacoteca Vaticana. Other masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance are, for instance, the drawing “Mary in the Mandorla with Apostles and the kneeling Pope Sixtus IV” from the Albertina in Vienna as well as a Madonna by Filippino Lippi (c. 1475) from the Szépmüvészeti Museum in Budapest. Moreover, the commissioner, Pope Julius II, who had the Dresden altar piece painted for the monastery San Sisto in Piacenza, will be introduced in this section.

II. „Make room for the great Raphael!“ -
The spectacular acquisition of the “Sistine Madonna” by August III

For almost 250 years the “Sistine Madonna” nearly remained unknown in her original installation site in Piacenza. Only through the spectacular acquisition for the picture gallery in Dresden in 1752/54 did the painting appear in the public. Adolph Menzel recorded August’s legendary saying when the painting had arrived in his pastel “Make room for the great Raphael!” (1855/1859). The eventful purchase story will be presented by means of documents from the Saxon Principal State Archive Dresden, the Biblioteca Passerini-Landi and the Archivio Gulieri in Piacenza. Many of them have never been exhibited before.

III. On its way to becoming a myth –
The “Sistine Madonna” in literature, art, music and design

Due to the public presentation of the “Sistine Madonna” in the picture gallery in Dresden, the reception of the artwork in literature, arts and crafts, photography and music started around 1800. As a parallel development, the Madonna was copied in paintings and graphic arts. Friedrich Bury’s painting “Electress Auguste copies the Sistine Madonna” (c. 1808/09) from the Museum Schloss Wilhelmshöhe in Kassel is just one example. Moreover, the painting was a favourite motive in magazines, embroidered pictures, advertisement, caricatures and scrapbooks of the middle class in the periods of the Biedermeier and the German Empire. The myth surrounding the painting continued in the 20th century when following World War II the painting was brought to Russia in 1945. According to the propagated legend, it was herewith rescued by the Soviet army. The rescue legend survived the painting’s return to Dresden in 1955 and, for instance, found its expression in the painting “The rescue of the Madonna” (1984/85) by Mikhail Kornetsky that is today in the Latvian National Museum of Art in Riga.

IV. An international career: The little angels in kitsch and art
For the first time around 1800, the little angels were copied out of the entire content of the painting – that was the start for their solo career. The exhibition shows examples and caricatures from the early 19th century to the present.

Read the press release as pdf.

Dr. Stephan Adam
Pressesprecher und Leiter Kommunikation
Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden
Postfach 12 05 51
01006 Dresden                                                      
Tel. ++49-351-49 14 2643
Fax ++49-351-49 14 2366

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