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Heavenly Splendour

Raphael, Dürer and Grünewald paint the Madonna

An exhibition by the Vatican Museums and the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Semperbau at Zwinger
September 6, 2011 to January 8, 2012

Just under 500 years ago Raphael, the most celebrated painter of the Renaissance, painted the “Sistine Madonna” and the “Madonna di Foligno”. Both masterpieces probably stood together in his workshop. 

These two paintings are closely related.  Raphael painted the large, more than 3-metre high altarpiece called the “Madonna di Foligno” in 1512, before receiving the commission to produce the “Sistine Madonna” from Pope Julius II in the same year. It is therefore highly probable that the two paintings stood together in Raphael’s workshop, and now they are being reunited for the first time. They are among the artist’s major works and are both forceful representations of a Marian apparition.

The exhibition will also bring together further examples of representations of the Madonna, including a depiction of a Marian apparition by Cranach the Elder (Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main) as well as works by Dürer, Garofalo and Correggio from the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister Dresden. During the same decade as Raphael produced these two great Madonnas, the tradition of depicting the Virgin culminated in artistically outstanding works north of the Alps as well. A superlative example in terms of both quality and content is the “Stuppach Madonna” by Matthias Grünewald, which along with the Isenheim Altarpiece is undoubtedly one of the artist’s foremost works.

This unprecedented exhibition is being held to coincide with the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Germany at the end of September 2011. For this purpose, the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden and the Vatican Museums have entered into a special cooperation agreement. For the first time, and as an absolutely exceptional measure, Raphael’s large altarpiece entitled “Madonna di Foligno” will be leaving the Pinacoteca Vaticana specifically for this exhibition.

One anniversary, two exhibitions: The exhibition "Heavenly Splendour. Raphael, Dürer and Grünewald paint the Madonna” will mark the beginning of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden’s Jubilee Year 2012, in which the 500th anniversary of the creation of Raphael’s Dresden masterpiece will be celebrated. The major Jubilee Exhibition next year will be called The Sistine Madonna. Raphael’s Cult Image Turns 500.

  • Madonna di Foligno

    The painting depicts the Mother of God holding the infant Christ. She is seated upon clouds with the disk of the sun behind her and surrounded by an aureole consisting of angelic figures. On the left-hand side below her are the saints John the Baptist and St Francis, and on the right-hand side are St Jerome and the donor, Sigismondo dei Conti, who is portrayed in an attitude of prayer. In the centre foreground stands a small angel holding an empty plaque, which indicates that the painting is a large ex-voto offering.

    The light phenomenon visible in the background, a falling meteorite or bolt of lightning, probably refers to the event from which the donor escaped unharmed.  

    The painting is the altarpiece by Raphael that is the immediate chronological precedent of the Sistine Madonna held in Dresden ... Read more.

  • The Sistine Madonna

    The commission: The “Sistine Madonna” was almost certainly commissioned directly by Pope Julius II. In July 1512 the Vatican received the news that the northern Italian town of Piacenza had joined the Papal States. It is assumed that this event prompted the Pope to commission the painting. The “Sistine Madonna” was intended for the monastery church of San Sisto in Piacenza, with which the Pope was associated on account of close family contacts.  Since for Raphael, the most celebrated painter of the Renaissance, there could be no more distinguished client, it is probable that he began work on the painting immediately. The work had probably already been completed by the time of the Pope’s death in February 1513, but it must have taken up its position on the high altar of the church in Piacenza no later than on the occasion of the church’s consecration in 1514.

    The painting: The “Sistine Madonna” is one of the world’s most famous Renaissance masterpieces. It depicts a vision appearing to saints in the clouds. In the centre of the picture the Virgin strides towards the earthly realm whilst holding the Christ Child in her arms ... Read more