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The Sistine Madonna

Raphael's iconic painting turns 500

An exhibition by the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (Old Masters Picture Gallery), Semperbau am Zwinger (Semper Building at Zwinger)
May 26 to August 26, 2012

Five hundred years ago Raphael, the great master painter of the Renaissance, was commissioned by Pope Julius II to paint the Sistine Madonna. Today, it is one of the most famous works of art in the world. It belongs to the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden; even those who are unaware of this fact are at least familiar with the two angels that perch cutely at the lower edge of the painting and have been copied countless times.

To mark the 500th birthday of this altarpiece, the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden will be holding a major anniversary exhibition. The five hundred years of the Sistine Madonna have been characterized by exciting stories involving secret negotiations and illustrious display, periods of obscurity and international acclaim, artistic inventiveness, and abysmal kitsch.

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.

  • Katharina Gaenssler



    Die Sixtinische Madonna wird während der Laufzeit der Ausstellung im Gobelinsaal gezeigt und verlässt somit ihren angestammten Platz. Die Wand wird mit einem neuen Kunstwerk der Fotografin Katharina Gaenssler besetzt, jedoch ohne dem Meistwerk eine Konkurrenz zu sein. Im Gegenteil die Sixtinische Madonna stand Katharina Gaenssler über mehrere Tage geduldig Modell. Die Fotografin lichtete sie in hunderten von Detailfotografien ab, um sie anschließend in einer übergroßen digitalen Collage erneut zusammenzusetzen.

    Die entstandene Collage bildet die Vorlage für einen Gobelin, der wie bereits zu Raffaels Zeiten in einer belgischen Gobelin-Manufaktur nach den Vorgaben Katharina Gaensslers ausgeführt wird. Für die Dauer der Ausstellung wird die Abwesenheit des Originals in dem Gobelin zum Thema erhoben und einem einzigartigen neuen Blick auf ein Meisterwerk der Kunstgeschichte Platz geschaffen.

  • Kultur-Ticket

    Mit dem Kultur-Ticket-Spezial der Deutschen Bahn für nur 39. EUR (2.Kl.) und 59 EUR (1.Kl.) p.P. zur Ausstellung und zurück an einem Tag - ab allen Bahnhöfen im Umkreis von 300 km. Mehr Informationen zum Kultur-Ticket der Deutschen Bahn.

  • FAZ-Gewinnspiel

    Kluge Köpfe gesucht. Das exklusive Gewinnspiel der Staatlichen Kunstsammlungen Dresden und der F.A.Z. Jetzt mitmachen und gewinnen!

  • electra

    Das Finnisage-Konzert zur Ausstellung, die Rocksuite von electra "Die sixtinische Madonna" findet am 26. August 2012 mit Chor und Orchester im Staatsschauspiel Dresden statt. Die Karten sind im Vorverkauf erhältlich an der Kasse des Schauspielhauses und den CTS-Vorverkaufsstellen. www.aust-konzerte.com/Konzerte/1206/ELECTRA-KLASSIK.html