The Granduca Madonna (The Madonna del Granduca)

Keywords: GranducaMadonnaMadonnadelGranduca

Work Overview

The Granduca Madonna (The Madonna del Granduca)
Artist Raphael
Year 1505
Medium Oil on wood
Dimensions 84 cm × 55 cm (33 in × 22 in)
Location Palazzo Pitti, Florence

The Madonna del Granduca is a Madonna painting by the Italian renaissance artist Raphael. It was probably painted in 1505, shortly after Raphael had arrived in Florence. The influence of Leonardo da Vinci, whose works he got to know there, can be seen in the use of sfumato. The painting belonged to Ferdinand III, Grand Duke of Tuscany, from whom it got its name.

The Madonna del Granduca (1504) in the Pitti Gallery in Florence shows the pre-eminent influence of Leonardo. Its simple composition is a prototype for the future Madonnas of Raphael's last Florentine period. The figures of the Virgin and Child emerge from a dark background (an element evidently derived from Leonardo), bound together by a sweet sentiment which derives largely from the gesture of the Child who, while looking toward the spectator, presses against his Mother The painting belonged to the 17th century Florentine painter, Carlo Dolci, and then to Grand Duke Ferdinand III of Lorraine from whom its name derives.

In spite of the fact that this painting is in part changed by the drastic nineteenth century restoration which included the repainting of the background and of the dress, it has still remained one of the finest creations of Raphael in his early period, at the time, when having come to Florence after his first formation under Perugino, he became acquainted with Florentine art at the beginning of the Cinquecento; and as is clearly seen in this work, was especially impressed by the painting of Leonardo. In the Madonna del Granduca both the Peruginesque and the Leonardesque influences are fused and assimilated by the young artist into a marvellous harmony which extends to the whole composition, from the spacing of the two figures in the space with that sense of flowing rhythm to the magic of the colour which softly dissolves into delicate shadow.

Raphael's greatest paintings seem so effortless that one does not usually connect them with the idea of hard and relentless work. To many he is simply the painter of sweet Madonnas which have become so well known as hardly to be appreciated as paintings any more. For Raphael's vision of the Holy Virgin has been adopted by subsequent generations in the same way as Michelangelo's conception of God the Father We see cheap reproductions of these works in humble dwellings, and we are apt to conclude that paintings with such a general appeal must surely be a little 'obvious'. In fact, their apparent simplicity is the fruit of deep thought, careful planning and immense artistic wisdom. A painting like Raphael's 'Madonna dell Granduca', is truly 'classical' in the sense that it has served countless generations as a standard of perfection in the same way as the works of Pheidias and Praxiteles. It needs no explanation. In this respect it is indeed 'obvious'. But, if we compare it with the countless representations of the same theme which preceded it, we feel that they have all been groping for the very simplicity that Raphael has attained. We can see what Raphael did owe to the calm beauty of Perugino's types, but what a difference there is between the rather empty regularity of the master and the fullness of life in the pupil! The way the Virgin's face is modeled and recedes into the shade, the way Raphael makes us feel the volume of the body wrapped in the freely flowing mantle, the firm and tender way in which she holds and supports the Christ Child - all this contributes to the effect of perfect poise. We feel that to change the group ever so slightly would upset the whole harmony. Yet there is nothing strained or sophisticated in the composition. It looks as if it could not be otherwise, and as if it had so existed from the beginning of time.

The great Italian master, Raphael Sanzio (commonly known as Raphael) painted the Madonna del Granduca. The painting was done in 1504 using the medium oil in wood. Its dimensions are eighty four centimetres by fifty five centimetres. Currently, the painting is located at the Palazzo Pitti in Florence. The painting was said to be somewhat influenced by Leonardo da Vinci who Raphael was later acquaintanced with. His influence can be observed in the way Raphael used sfumato. The painting derived its name from the Grand Duke of Tuscany who used to own it. This piece of art is truly a classic. It is considered as one of the most recognizable examples of the Madonna and Child.

Italian newspapers have recently reported on an important art historical discovery by Florentine restorers at the Opificio delle Pietre Dure: the black background of Raphael's Madonna del Granduca (Palatine Gallery) is not original. Based on x-ray evidence, Marco Ciatti, Director of the OPD's canvas restoration section, affirms that the black background was added in the 16th century or later - tests will prove at what date. 

This is the first scientific evidence for the existence of a background that some art historians have suspected all along. The painting, datable perhaps to 1504-7, is from a period in which Raphael tended to "dialogue with" Leonardo da Vinci, known for his moody landscape backgrounds. All the other Madonnas from this period include landscape, architecture, or both (for example, see Washington's Cowper Madonna). Two other pieces of circumstantial evidence have been used to back up the theory that this painting was intended to include these elements. First, an oval-shaped preparatory drawing in the Uffizi (Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe) has architectonic elements. Second, a late 16th-century painting that is strongly similar (not quite a copy, but an echo) includes landscape and architecture. The way we know the "Madonna del Granduca" today, with its Caravaggesque black background, is the result of a later change to Raphael's painting, the reasons for which we may never know. The art-historical significance of this discovery lies in the fact that now we know that the black background was not a choice of the artist to change style, to move away from his dialogue with Leonardo. It can no longer be considered an anomaly in Raphael's oeuvre. With the undeniable scientific evidence of this x-ray, restorers and museum administrators are faced with the question of whether or not to carry out a full cleaning of the painting in order to reveal the original background. Might the black have been added after some damage befell the painting? Restorers will now carry out tests to determine its state of conservation, after which the director of the Palatine (and others) will have to decide what to do. What do you think would be the right action to take?