Norton Simon Museum of Art, Pasadena, California-
On December 4, Dr. David Alan Brown, Curator of Italian Painting at the National Gallery of Art, delivered a lecture entitled “Raphael Discovers Leonardo.” Dr. Brown discussed the influences on the artistic style of Italian High Renaissance painter, Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, known to the world simply as Raphael. Dr. Brown’s lecture provided context for two Raphael paintings in the Norton Simon: “Madonna and Child” and “The Small Cowper Madonna,” on loan from the National Gallery of Art.
Dr. Brown traced Raphael’s initial artistic influence to Perugino, born Pietro Vanucci.
Perugino. Madonna and Child. 1500. Oil on wood. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
This prominent artist of the Umbrian School impacted his pupil Raphael through his concept of space and structure. However, Dr. Brown pointed out clues to help his audience to discern the difference between the styles of master and pupil. Dr. Brown explained that Raphael took his paintings a step further, infusing his Madonna and Child with rich symbolism.
While Dr. Brown implied that Christ child’s hands in Perugino’s work functioned on a literal level, he noted that the Raphael’s Christ child holds a symbolic finch. In Christian iconography, the Goldfinch, due to the thistle seeds that it eats, represents the Crown of Thorns worn by Christ during his Crucifixion. Therefore, Raphael’s work takes on a bittersweet meaning, as the Madonna and young Child experience the foreshadowing of his future, painful fate.
Madonna and Child with Book, c. 1502-03
Raffaello Sanzio also called Raphael
Oil on panel; Norton Simon Art Foundation
Raphael’s second critical artistic influence, according to Dr. Brown, was Leonardo Da Vinci, whose work Raphael studied upon moving to Florence. Leonardo’s pictorial language can be seen in another Raphael painting now hanging at the Norton Simon Museum of Art, the Small Cowper Madonna.
Mona Lisa. Leonardo Da Vinci 1503-1519. Louvre, Paris.
The looped drapery, folded hands, and spiral pose of this Madonna resemble Da Vinci’s most famous sitter, the Mona Lisa. (According to Brown, the enigmatic smile of the Mona Lisa did not hold any special enthrallment for Raphael).
Art-loving audiences should visit the Norton Simon and look upon the clues themselves, thereby understanding the Raphael Da Vinci Code described by Mr. Brown. Dr. David Alan, not Dan.
Raphael’s The Small Cowper Madonna on Loan from the National Gallery of Art, Washington
November 05, 2010 – January 24, 2011
© 2010 Norton Simon Art Foundation