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Madonna of Divine Love

Attributed to Raffaello Sanzio (Urbino, 1483-Rome, 1520) and workshop
16th Century
140 x 110 cm (panel); 170 x 140 cm (framed)
Oil / Tempera on Panel

• Collection of Ferdinand IV, King of Naples and Sicily (1751-1825).• Private collection, Rome (late 19th century-early 20th century).
• Sale by auction, Christie’s, Monaco, 7 December 1987, lot 51, as ‘Giovanni Francesco Penni’.
• Anonymous sale by auction, Sotheby’s, London, c. 2001.
• Sale by auction, Sotheby’s, London, c. 2004 as ‘Circle of Raffaello’.
• Sale by auction, Christie’s, London, 24 April 2004, as ‘Leonardo da Pistoia’.
• Sale by auction, Christie’s, London, 27 April 2007 (sale 7392).

Up till the late 19th century, this ‘Madonna of Divine Love’ was unquestionably thought to have been by Raffaello. However, throughout the last century and in more recent years, its authorship has been revised time and again, roping in Giulio Romano (1499-1546) [J. A. Crowe & G. B. Cavalcaselle, 1882-1885], Giovanni Francesco Penni (1488/96-1528) [Fischel, 1948, S. J. Freedberg, 1961 and J. Meyer zur Capellen, 2005], a precocious pupil of Raffaello, who had assisted his master in the Vatican Stanze (1508-1509; 1513-post-1520) and the Villa Farnesina frescoes (1517-1518) and Leonardo da Pistoia (1502-c. 1548), a lesser known artist who had worked under and even collaborated with Penni. Ascribing Da Pistoia and Penni to this painting is now a matter of the past, although the c. 1520 painting at the National Museum of Capodimonte, Naples, by the latter while working in Raffaello’s workshop, strongly connected him to the ‘Madonna of Divine Love’ in this exhibition. Art historical studies compiled by Z. V. Kuptsova in October 2020 support the claim that this oil-and-tempera panel painting is by Raffaello and his workshop. The work was also presented under this authorship when it was on display at the “After Raphael 1520-2020” exhibition (December 2020 – March 2021), marking the 500th anniversary of Raffaello’s death, at the State Hermitage Museum of St Petersburg.

Representing the same subject, these two oil-on-panel paintings are virtually identical, save for the treatment of a few facial details and some areas of modelling. Total replicas of works, particularly of originals that enjoyed tremendous popularity for their prototypical treatment of a theme or for their appealing compositions, was normal practice in artists’ studios as this huge demand had to be satisfied. Aside from providing assistance in major commissions, pupils and assistants working in their master’s workshop were also employed to execute copies of highly successful paintings, naturally emerging from that same studio. This helped to keep the business ball rolling. Though at slight variance to each other, this ‘Madonna of Divine Love’ pair is exactly the outcome of such a response dictated by a fast-growing lucrative market for replicas or, at least, close adaptations. It follows therefore that ‘The Madonna of Divine Love’, represented in this exhibition, like the Capodimonte work, is possibly based on the same lost original by Raffaello referred to by Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574) in his The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, Architects (first published in 1550) as the one carried out for Leonello Pio da Capri, Lord of Meldola, in c.1516-1518. However, Vasari was quite likely mistaken as the original was probably done for Alberto III Pio (1472-1531), Leonello’s brother.

Recent studies involving the aid of non-invasive scientific examinations have revealed certain features beneath the paint layers, peculiar to Raffaello’s workshop. One example is the intermittent lines making up the preparatory underdrawing. Judging from this characteristic, there is reason to propose Raffaello’s direct input, albeit minor perhaps as the work appears to have been largely completed by one of his pupils. While the suggestion favouring Raffaello’s participation in this painting remains embedded in reservation, the consummate qualities detected in the sensitive play of light and dark, the sound draughtsmanship and polished finish of the subdued palette, doubtlessly constitute the trademark of a highly accomplished artist. Moreover, the Raffaellesque feeling it exudes is distinctive through the conspicuously glazed surface treatment of the flesh tones, the predominant clarity of line and form, and the vigorous attention given to the figures’ modelling, lightly blended with a Michelangelesque type of muscularity seen especially in the two infants. Behind the overall ease of composition, one can sense the persistent search for harmony that weaves together the forefront protagonists of this painting. This, indeed, was one of Raffaello’s artistic quests which was passed onto his numerous pupils, including Giulio Romano, Perino del Vaga (1501-1547) and Polidoro da Caravaggio (1492-1543), that formed part of a substantially large and productive workshop-cum-pseudo-school of art.

Stylistically, the ‘Madonna of Divine Love’ reflects Raffaello’s clear departure from a simple Florentine brand of naturalism, of which many of his early 16th-century religious works are characteristic, towards a bolder statement for his figures, in this case the closely knit group of the Virgin Mary, her mother, Anne, the Christ Child and young St John the Baptist. This transformation is indebted to his time in Rome when his figures are injected with a sense of grandeur and dynamism without compromising their ideal beauty which Raffaello remained widely celebrated for epitomizing.

Relegated to the background, the confused yet resigned St Joseph is lost in deep thought over his foster-fatherhood. His psychological distance is enforced by the dark shadow in which he is cast as opposed to the intense illumination over the foreground sacred actors in this mystery. Placing her hands together in an act of prayer, the humble Madonna, whose eyes betray a hint of melancholy, watches the Christ Child blessing the genuflecting St John the Baptist. Theirs is an intimate exchange of looks that goes beyond their infant years and, indeed the tall cross propped up by the Baptist is a sign of things to come. Representing the first of a trilogy of generations, St Anne tilts her head against her daughter’s as she gently holds Baby Jesus’s arm. The contemplative mood of this painting is founded on the discreet and profound interaction among St Anne, the Madonna, the Christ Child and St John the Baptist, made possible only by its seemingly effortless compact composition.


APOSTOLOS-CAPPADONA, Diane, Dictionary of Women in Religious Art, Oxford University Press, 1998

KOSSOLAPOV, Alexander, Art Historical & Imaging Reports on the Madonna of Divine Love, State Hermitage Museum, 2019 KUPTSOVA, Z. V., Art Historical Report on the Madonna of Divine Love, October 2020

MURRAY, John, HALL’S Dictionary of Subjects & Symbols in Art, Albemarle Street, London, 1996 (Revised Edition) agnelli-19th-march-28th-june-2015/

Audio Guide – Maltese

Audio Guide – English

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