raphael’s small cowper madonna :: worcester art museum

{article and image via ART Daily, posted 26 January 2015}

Raphael, Small Cowper Madonna, 1505. 60 cm x 44 cm.
Raphael, Small Cowper Madonna, 1505. 60 cm x 44 cm.

WORCESTER, MASS. – The loan of Raphael’s Small Cowper Madonna from Washington’s National Gallery of Art from January 24 through September 27, 2015, provides a rare opportunity to study our own Northbrook Madonna and perhaps uncover the mystery of who painted it. Here Jon L. Seydl, director of curatorial affairs and curator of European Art interviews Raphael scholar Linda Wolk-Simon about the two works. JLS: While I think everyone would agree that Raphael’s painting is incredibly beautiful, it might not be so obvious why this painting is so significant. What makes this painting so interesting and important? LW-S: Raphael’s Small Cowper Madonna is striking for the way he endows a sacred subject with the gloss of reality. Portrayed as though they are ordinary beings, the holy figures share a tender, touching intimacy that makes them seem convincingly human: at first glimpse this appears to be a lovely young mother, lost in wistful reverie, holding a plump baby who clamors to stand in her lap. Adding to the impression that this is a believable, if idealized, tableau is the atmospheric landscape with gently rolling hills and graceful trees, bathed in a warm, enveloping light, that recedes into the distance. Rising on a hillock at the right is a handsome Renaissance church, San Bernardino, the burial place of the dukes of Urbino. This telling topographical detail indicates that Raphael must have painted the picture for someone in his native city rather than for a patron in Florence, where he worked for much of the time during the period when this work was created. The church is also a clue that, for all its engaging naturalism, this is a devotional image with a religious meaning. Conveyed in the Madonna’s expression of sad resignation is her foreknowledge of the future Passion and death that her infant son, Redeemer of mankind, will suffer.

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