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Exhibition of forty-eight drawings by Raphael opens at The Städel Museum in Frankfurt
Exhibition view "Raphael. Drawings". Photo: Norbert Miguletz.

FRANKFURT.- The Städel Museum in Frankfurt will present the exhibition Raphael. Drawings from November 7, 2012 to February 3, 2013. The show comprises forty-eight drawings by the master of Italian High Renaissance art, nine sheets from the Städel’s own holdings as well as thirty-seven loans from internationally renowned collections like that of Queen Elizabeth II, the Musée du Louvre in Paris, or the Uffizi in Florence. Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, 1483–1520 Rome) ranks among the great protagonists of Italian High Renaissance art, and his works had a decisive influence on European art throughout the following centuries. The admiration he compelled was almost religious both during his lifetime and in later times. Besides his paintings and frescoes, Raphael produced a large number of drawings, which he used as a daily means for exploring ideas, developing compositions, and communicating his thoughts to the assistants in his studio. These valuable manifestations of creativity, which offer the unique opportunity of “watching the artist think,” will be the subject of the Städel’s comprehensive exhibition. It will be the first show presenting Raphael as a draftsman in Germany.

The Städel Museum holds the largest and artistically most significant collection of Raphael’s drawings in Germany. This wealth is grounded in the history of the institution. The German art historian Johann David Passavant, “Inspektor” (curator) of the Städel collection from 1840 to 1861, focused his admiration for Raphael, which had taken hold of him as a Nazarene painter quite early on, on the scholarly research of his great model’s life and work and wrote the first theoretically based Raphael monograph (1839) which is still a landmark today. Thanks to his highly developed expertise, he succeeded in gradually acquiring an important group of drawings by the artist’s own hand for the Städel Museum around the middle of the nineteenth century. Because of their extraordinary quality, these works constitute the core of the Städel’s collection of Italian drawings. The sheets date from all periods of Raphael’s production, offer a survey of the entire range of his activities as a draftsman, and, comprising two studio drawings, also convey an idea of the routine in his large atelier. These holdings are brought together with precious loans from public and private international collections in the exhibition.

The exhibition, which also rings in a reassessment of the Städel’s collection of Italian Renaissance drawings, is committed to a general objective besides that of presenting a number of outstanding masterpieces. Following different perspectives, it visualizes how Raphael developed his perfect, compelling structures of pictorial narration, which made him the great point of reference for European history painting. The show unfolds the genesis and maturing of Raphael’s masterly art of narration in four thematic groups. The first sheds light on the artist’s different ways of presenting the Madonna and Child, the second on the visualization of concepts or abstract ideas, particularly in the frescoes of the Stanza della Segnatura in the Palace of the Vatican (such as philosophy or poetry). While the following section of the exhibition presents Raphael’s drawings for history and historical paintings and features his designs for the tapestries in the Sistine Chapel as a highlight in this field, the last chapter is dedicated to the artist’s comprehensive decoration of the Chigi Chapel in the Church of Santa Maria della Pace in Rome.

The exhibition starts with two drawings from the Städel Museum’s holdings: an early work showing the Virgin and Child and Raphael’s silverpoint study of the child’s head for the painting Madonna del Granduca. Several other sheets from the collection of the Duke of Devonshire (Chatsworth) shed light on how Raphael endowed the relationship between mother and child with life under the influence of Leonardo da Vinci and other contemporary artists and forge a bridge to the complex solutions he arrived at in the Sistine Madonna and other late presentations of the subject.

The second part of the exhibition in the Städel Museum’s Department of Prints and Drawings focuses on the issue of how Raphael succeeded in visualizing abstract ideas in a fluently woven sequence of figures in rich clarity – quite in contrast to his master Perugino’s still static solutions. The first work of this group is the cartoon for the so-called Vision of a Knight from the British Museum, a high-caliber work by the young Raphael. This masterpiece is followed by drawings from the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology (Oxford), the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle, and other sources. The exhibition then focuses on Raphael’s designs for the wall frescoes in the Stanza della Segnatura, a representative room belonging to the papal apartments in the Palace of the Vatican – a project whose realization saw Raphael rise to become one of the leading Italian Renaissance artists. Numerous sheets convey the slow maturing process of the famous fresco dealing with theology, the Disputa, and the development of the other wall paintings in the room (The School of Athens on philosophy, the fresco on poetry, and The Cardinal Virtues).

The third section of the exhibition is mainly concerned with the pictorial means Raphael relied on for a consistent narrative dynamics. Next to some early examples like The Siege of Perugia from the Louvre in Paris, the visitor comes upon more fully developed solutions like the study for the famous copperplate engraving showing The Massacre of the Innocents (Royal Collection, Windsor). Raphael’s designs for The Meeting of Leo the Great and Attila in the Stanza di Eliodoro in the Vatican, for which the Städel holds a rare study, and his drawings for the tapestries in the Sistine Chapel, among them a work from Jean Bonna’s private collection (Geneva), are the highlights here. The chapter is rounded off by some late works like the Frankfurt design for a caryatid in the Sala di Costantino in the Vatican.

The subject of the fourth section of the exhibition is the ambitious and comprehensive, yet never completed decoration of the Capella Chigi in the church of Santa Maria della Pace in Rome. It comprises Raphael’s famous Prophets and Sybils, a projected altar painting depicting The Resurrection of Christ, and two bronze reliefs. Taking the Frankfurt silverpoint drawing of the Doubting Thomas for a bronze relief in the chapel as a starting point, this part of the presentation assembles a large number of Raphael’s studies for the decoration of the chapel from the British Museum (London), the Uffizi (Florence), the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Lille, the Fitzwilliam Museum (Cambridge), and the Devonshire Collection (Chatsworth).

More than almost any other artist, Raffaelo Sanzio, who was born in Urbino in 1483, shaped the development of art in the Western world. Along with Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Albrecht Dürer, he is one of the great essential artists of the modern age. Besides working as a painter in Florence and at the papal court in Rome, Raphael was also the architect of St. Peter’s and “Prefect” over the antiquities of Rome. His drawings and paintings rank among the most precious masterpieces in the major museums of the world. His frescoes in Rome attract thousands of visitors every year.

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November 7, 2012

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