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Norton Simon Museum to Present Raphael's The Small Cowper Madonna
Raphael (Italian, 1483-1520), The Small Cowper Madonna, c. 1505. Oil on panel, framed: 86.2 x 71.4 x 8.3 cm. National Gallery of Art, Washington, Widener Collection, 1942.9.57
PASADENA, CA.- The Norton Simon Museum announced the rare loan of Raphael’s The Small Cowper Madonna, c. 1505, from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. One of about 12 works by Raphael in U.S. collections, this painting of the Madonna and Child was executed early in the artist’s career, during the four years he spent in Florence (1504–08). This extraordinary loan is part of an exchange program between the National Gallery of Art and the Norton Simon foundations, which also brought Vermeer’s A Lady Writing to the Simon in the fall of 2008. The Small Cowper Madonna is one of five works by Raphael in the collection of the National Gallery of Art, and its presentation at the Simon marks the first time it has been lent to another U.S. museum.

“The Norton Simon Museum has the distinction of being home to the only painting by Raphael in the western United States,” noted Norton Simon Museum President Walter W. Timoshuk. “For our second loan from the National Gallery of Art, it seemed fitting to choose The Small Cowper Madonna, thus giving our visitors the rare chance to view two extraordinary paintings by the artist side by side.”

“The National Gallery of Art is honored to lend its beloved Raphael painting The Small Cowper Madonna to the Norton Simon Museum,” remarked Earl A. Powell III, Director, National Gallery of Art. “It is our hope that art lovers on the west coast will enjoy the painting’s masterful composition and serene beauty.”

Raphael’s The Small Cowper Madonna will be installed next to the Norton Simon Art Foundation’s own Raphael painting, Madonna and Child with Book, c. 1502–03, in the Museum’s Renaissance gallery. During the painting’s three-month loan, the Museum will present a series of public programs, including tours, events for children, and a lecture by David Alan Brown, Curator of Italian Paintings at the National Gallery of Art, and the author of Raphael and America, an exhibition catalogue published in 1983 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Raphael’s birth. Linda Wolk- Simon, curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and a Raphael scholar, will also lecture.

Raphael was born on Good Friday of 1483 in the hill town of Urbino in central Italy. He was the son of Giovanni Santi, a painter in the service of the Court of Urbino. Orphaned by age 11 and placed in the care of his uncle Bartolomeo, a priest, Raphael achieved fame and with it important religious commissions well before his 20th birthday. In the course of just two decades (tragically he died at the age of 37) he gained the respect and admiration of Urbino’s Ducal Court and artistic circles in Florence and Rome, as well as the patronage of two powerful popes. Raphael received his earliest inspirations and influences in Urbino and in travels to Perugia, Città di Castello, Orvieto and Siena. The young painter was surely impressed by his father’s work, as well as the graceful, classicizing postures and landscapes in paintings by Signorelli and Perugino. Later, stays in Florence and Rome exposed him to the work of Fra Bartolomeo, Leonardo, and Michelangelo, which astonished him and marked his mature style.

Thought to have been painted in Raphael’s earliest days in Florence, The Small Cowper Madonna shows the first hints at his exposure to fluidity and an appreciation of nature that he had not seen in Umbrian paintings, marking his movement toward a freer and more emotive style. While we know from careful study and X-ray examination that Raphael used a cartoon or template to trace the overall layout of the figures of the Madonna and Child, his underdrawing takes on more freshness and vigor, and this is conveyed in more animated expressions and the position of the child. He balances confidently in his mother’s lap, and we are more taken by their gazes than by those of figures in Raphael’s earlier works. The landscape beyond suggests quotidian activity, and the elevated throne with celestial beings and saints of earlier, formal altarpieces are replaced by a stone wall and a humble wooden bench. Despite her demure halo, the Madonna is humanly reflective, sweet, and powerfully connected in a maternal sense to her active child and the landscape beyond.





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