HERMITAGE, Raphael Room 229

Audio File length: 2.49
English / USA Language: English / USA

In this room, you will find two masterpieces by Raphael: Conestabile Madonna and Madonna with Beardless St. Joseph.

Press pause and approach the Conestabile Madonna.

Yes, that’s the one: a small round painting, just 18 cm. in diameter, preserved in its beautiful original frame.

The painting, which dates to around 1504, takes its name from the Conestabile family of Perugia, from which Tsar Alexander II of Russia purchased it in 1869 as a gift for his wife, Marie Alexandrovna. After the tsarina’s death in 1880, the work was put on display in the Hermitage Museum.

In the center of the canvas, you can see the Madonna with the Child Jesus in her arms, leafing through a book. Mary is wearing a red robe and is wrapped in her signature blue cloak. Observe her motherly gaze as she looks down at Jesus; her expression has a melancholy feeling.  Could it be that the book she’s reading contains a prophecy of the tragic death that awaits her son? The landscape in the background, with snow-covered mountains and bare trees, is brightened by the green meadow, offering the promise of rebirth to come in spring.

Now press pause and press play again when you reach the Madonna with Beardless St. Joseph, painted in 1506.

 

Apart from the size and shape, there are other differences compared to the work you just admired. First of all, the scene is set in a room and not outdoors. In the center, Jesus is once again in Mary's arms, but on the left, there is also an elderly Saint Joseph, unusually portrayed without the beard we’re used to seeing. This may have been so that the figure would resemble the person who commissioned the painting. The enigmatic expressions of the three figures in the painting are particularly striking: Joseph is looking at Jesus with some displeasure, while Mary has a resigned expression; Jesus, holding onto his mother, seems almost to have a look of fear of his father. In this work, Raphael has paid especially close attention to details, such as Mary's more sophisticated hairstyle, and to the clothing of the figures.

 

 

An interesting fact: in 1881, when the Madonna Conestabile was transferred from the wooden panel it was originally painted on to the canvas we can see today, it was discovered that in the original version, the Madonna was looking down not at a book, but on a pomegranate, the symbol of the Passion of Christ.

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