REVIEW | Raphael – National Gallery, London

The Credit Suisse Exhibition: RAPHAEL at the National Gallery, London, is not your typical survey of the artist’s works. Instead, it is a silver sampling dish featuring every aspect of Raphael’s artistic personality.⁠

Consisting of a rigorously selected portion of autograph works, the exhibition succeeds in balancing some of the highlights of his career with areas that are less well known to the public, such as his ventures into printmaking, archaeology, and architecture, all while attempting to present them in a chronological fashion.⁠

In addition to loans coming from the usual major Raphael collections, there are also outstanding drawings from the lesser known holdings of the Nationalmuseum Stockholm, the Musée Fabre in Montpellier, and even the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). These include a drawing for an Annunciation, studies for a leaning figure in the Disputa, and a profile drawing of the entablature of the Pantheon’s interior main columns, respectively.⁠

Strangely, and perhaps a testament to the quality of Raphael’s work, every object manages to command equal attention from room to room. If one must take sides, the Alba Madonna (National Gallery of Art, Washington DC) is a clear winner, as are the sections dedicated to Raphael’s work on the Vatican Stanze and both Chigi chapels in Rome.⁠

Early highlights include the compositional drawing for the lost Baronci altarpiece (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lille), St Sebastian (Accademia Carrara, Bergamo), and La Muta (Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, Urbino). The exhibition concludes with a room of portraits, including that of Lorenzo de’ Medici, Duke of Urbino (private collection), but not before passing one of the Sistine Chapel tapestries, and his co-written letter to Pope Leo X.⁠

The reduced number of exhibits, however, also means that, in most cases, you either see a finished painting or just a lone drawing for one. This can make it quite a jarring experience for those wanting more substance, one that may also be interpreted as refreshing, forcing us to consider their visual appeal alone, as his contemporaries once did.⁠

Nonetheless, this exhibition is praiseworthy for its diversity and quality of representative loans, including a great gathering of private collection works that includes the newly discovered drawing in 2019, then over-cautiously ‘attributed to Giovanni Francesco Penni’.

The Credit Suisse Exhibition: RAPHAEL runs until 31 July 2022 at the National Gallery, London. Tickets from £24.

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