April 6th 2020 will mark 500 years since the death of the Renaissance giant Raphael. To commemorate the occasion the Vatican has displayed the newly restored tapestries designed by Raphael in their intended location in the Sistine Chapel.
The Raphael Tapestries and the cartoons that form the initial designs from which they were made are among the greatest treasures of the Renaissance. Commissioned by Pope Leo X in 1515 their intended home was the lower walls of the Sistine Chapel. To be hung on special occasions they depict events from the life of St Peter and the life of St Paul, popular subjects in the Renaissance era. Raphael and his workshop completed the cartoons in Rome but the tapestries were woven in Bruges, a centre of excellence for tapestry production throughout Europe.
The ten tapestries were woven between 1516 and 1521 and seven of the completed works were hung in the Sistine Chapel for the first time on St Stephen's Day 26th December 1519. This is possibly the only time that Raphael saw any of the finished tapestries in their intended location, he died on April 6th 1520 at the age of 37.
The Renaissance in Venice is epitomised by three painters belonging to the same family. Jacopo, Gentile and Giovanni Bellini span the period from the beginning of the Venetian period to the pinnacle of the High Renaissance in Venice.
Jacopo was a well-regarded artist who ran a busy workshop in the city, his eldest son Gentile was a prolific painter who executed many famous works for the rich and the powerful of Venice. Gentile greatly enhanced the reputation of the Bellini workshop but it was his brother Giovanni who had the greatest influence on the generation of artists that came after him.
Giovanni’s portrait of the Doge Leonardo Loredan is one of the finest masterpieces of the era and is contemporary to Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.
Among Giovanni’s apprentices, the painters Giorgione and Titian became the leading artists in Venice but there is little doubt that the Bellini artistic dynasty laid the foundations for the ongoing artistic achievements of the city.
The Florentine artist Filippino Lippi’s career spanned the later years of the Renaissance and the very beginnings of the High Renaissance.
The liaison between his father, the artist Fra Filippo Lippi and a nun resulted in Filippino’s illegitimate birth in 1457/8, this did not prevent the Filippino from becoming a much-sought-after painter he gained many important commissions from rich and noble patrons. His work in the Brancacci Chapel and the church of the Santa Maria Novella both in Florence are world-famous.
Filippino completed his Adoration of the Magi for the monastery of San Donato a Scopeto a work that was left unfinished by Leonardo da Vinci when he departed Florence for Milan. Filippino Lippi is rightly recognised as a master of Renaissance art.
Leonardo da Vinci was a Renaissance polymath whose work spanned many disciplines including numerous drawings and measurements of the proportions of the human form. His thirst for knowledge is legendary this led to his famous image based on the writings of the Roman architect Vitruvius the Vitruvian Man.
Leonardo’s drawing depicts a man with arms and legs in multiple positions placed inside a circle and a square.
Many artists of the Renaissance studied the proportions of the human body using this knowledge in their work although none had dedicated so much thought and detailed attention as Leonardo.
This worldwide icon is used in various forms in the modern world and is closely associated with the medical profession. It has been used as a symbol for rock bands, NASA, and the Euro.
The warring factions of Renaissance city-states produced an ever-increasing demand for the new and more sophisticated weapons that were required to gain an advantage over the enemy, to this end Ludovico il Moro Sforza, Duke of Milan employed the most free-thinking engineer of the age Leonardo da Vinci.
Leonardo produced designs for military machines such as a giant crossbow, a repeating cannon, and numerous other inventions, he had studied the flight of birds and considered the huge effect that a flying machine may have on the outcome of conflicts on the battlefield.
Many of Leonardo’s designs are updated versions of the existing technologies that had been used for centuries but as always with Leonardo, his more radical ideas were years ahead of their time. It is incredible that this Renaissance polymath had imagined weaponry that only became a reality centuries later with the onset of the first and second world wars.
Antonio Allegri more commonly known as Correggio was born in 1489 in the northern Italian town that he is named after. It is not known how much influence (if any) other major artists from Rome or Venice had on his work. He was influenced by Mantegna's work in Mantua but, according to the great art historian Vasari, he never visited Rome.
Details of his life are sparse but his major works were executed in Parma a world away from his southern contemporaries. We know that he married a lady from his hometown, Girolama Francesca di Braghetis, and had at least one son, Pomponio Allegri, who was also a painter.
His famous Assumption of the Virgin fresco for the Cathedral in Parma and his painting the Holy Night are regarded as being among the artist's finest works.
The architect Filippo Brunelleschi along with the painter Masaccio and the sculptor Donatello make up a trio of forward-thinking individuals at the heart of Renaissance Florence.
Brunelleschi’s experiments on linear perspective were a vital step forward for the painters, architects, and sculptors who embraced his ideas. Linear perspective made possible the illusion of three-dimensional space on a flat surface.
Perhaps Brunelleschi’s most famous work is his revolutionary design for the dome of Florence Cathedral which today stands as a monumental testament to his work.
The painter Masaccio was one of the leading innovators at the beginning of the Renaissance his frecoes in the Brancacci Chapel are among his finest works
The city of Florence is the cradle of the Renaissance. Many of the artistic treasures that were produced in the 13th 14th and 15th-century workshops of the city can be seen today in the abundance of museums and palaces that Florence has to offer. The history of the Renaissance is told in the masterpieces that adorn the walls and galleries of this stunning Italian wonder. Anyone who is passionate about their art or indeed has even a slight interest in the subject would benefit from a visit to at least some of these galleries.
Florence is a beautiful place, the breathtaking-cathedral which dominates the city center is a marvel. Its dome, created by the architect Filippo Brunelleschi is rightly world-famous as is the imposing campanile designed by Giotto de Bondone. A must-see includes the Bargello sculpture gallery, the Uffizi Gallery and the Accademia with its statue of David but there are many many more equally important venues to explore. Seeing some of these wonderful buildings and artworks does take planning but on a visit of just three or four days, it is surprising how much can be achieved.
The sale at Christie's of the Salvator Mundi has caused a media storm of claim and counterclaim. Many Leonardo experts are convinced that this painting’s attribution to Leonardo is correct but many are not and with a painting that carries a price tag of $450m convincing the art world that the painting is genuine is important, to say the least. For example, the art scholar Martin Kemp is totally convinced that the painting is a genuine Leonardo while Dr Carmen Bambach another renowned Leonardo expert does not. If the painting was the work of one of Da Vinci’s followers - as many speculate – the value of the painting would plummet at an alarming rate.
Where is the Salvator Mundi?
We know that the painting was purchased on behalf of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and was to be displayed in the Louvre Abu Dhabi but it was pulled out as an exhibit days before it was to be unveiled. Given that it was intended to be the crowning glory of the museum and that no explanation has been given for the withdrawal, it is perhaps not surprising that theories and suspicions about the painting’s whereabouts are rife in the media.
It has been reported that the painting is now on Mohammed bin Salman’s yacht somewhere in the red sea. If this is true it is extraordinary that the worlds most expensive painting is bobbing about in a superyacht somewhere in the middle east.
Why is the painting being kept under wraps?
Considering that the Salvator Mundi was intended as one of - if not the main - exhibit for display in the Louvre, Abu Dabi it does seem odd it won’t now be displayed at this prestigious museum. However, if the painting is re-classified as a work by one of Leonardo’s followers and not by the master himself then the financial implications for the current owner are huge. The $450m price tag could become $1.5m, a massive loss and a source of deep embarrassment to the Saudi Royal Family.
Is this painting by Leonardo da Vinci, his workshop, or one of his followers perhaps with some touches by Leonardo himself?
We may never know the answer but with so much money at stake, it is certain that the debate will continue to rage and with the eye-watering price tag that the painting commands vested interests will be desperate for confirmation that the work is indeed a genuine Da Vinci. There are several versions of the Salvator Mundi, my article explores the provenance of two of these fascinating paintings.