Santa Cecilia, Raphael. Oil on panel transferred to canvas, 236 x 149 cm, 236 x 149 cm, ca. 1515 - 1516, Bolonia, Pinacoteca Nazionale

The altarpieces that Raphael produced in Rome during Leo’s X’s papacy were all intended for export: to Naples, Palermo, Bologna, and France. They were executed for patrons at the highest level (such as King Francis I of France), or with excellent connections, and they served to spread the artist’s fame across Europe. Although most of these altarpieces were signed raphael urbinas (Raphael from Urbino) despite their role in publicising the artist’s name abroad they frequently involved significant amounts of workshop assistance and sometimes were even assigned entirely to an assistant.

Only the Madonna del Pesce is a traditional Virgin and Child flanked by saints. All the others, with the exception of the Santa Cecilia, are narrative compositions in which Raphael endeavoured to recast the traditional altarpiece in the dramatic new idiom that he was simultaneously bringing to fresco and tapestry design. The cross-over with other media is especially clear in the Vision of Ezekiel, the painted version of which is very small but which was apparently developed while planning a large-scale narrative tapestry for Leo X (recently acquired by the Museo Nacional de Artes Decorativas, Madrid). The small panel and the tapestry will be show together for the first time.

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