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The Cardinal
Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio)
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Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio)

Urbino (Italy), 1483 - Rome (Italy), 1520

Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio) See author's file

The Cardinal

1510 - 1511. Oil on panel.
Room 049

Since the moment when it was decided that the present work is by Raphael but that the sitter is not Antonio Granvela, art historians have expended considerable efforts on identifying the sitter.The most credible candidates would seem to be Cardinal Bendinello Suardi (painted by Del Piombo,Washington, National Gallery of Art), and even more probably Cardinal Giovanni Alidosi (depicted on a medal and also in the Disputa in the Stanza della Segnatura), due to the latter’s clear resemblance to the present sitter. However, neither can be clearly identified with the features of this cardinal. Aside from the high quality of the execution, the most striking aspect of this portrait is Raphael’s astonishing natural perceptiveness which results in the definitive and universal image of a Renaissance cardinal (this painting is always referred to as The Cardinal rather than ‘Portrait of a Cardinal)’.The artist achieves this, however, without renouncing a depiction of the individual nature of this sitter, using his way of ‘painting people as more real than they are’, in Bembo’s words. This ability to imitate nature derives from the Flemish portrait, which Italian painters of the second half of the Quattrocento studied with enormous interest. Flemish influence is evident in the masterly modelling of the face, for example in the way that Raphael moved the left eye (a pentimento now visible to the naked eye) to achieve a more penetrating gaze through the contrast with the direction of the turn of the head.The bold handling of the textures of the clothes, such as the sheen on the red silk cape, reveals a direct knowledge of Venetian painting. A point of reference may well be Lorenzo Lotto’s presence in the Vatican in 1509, and his influence on Raphael in the portraits of the figures on the right-hand side of The Mass at Bolsena has been noted on various occasions. In addition, the geometrical rigour of Lotto’s portrait of Bernardo de Rossi may have inspired the markedly hieratic nature of the present cardinal. The painting can be dated to around 1510, the year in which Alidosi died, through its similarity to Raphael’s portrait of Leon X in the National Gallery, London. Its triangular composition clearly derives from Leonardo, in particular the Mona Lisa, evident in the (slightly incorrect) placement of the arm in the foreground whose intention is to diminish the distance between sitter and viewer.The cardinal’s body is reduced to a pyramidal form which acts as a mere support for the head in the manner of Quattrocento Florentine sculpted busts, which do not include arms or other details that detract attention from the face. In this way, and with the figure emerging from a black background that emphasises the sense of his real presence, Raphael imbued his sitter with the solemnity of a statue, creating an unforgettable image in which this individual (as this is, after all, the physical and psychological representation of an individual) becomes the paradigm of the ecclesiastical dignitary that he represents. This is so much the case that art historians attempting to identify the sitter have frequently consulted biographies of cardinals of the day to find one with the refined, astute and impenetrable character of this figure, who certainly corresponds well to Bembo’s description of Cardinal Alidosi:‘for whom faith and religion were never by any means certain, pure or sacred.

El retrato del Renacimiento. El retrato del Renacimiento, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2008, p.212-213


Technical data

Related artworks

Museo del Prado, sala de la reina Isabel II
Gelatin / Collodion on photographic paper, Ca. 1899
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Phototype on card, 1900 - 1905
Hauser y Menet
Inventory number
Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio)
The Cardinal
1510 - 1511
Height: 79 cm; Width: 61 cm
Royal Collection (Aranjuez Palace, Madrid, “pieza de trucos”, 1818, nº 286)

Bibliography +

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Other inventories +

Inv. Fernando VII, Aranjuez, 1814-1818. Núm. 286.
Pieza de Trucos [...] {20988} 286 / Quatro quartas largo tres ancho, Tabla, retrato del Cardenal Granvela = Antonio Moro

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1872-1907. Núm. 367.
367.-Retrato de un Cardenal. / Alto 0,78. Ancho 0,61.-Tabla. / Personaje de unos 35 años de edad, enjuto de carnes, de fisionomía noble y sagaz, nariz aguileña, párpado largo, cabello castaño cortado por igual á media altura de la frente.-Busto de tamaño natural. Creyeron algunos ver en esta bellísima obra de Rafael el retrato del cardenal Julio de Médicis, electo Papa en 1523 con el nombre de Clemente VII, y como tal lo grabó Ludwing Gruner en 1834. El doctor Passavant, citando un texto de Vasari y fundado en que sólo hubo dos retratos al óleo del cardenal Bibiena, uno original del Sanzio,...

Inv. Real Museo, 1857. Núm. 905.
Rafael de Urbino / 905. Retrato de un cardenal desconocido. / Fisonomia noble y sagaz, nariz aguileña, cabello castaño y ojos azules. Se cree puede ser el de Julio de Medicis. (tabla) (figura de menos de medio cuerpo.) Alto 2 pies, 9 pulg, 8 lin; ancho 2 pies, 2 pulg.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1854-1858. Núm. 905.

Inscriptions +

Inscribed in orange. Front, lower left corner

Inscribed in white. Front, lower right corner

20 6
Inscribed. Back, Upper area

B 31
Inscribed with chalk. Back, lower left area

Cardenal Grambela / tiempo Carlos V / Rto. de Antonio / Moro
Inscribed in black. Back, central area

Inscribed with chalk. Back, Upper area

Nº 6
Inscribed. Back, Upper area

Scrap of paper. Back, Upper area

Exhibitions +

06.06.2020 - 25.07.2021

The Renaissance Portrait
03.06.2008 - 07.09.2008

Location +

Room 049 (On Display)

Update date: 08-06-2022 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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