The interesting story behind Raphael's Madonna of the Chair
PHOTO OF RAPHAEL
Raffaelo Sanzo da Urbino (1483 – 1520) was better known simply as Raphael, an Italian painter and architect of the high Renaissance, together with Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci; they form the traditional trinity of great masters of that period, the great Italian artist of the sixteenth century. One evening about the year 1516, he was walking in a leisurely way in the country when he came to an inn. At once his interest was directed at a pretty young mother quietly singing to her baby while an older boy looked on. They were perfect objects for a picture, Raphael thought to himself, and he approached the young woman. “You may not have heard of me, Madame,” he said modestly, “I am a painter and would dearly love to paint you and your children, if you would be kind enough to stay just as you are.” Although she was surprised and confused, the lady agreed. Raphael actually didn’t properly prepare for painting a picture. He had neither canvas nor easel but fortunately he was still carrying some paints and brushes then his eyes saw something that attracted him.
“I must find some canvas,” he said, looking around and he smiled after he saw a round top of a barrel, a substitutive material for the canvas. Quickly he cleaned and prepared the surface of the barrel’s top so that it would hold his paints. He set to work while the young mother and her children watched silently. Before long the sun began to set and the models were obviously anxious to return home. Bidding them a polite farewell, Raphael continued to work quickly while the image of the scene was still fresh in his mind and he could finish his work based on his memory. Because he was hungry, Raphael ordered a meal. “Please, a meal, landlord,” he said when he had finished, and the inn-keeper gave him what he ordered. He realized that the 33-year-old artist was becoming famous for his paintings of women. On preparing to return home, Raphael now realized that he had nothing to pay for his meal. “Would you accept this painting instead of money?” he asked and the landlord agreed, the artist went on his way and he was satisfied with his excellent work.
For several years the painting remained in the inn and no one knew of its existence, except the inn-keeper. In 1589, however, it appeared to public view when it was put on exhibition in Florence. For more than three centuries the picture “Madonna of the Chair” remained there and it was taken across the Atlantic in 1939 by the Italian Government for the New York World’s Fair. There it was exhibited as one of the most priceless paintings by Raphael and other artists while Raphael had painted it for a fee of about twelve pence, the value of a meal at the inn.
MADONNA OF THE CHAIR