The Marriage of the Virgin: Raphael’s perspective
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The Marriage of the Virgin

Raphael - 1504

In a way analogous to “The Dead Christ” by Mantegna,  Raphael’s Marriage (Lo Sposalizio della Vergine) is one of the finest examples of Italian Renaissance perspective painting.

Signed and dated “RAPHAEL URBINAS / MD IIII,” the painting comes from the church of San Francesco in Città di Castello. The painting was part of the Lechi collection in Brescia, and in 1805 it reached the Brera Gallery, though the latter would only be officially inaugurated a few years later, in 1809.  

The scene of the marriage is in the foreground of the painting. There is a group of young women on the left, while the young suitors, holding rods, are on the right. The artist repeated a subject that had previously been depicted by Perugino, on a panel that was originally in the Cathedral of Perugia (now at Caen, Musée des Beaux-Arts), but it has recently been suggested that the Raphael painting may have been earlier.

Beyond the semicircle of figures is a vast square of coloured marble tiles which leads to the steps of a large, 16-side, arched temple. The architecture shows the influence of Bramante or Piero della Francesca.

The building is a good expression of the young Raphael’s fascination with architecture. In this context, the building seems to form a central focus around which to arrange the human figures. Its central position makes it the source of a spatial concept that seems to irradiate outwards, inverting the usual concept of a central vanishing point.

The “Wedding” marks the high point of the Brera Gallery’s itinerary. It is shown close to the Montefeltro altar by Piero della Francesca, and this demonstrates the features shared by the two artists born in the perspective traditions of the city of Urbino. It also suggests the characteristic of universal knowledge, that was adopted and mastered by Raphael.

This, the jewel in the Gallery’s crown, is a masterwork by the young Raphael. It has been recently restored, and is has a Neoclassical frame by Albertolli.


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