Rome zooms in on portrait of Raphael's lover

Rome prepares to show La Fornarina in blockbuster show.

Rome art conservation experts are conducting three days of in-depth studies on La Fornarina, Raphael's celebrated portrait of his lover and muse, before the masterpiece leaves Palazzo Barberini for the upcoming blockbuster exhibition at the Scuderie del Quirinale.

The research into the masterpiece, which was completed between 1518 and 1519 - a year before the artist's death aged 37 - is described as a unique opportunity to unlock the secrets of one of the most iconic pieces of Western art.

For the duration of the studies, from 28-30 January, experts at Rome's National Gallery of Ancient Art will use the latest technology to conduct scans and detailed photographs of the painting.

Experts study La Fornarina in Rome. Photo La Repubblica.

These ultra high-definition images offer far greater magnifications than the human eye can perceive, capturing colours, pigments, details, sharpness and lighting not otherwise achievable.

To allow for the up-close studies, experts removed the frame from Raphael's painting, conserving the canvas in a climabox, a protective glass case with a climate-controlled environment.

"In the first draft there was a landscape in the background which Raphael then decided to replace with a myrtle bush and a branch of quinces, a symbol of fertility", Chiara Merucci, head conservationist at Palazzo Barberini, told Italian newspaper La Repubblica.

Detail of La Fornarina by Raphael

One of the gallery's most popular works, Raphael's portrait was considered provocative at the time, as a bracelet worn by the bare-breasted woman featured the artist's signature: Raphael Urbinas.

Who was La Fornarina?

The woman traditionally identified as La Fornarina was Margherita Luti, the daughter of a baker in Trastevere, hence the portrait's name. When x-ray analysis was carried out on the painting in 2001, experts were amazed to discover a ruby ring on the third finger of La Fornarina's hand, hidden for almost five centuries.

The painted-over ring has led to speculation of a secret engagement between Raphael and his adored model. Their secret love affair had to be hidden, as Raphael was already engaged to be married to Maria Bibbiena, the niece of his rich and powerful patron, a Roman cardinal.

However the artist postponed the wedding date continuously for six years, immortalising his true love in his paintings.

Raphael 500 in Rome

Rome will play a central role in the world's celebration of the 500th anniversary of the death of Raphael. In addition to the major exhibition at the Scuderie del Quirinale, the Vatican will display Raphael's great tapestries in the Sistine Chapel, for one week only, from  17-23 February, under Michelangelo's ceiling. 

Italy is honouring Raphael, who was born in the city of Urbino but spent the last decade of his life in Rome, by placing a red rose on the artist's tomb in the Pantheon on each day of 2020.

For details of where to find Raphael's art in the Eternal City, see our guide.

 

General Info

Address Via Ventiquattro Maggio, 16, 00186 Roma RM, Italy

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Rome zooms in on portrait of Raphael's lover

Via Ventiquattro Maggio, 16, 00186 Roma RM, Italy

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Wanted in Rome is a monthly magazine in English for expatriates in Rome established in 1985. The magazine covers Rome news stories that may be of interest to English and Italian speaking residents, and tourists as well. The publication also offers classifieds, photos, information on events, museums, churches, galleries, exhibits, fashion, food, and local travel.
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