Saturday, June 27, 2015

Raphael: The Small Cowper Madonna

The Small Cowper Madonna by Raphael is being exhibited this summer at the Worcester Art Museum, on loan from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

The Small Cowper Madonna
ca. 1505, oil on wood
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

I've looked at this painting many times while growing up in D.C. and it's very interesting to view in a different venue, especially because it's being exhibited in juxtaposition with the Northbrook Madonna, a related work from the permanent collection of the Worcester Art Museum.

The Northbrook Madonna
Master of the Northbrook Madonna
early 1500s, oil on wood
Worcester Art Museum

The Northbrook Madonna was acquired by the Worcester Art Museum in 1940 and at the time was attributed to Raphael. Scholars have since discarded the idea and there is now no clear consensus on its authorship. Some believe that Raphael may have done the basic drawing and perhaps some of the initial painting before leaving it to another artist to finish.

The two paintings are hung next to each other on adjoining walls for comparison, and it's easy to see how the Northbrook Madonna was originally considered a Raphael; the composition is well-balanced, and the figures are gracefully drawn and painted with great subtlety.

Cowper (Raphael)                             Northbrook (unknown)

However, the color is more luminous in the Cowper Madonna, and the clothes and especially the background are much richer and more detailed. The comparisons bring me to agree with the opinion that Raphael may have begun the painting and then abandoned it. And - as a museum attendant cheerfully pointed out during my visit - the baby in the Northbrook Madonna does have a rather peculiar hair style. 

This exhibition will be at the Worcester Art Museum until September 27th and is well worth a visit.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this fascinating post, Andrew! Jeff & I went to the Worcester Art Museum a couple of years ago, and we really enjoyed it. It would be worth the trek out there again to see the two paintings side by side. They are so similar yet so different. I need to look at some more Raphael's. Because of the similarity in composition, it does look like it came from his studio but it is different in so many ways that I share the opinion that he must have left it to someone else to finish.



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