‘The Madonna of Foligno’ and ‘The Sistine Madonna’ on display together for the first time in Dresden
Raphael and the Mystery
of the Mother of God
From 6 September 2011 – 8 January 2012 the exhibition “Celestial
Splendour. Raphael, Dürer, and Grünewald paint the Madonna”, opened in Dresden,
sponsored by the Vatican Museums and Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, on the occasion
of the Pope’s Visit to Germany. For the first time, two of the most celebrated
works by Raphael dedicated to the Madonna are on display together. We publish
here a translation of excerpts in Italian from the address given by the current
Cardinal President of the Governorate of the Vatican City State for the
inauguration of the exhibition.
I willingly accepted the invitation to participate at the opening of the current exhibition for various reasons, especially because of my personal connection to Germany, as I was Apostolic Nuncio there, but even more so, because of Benedict XVI's Visit to Germany. It is for this occasion that The Madonna of Foligno, a large altar piece by Raphael, is on display in Dresden next to the more famous painting of The Sistine Madonna, also known as “The Madonna of Dresden”.
The Madonna of Foligno is an important piece in the Vatican Museums, located in the same hall as The Transfiguration by Raphael. The decision to deprive the Museums for a few months of such an important painting could not be taken lightly. I, as President of the Governorate of Vatican City State, and Prof. Antonio Paolucci, as Director of the Vatican Museums, decided to help make possible the idea of the Director General of the National Art Collection of Dresden to compare the most important work by Raphael in Germany, The Sistine Madonna, with her Vatican “sister”, The Madonna of Foligno. Since its annexation to the Vatican Collections in 1816, The Madonna of Foligno has never been loaned, since Napoleon requisitioned it. In order for the painting to be transferred to Dresden, the Pope's consent was necessary.
The Madonna of Foligno was painted by Raphael in 1511-1512, shortly before The Sistine Madonna (1513-1514), which is the more famous of the two Raphael paintings. In The “Madonna of Dresden” one could say that Mary appears as an “epiphany” or an apparition. The curtain opens to present a strong woman, a true Roman, and so light a figure blown gently by the wind, with an attentive gaze turned to those who contemplate her. She is so statuesque — Mulier fortis, Virgo intemerata — and so alive, that she appears present. She is with her Child, who is neither an infant nor robust, who is the Son of God, truly man.
The Madonna of Foligno, more than an apparition, is presented almost as a vision which emerges from a halo of light, between an enchanting landscape and the circle of ethereal angels, seemingly formed from an airy substance of clouds. In the idyllic oval which surrounds her, Mary is a woman full of sweetness in the sinuosity of her posture — Virgo sapiens, Mater amabilis. She is attentive to the small Child, God sharing in human fragility, who seems to want to take refuge under her veil.
Given that both are works of art born of faith, I would like to conclude by simply mentioning the special place Mary holds in Christian art. It is not a casual position due to the possibility she offers as the figure of a woman, who presents the fullness of the mission of woman as virgin, bride, mother and widow. It is a position connected, more so, with her unique role in the Mystery of the Incarnation of the Word of God. It is, indeed, through her that the Son of God took on human nature. It was not purely an external event, rather the consequence of a meditated and free adherence of that young woman to the Word of God.
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