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Raphael: The Sistine Madonna, 1512/13, 269,5 x 201 cm © Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden

DRESDEN.- In 1512, Raphael (1483-1520) was commissioned to paint the Sistine Madonna. In 2012, the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden celebrate with a major exhibition the 500th anniversary year of the commission and the creation of the painting.

Divided in four sections, the exhibition will shed light on the art and cultural historic context as well as on the reception history of this masterpiece:

I. Raphael in Rome
This section of the exhibition presents the “Sistine Madonna” in the context of other Roman works by Raphael and those by other artists of the Renaissance. Important works by Raphael lent from international museum will be on view. Among them are the “Garvagh Madonna” (c. 1509/10) from the National Gallery in London or a fragment of an angel (c. 1512) from the Pinacoteca Vaticana. Other masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance are, for instance, the drawing “Mary in the Mandorla with Apostles and the kneeling Pope Sixtus IV” from the Albertina in Vienna as well as a Madonna by Filippino Lippi (c. 1475) from the Szépmüvészeti Museum in Budapest. Moreover, the commissioner, Pope Julius II, who had the Dresden altar piece painted for the monastery San Sisto in Piacenza, will be introduced in this section. 

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Raphael, Garvagh Madonna (Madonna Aldobrandini), about 1510, 38,7 x 32,7 cm © The National Gallery London

II. „Make room for the great Raphael!“ The spectacular acquisition of the “Sistine Madonna” by August III
For almost 250 years the “Sistine Madonna” nearly remained unknown in her original installation site in Piacenza. Only through the spectacular acquisition for the picture gallery in Dresden in 1752/54 did the painting appear in the public. Adolph Menzel recorded August’s legendary saying when the painting had arrived in his pastel “Make room for the great Raphael!” (1855/1859). The eventful purchase story will be presented by means of documents from the Saxon Principal State Archive Dresden, the Biblioteca Passerini-Landi and the Archivio Gulieri in Piacenza. Many of them have never been exhibited before. 

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Raffael, Donna Velata, 1512/13, oil on canvas, 82 x 60.5 cm, Florence © Galleria Palatina, Istituti museali della Soprintendenza Speciale per il Polo Museale Fiorentino

III. On its way to becoming a myth – The “Sistine Madonna” in literature, art, music and design
Due to the public presentation of the “Sistine Madonna” in the picture gallery in Dresden, the reception of the artwork in literature, arts and crafts, photography and music started around 1800. As a parallel development, the Madonna was copied in paintings and graphic arts. Friedrich Bury’s painting “Electress Auguste copies the Sistine Madonna” (c. 1808/09) from the Museum Schloss Wilhelmshöhe in Kassel is just one example. Moreover, the painting was a favourite motive in magazines, embroidered pictures, advertisement, caricatures and scrapbooks of the middle class in the periods of the Biedermeier and the German Empire. The myth surrounding the painting continued in the 20th century when following World War II the painting was brought to Russia in 1945. According to the propagated legend, it was herewith rescued by the Soviet army. The rescue legend survived the painting’s return to Dresden in 1955 and, for instance, found its expression in the painting “The rescue of the Madonna” (1984/85) by Mikhail Kornetsky that is today in the Latvian National Museum of Art in Riga

IV. An international career: The little angels in kitsch and art
For the first time around 1800, the little angels were copied out of the entire content of the painting – that was the start for their solo career. The exhibition shows examples and caricatures from the early 19th century to the present. 

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Adolph von Menzel

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Franz und Joseph Riepenhausen, Raphael's dream, 1821, 99,5 x 119,5 cm © Poznan, Muzeum Narodowe w Poznaniu

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Kurt Schwitters, Wenzel Child Madonna with Horse, 1921, 17,2 x 12,9 cm © Sprengel Museum Hannover, Sammlung NORD/LB in der Niedersächsischen Sparkassenstiftung

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Mihail Kornetsky, The rescue of the Sistine Madonna, 1984/85, 180 x 156 cm © The Latvian National Museum of Art, Riga, Latvia