How and why, after 100 years, the “Lady with the Unicorn” by Rafael Santi has changed
At the beginning of the 16th century, Rafael Santi created the painting “The Lady with the Unicorn”, which was included in the “golden fund” of High Renaissance painting. It is unlikely that the artist could have imagined that through the centuries his canvas will be changed beyond recognition, and art critics will argue about why the image was changed?
Rafael Santi (1483-1520) – is included in the galaxy of the best Renaissance artists along with Leonardo and Michelangelo. He differs from his colleagues in his youthful years (he created a large number of masterpieces as a young man) and the most outstanding portraits in history. His name became legendary during his lifetime, and his art is a clear embodiment of harmony, balance and clarity of style. As a true Renaissance son, Raphael was versatile talented: architect, painter, draftsman, master of monumental painting.
The plot and history of writing
The painting depicts a young woman sitting in a loggia and represented in the popular perspective of the Renaissance, inspired by da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Rafael was clearly inspired by the works of Leonardo, because he repeated many of his masterpieces:
– the body of the heroine is located in a 3/4 turn,
– neat hands
– a mysterious look
– framing and complementing the composition of the picture of the column,
– smoky effect (sfumato) and transparent landscape.
This posture of the female body was first founded by Leonardo, and other contemporary artists and his future colleagues transferred to their canvases.
The portrait of a lady with a unicorn has a complicated history. First, the artist himself replaced the dog (symbol of marital fidelity) with a unicorn (symbol of chastity), and centuries after its initial creation, an unknown artist added new details – the wheel of St. Catherine, a palm branch and a mantle to cover the naked shoulders of the heroine. For a long time, the painting was attributed to Pietro Perugino, who taught Raphael at the beginning of his career. The painting was restored in the 1930s and analysis confirmed that this work belongs to Raphael’s brush.
The heroine of the picture
“Portrait of a Lady with a Unicorn” was painted by the artist during his stay in Florence. Rafael created the image of a young beautiful woman full of charm and purity of youth. This impression is also associated with a mysterious animal on his lap – a unicorn, a symbol of female chastity. The viewer sees a lady of noble customs, exquisitely dressed in a fashionable olive dress with brown velvet sleeves, with perfectly matched jewelry (a ruby-tone necklace with a robe and a drop-shaped pearl to match her pale skin, as well as a completely invisible delicate golden diadem, emphasizing the golden shine of her hair ) The girl’s magical gaze attracts the viewer, while it is impossible to say with complete certainty that the heroine looks directly into the eyes (the impression of a little slanting eyes). Rafael depicted her charmingly laid golden curls, revealing the neckline and neck. The skin is distinguished by aristocratic pallor, and only rosy cheeks and olive-green eyes suggest a slight contrast.
In addition to the described ornaments, it is significant that there are no rings (even a wedding ring) on her fingers – this is unusual, since female portraits of that time were created as a rule on the occasion of a wedding.
The identity of the heroine is still not known for certain. It is believed that the painting was commissioned as a wedding gift and depicts a bride, presumably Laura Orsini della Rovere, who may have been the illegitimate daughter of Pope Alexander VI. It is believed that when the betrothal was canceled, Raphael replaced the small dog on his lap with a unicorn, a symbol of chastity and virginity. Other art historians believe that this is a portrait of Maddalena Strozzi, descended from the ancient Florentine family Strozzi and the wife of a wealthy textile merchant Agnolo Doni.
In the hands of the lady holds a small unicorn, the symbol of which is chastity. A long-standing myth is that unicorns can only be caught by a virgin, so the animal was a symbol of purity and innocence. Thus, a unicorn + lack of a wedding ring + pearl (as an attribute of innocence) = arguments in favor of the unmarried status of a heroine.
The dog was a more wedding attribute in painting, and Raphael initially painted this particular animal, which only later, as shown by radiography, imposed an extremely animated realistic figure of a unicorn. The reasons for this modification are still not clear.
Landscape and composition
The landscape behind the heroine was created in the spirit of Leonardo: smoky, mountain range, blue sky and slightly noticeable trees. The smooth mountains, the rounded body and face of the heroine, and even columns with rounded pedestals create a smooth and soft composition of the picture without sharp corners and sharp elements.
The painting was done in oil and this choice allowed the artist to achieve the maximum richness of colors and details, which cannot be obtained using tempera (a popular method in the time of Raphael).
Thus, Rafael Santi – one of the greatest painters in the history of art – managed to create