Italian master on display in Moscow

An iconic painting by one of the leading Italian Renaissance artists, Raphael, has reached Moscow in a mono-display.

The masterpiece was solemnly presented by Russian Culture Minister Aleksandr Avdeev, Italy’s Education Minister Maria Stella Gelmini and the Italian ambassador in Moscow, Antonio Zanardi Landi, at the official opening of Russia-Italy cross-culture program at the Italian embassy. 

Lady with a Unicorn, or Dama col liocorno, will stay in the Russian capital through May 10. Starting from March 24, the painting will be displayed to wide audiences at the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts.

Raphael’s painting can boast a rich history. Created between 1504 and 1506, it is one of the early works of the great artist.  Back then young Raphael arrived in Florence and for a short while crossed paths with Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.

“Of course he was taken with Gioconda,” said the head of the Pushkin Museum, Irina Antonova. And Raphael created his own fair lady, probably in response to da Vinci.

According to the head of Polo Museale di Roma Rossella Vodret, Raphael’s lady had to change roles while the painting was created. This fact was discovered during radiographic research, which the painting underwent in 1927 for the first time in the history of Italian science.

The research revealed that at first Raphael painted the lady with a dog at her knees, presumably a portrait of a bride before an upcoming wedding. However, the portrait was unfinished and Raphael returned to his work only after a while. A few years passed before the artist added the lady’s hands embracing a unicorn – a symbol of innocence and purity, instead of a dog.

Several decades later, at the end of the 16th century, Lady with a Unicorn was turned into Saint Catherine of Alexandria. Some unknown artist covered her shoulders with a cloak and added a wheel in the background. Only during the restoration of 1935-36 was the painting returned to what Raphael had intended it to be. 

Rossella Vodret noticed that Lady with a Unicorn seldom leaves Italy. For three months professionals prepared for the painting’s travel to Moscow. In a specially prepared sarcophagi, Raphael’s masterpiece left Italy for Russia on a governmental loan.

Raphael’s masterpiece opens a series of mono displays this year.  In June and July the Italian embassy will showcase Giorgione’s Double Portrait from the Roman Palazzo Venezia; in September-October, Bernini’s Medusa (1630) from the Musei Capitolini may also visit Moscow. And in December-January the Russian capital will get a chance to see Caravaggio’s Boy with a Basket of Fruit from Galleria Borghese.

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