Friday, February 12, 2010

Raphael: The Woman with the Veil Tour Blueprint

January 9 – March 21, 2010


The exhibition of Raphael: The Woman with the Veil is presented by the E.L. Wiegand Foundation’s Arte Italia, organized by the Portland Art Museum, the Nevada Museum of Art, and the Milwaukee Art Museum and supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities. This exhibition was made possible by the Foundation for Italian Art and Culture (FIAC).


The Foundation for Italian Art and Culture, FIAC, is a non-profit organization established in New York City in 2003. FIAC's main purpose is to promote the knowledge and the appreciation of the Italian cultural and artistic traditions from the classical period to modern times in the United States, working closely with the Italian Ministry of Culture to accomplish this mission. In addition to sponsoring its own programs and exhibitions, FIAC acts as an intermediary between Italy and the United States to facilitate exchanges between American and Italian institutions.


Founded in 2008, Arte ITALIA promotes the exploration and conservation of Italian culture, including innovative exhibitions of classic Italian art and culinary programs showcasing visiting regional Italian chefs. Arte ITALIA is located in the historic Joseph Giraud House at 442 Flint on the northeast corner of California Avenue. The historic house, built in 1914, was designed by Nevada’s premier architect Frederic De Longchamps and was recently remodeled to share Italy’s rich culture with visitors.

The presentation of Raphael: The Woman with the Veil represents Arte ITALIA’s first major collaboration with the Nevada Museum of Art and serves as a model for the type of joint programming that will elevate the level of cultural life in northern Nevada. Given its historical and cultural significance, and the fact that the renowned painting has rarely left Italy, its exhibition in Reno presents a unique opportunity for the public to see, experience, and learn from a masterpiece that fully captures the ideals of Italy’s Renaissance.

Please visit Arte ITALIA to further explore the life and work of Raphael. Walking directions are available on the gallery brochure, and can also be obtained at the Main Admissions Desk. For more information about Arte ITALIA, please visit

Docents: Those of you leading public tours on Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays: Please conclude your tour of The Woman with the Veil by offering to guide your tour goers to Arte Italia physically. If they wish not to go at the time you offer, please encourage visitors to make the short walk down California Avenue to the home of Arte Italia in the historic Giraud House at 442 Flint Street.

Text Panels

Who Was Raphael?

In his own time and afterward, Raphael was considered one of the greatest painters who ever lived, and the rival and equal of his contemporaries Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. He was born in 1483 in Urbino, a city famous for its rich artistic, intellectual, literary, and musical culture. Raphael studied first under his father, Giovanni Santi, a painter and poet in the court of Urbino’s ruler, and then with the city’s leading painter, Perugino. By 1504, Raphael had settled in Florence, where, like many others, he came under the influence of Leonardo da Vinci. His reputation grew, and in 1508, Raphael was summoned to Rome by Pope Julius II to decorate the Stanze della Segnatura, a suite of private rooms belonging to the Pope. He was soon put in charge of all papal projects involving architecture, painting, decoration, and the preservation of antiquities. In Rome, Raphael’s art attracted international esteem and demanded extraordinary prices. While living there, he also completed remarkable portraits of the people surrounding the papal court. It was in this later period that he painted La Velata.

During his lifetime, Raphael was tremendously successful and deeply admired. There are many reasons for this, including his profound abilities as a draftsman and “composer” of pictorial elements; his ease at adapting to and assimilating new styles and innovations; his ambition and productivity; and his intellectualism and social skills. Unlike most painters at the time, Raphael wrote sonnets and befriended intellectuals, poets, and writers. These talents coincided with new ideas at the time concerning the role and status of artists, who were no longer viewed simply as trained craftsmen, but rather as professionals in their field. Raphael’s sudden death in 1520, at the age of 37, was said to have “plunged into grief the entire papal court.”

Was She Raphael’s Mistress?

The renowned Italian biographer of artists Giorgio Vasari, who lived two generations after Raphael’s La Velata was made, claimed that the model for the painting was Raphael’s mistress. That opinion stems from the demure eroticism of the portrait and from its likeness to another famous painting by Raphael, La Fornarina, made between 1518 and 1520, which almost certainly does represent the artist’s lover.

Raphael’s La Fornarina shows a woman, nearly nude except for a turban and a diaphanous veil, sitting in a grove of myrtle and laurel trees, which were well-known symbols of sexual desire. On her left arm she wears a type of band usually found on ancient statues of Venus. The band is prominently inscribed with Raphael’s name, suggesting an intimacy between the artist and sitter. But the question of whether the models for La Velata and La Fornarina are the same woman is not easily answered since the two were painted in very different manners. Whereas La Fornarina is filled with details that signal the woman’s relationship with Raphael, La Velata seems to obscure precise identification.

Almost three hundred years later, the famous French artist, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, further perpetuated rumors about Raphael’s amorous affair with La Fornarina. Ingres’ 1814 painting, Raphael and La Fornarina, depicts Raphael and his mistress embracing during a studio modeling session, while a drawing of his muse rests on an easel nearby.

Raphael’s Portraits

It is possible that the woman in Raphael’s La Velata may not represent a specific person at all, but instead an ideal one. Painted portraits in the Renaissance were not always concerned with achieving the true likeness of a person. Like other artists of his time, Raphael believed the painter’s role was not merely to imitate the world as it appeared, but rather to transform and idealize reality using skill and intellect. This idea had a long history, particularly when it came to portraying women. Renaissance painters and poets alike sought to outdo each other when creating—in paint or in words—the most affecting images of beautiful women. Another of Raphael’s well-known portraits embodying the qualities of Renaissance-era portraiture is that of Maddalena Doni (1506), which depicts a recently wedded bride adorned with jewelry and clothing that establishes her social status.

In seeking to capture with paint the “essence” of female beauty, Raphael’s portraits owe much to Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting Mona Lisa (1503-1506), which Raphael almost certainly saw and studied. Look closely at the two paintings. In La Velata, Raphael assimilated the Mona Lisa’s pose: including her direct, intimate gaze, and the expressive placement of her hands. All of these details contribute to our sense of her vivid “presence” and her complex inner life. Thus, regardless of who the model for La Velata was, through Raphael’s discerning eye and brush she has been made to embody and bring to life an ideal of female beauty.

The Italian Renaissance

Often considered one of the greatest eras of cultural achievement, the Italian Renaissance (spanning from about the late 1200s to 1600) was characterized by heightened intellectual endeavor, increased private and papal cultural patronage, and innovations in the fields of poetry, literature, philosophy, science, architecture, music, and the fine arts. The word Renaissance (rinasciamento in Italian) translates to “rebirth,” which at the time signaled a renewed interest and commitment to the study of the culture, arts, and humanist philosophy that had earlier emerged during classical antiquity. Although the Renaissance influence spanned throughout Europe, in Italy, the cultural resurgence was centered in the northern region of Tuscany and was eventually felt widely in Rome.

The Italian Renaissance movement in fine art is most often associated with three men—Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael—who espoused painting and sculptural techniques emphasizing the idealized human form, the creation of three-dimensional perspective, and balanced spatial harmony. During this period, these artists enjoyed commissions from some of Italy’s wealthiest clients—including the Medici family of Florence and later the papacy of the Roman Catholic Church. Although the Medici family, did not originally commission Raphael to paint La Velata, the painting eventually fell into their hands when its original owner Marquis Matteo Botti failed to pay his debts. Since that time, it has been housed at the famous Palazzo Pitti—a vast Renaissance palace in Florence that was once the primary home of the Medici family and the majority of their Renaissance treasures.

The Frame

The study of picture frames in general, and of Renaissance frames in particular, is a discipline in its infancy. Historic frames have always been the poor cousins of important collections of paintings and drawings. Throughout most of the modern era, original frames were discarded whenever a painting changed ownership, and a new frame more suitable to the work of art's new surroundings was provided. Only in the late nineteenth century did museums and private collectors develop an interest in historical authenticity that extended to frames as well as to the objects they contained. By that time, frames more than one or two hundred years old had grown exceedingly rare.

The elaborate frame that encases La Velata actually has a long and interesting history. The painting had for many years been in the collection of the Italian merchant Marquis Matteo Botti, but when Botti failed to pay his debts to his lenders, the Medici Family of Florence stepped in and paid them for him---in exchange for his entire art collection. In 1620, the Medici Family commissioned a craftsman to make this frame for La Velata. Each side of the ornate gold frame is decorated with carved griffins—legendary creatures portrayed with a lion’s body and eagle’s head and wings. The frame also has two hinges on its right side that are still used when the painting is on permanent display at the Palazzo Pitti in Florence. The hinges allow the painting to be opened like a cabinet for exposure to nearby natural light, thereby allowing copyists a better view of the painting.


Europe in the Sixteenth Century

Social, intellectual, and religious unrest transformed European culture in the sixteenth century. Nearly continuous warfare pocked the European continent, and factions and rulers of numerous nation-states vied for power, land, and resources of all kinds, especially economic ones. Advances in cartography, astronomy and navigation led the way in the early period of what we now know as the scientific revolution. The advent of the printing press just a few decades earlier provided an enormous boost to the power of the written word and the advance of literacy and knowledge. The Habsburg (Holy Roman) Empire was widely acknowledged as the greatest power in Europe, if not the world, and yet shifting alliances, diplomatic efforts and military force changed the landscape frequently. The Church was an important player in this scene, wielding power, diplomacy, and military strength of its own. Indulgences (relief from punishment of sins, followed by absolution and forgiveness of sins for the insurance of salvation) were a common practice of the Church for centuries. The popularization that indulgences could be offered in exchange for financial contributions to the Church during the reign of Pope Julius II, Raphael’s patron, became one of the first targets of those within the established Church who began to seek internal reform, later known as the leaders of the Reformation.

Italy in the 16th Century: The High Renaissance

Conceptions of the Renaissance vary widely. This is partly because it represents the burgeoning of so many different areas of knowledge historically, and because it represents such a wide-ranging and complex cultural phenomenon. Thus, it can’t really be unanimously defined. More agreement exists about the Italian High Renaissance, which is said to have begun in the 1490s and lasted until the Sack of Rome in 1527 by Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. It is sometimes referred to as the “High Renaissance,” “Imperial Style,” and the “classical phase” of the Renaissance. Ultimately, this style of art—characterized by the advancement of oil as a medium in painting, superseding tempera, as well as a greater understanding of anatomy, Medieval and Renaissance Humanism, and ancient classical art—spread across the rest of Europe (as evidenced by, for example, Rembrandt van Rijn’s collecting Italian Renaissance artworks personally). Another development the Italian High Renaissance is recognized for is the invention of both chiaroscuro (the use of light and dark contrast to create and intensify senses of volume and drama in two-dimensional art) and sfumato (generally, in painting, a lightly tinted varnish used to thinly cover an entire painting, creating a kind of smoky haze that was believed to mimic the quality and effects of light at dusk, the most highly prized light).


Born in 1483 in Urbino (northeastern Italy), Raphael arrived in Florence (north-central Italy) in 1504/05, having studied in Perugia (central Italy) under the famed painter Perugino. Raphael became successful very quickly, partly as a result of his widely-admired depictions of the Virgin and Child *(remember that at this time, art as we might conceive it was largely the realm of the Church, though private collecting basically started during the Renaissance). In 1508, Raphael left Florence for Rome, where Pope Julius II put him to work painting his private papal apartments, including the library, or Stanza della Segnatura, one of Raphel’s most famed bodies of work. Raphael continued to work for the successor to Julius II, Pope Leo X, as director of archaeological and architectural projects in Rome. Leo X was a member of the of Medici family, the members of which came to possess The Woman with the Veil in the seventeenth century.

Tour Framework and Questions


  • Who do you think this person in the portrait was?

  • How old is she?

  • Can you tell when she lived?

  • Does anything that the person is wearing give you any clues?

  • Besides the person himself/herself, are there any other objects in the portrait that give the viewer any clues? (objects that the person is holding, objects that are in the background, props such as chairs, tables, etc.)

  • Does the way the person is standing or sitting tell you anything about them?

Who, What, When, Where and Why

  • What does the picture tell you about the time that the subject lived?

  • What country might it have been painted in?

  • Who do you think it might have been painted for?

  • Do you think this is a portrait of someone who paid to have their portrait made, or she a person close to the artist?

  • What do you think makes this portrait unique?

Feelings and Emotions

  • How does the portrait make you feel?

  • What about this portrait interests you? Why?

  • How do you think the artist felt about the person he/she painted?

  • How do you think the person in the picture is feeling or what is their mood? How can you tell?


  • How has the artist arranged the portrait?

  • Do you think the woman posed for this portrait, or do you think the artist might have imagined her?

  • Where is the person looking (at the viewer, away, at something else)?

  • What does the background and the objects in the background of the picture tell us?

  • How much space has the artist left around the person and how is it used?

  • What view of the person is pictured? 3/4 view? Full frontal? Profile? Full body? Waist view?

Style of the Portrait

  • Is the portrait realistic (looks absolutely real) or are there abstracted or idealized elements (the artist was thinking about something real, but altered the visual reality of the subject in some way)?

Elements and Principles: Shape, Line and Space

  • What shapes can you see in this portrait? What shapes do you think Raphael used to create it?

  • Are the lines in the portrait straight or curved? Geometric? Organic?

  • How often does the artist repeat certain colors or shapes within the portrait?

  • What colors does Raphael use most prominently? Least? Are the colors light or dark? What effect(s) does this choice of colors, tints, and shades have on your perception of the painting and the sitter?