Raffaello Sanzio – Urbino 1483- Rome 1520 – Madonna of the Baldacchino, 1506 – oil on canvas 279×217 cm cm – Palatine Gallery, Florence
Raffaello – The technique
“It was a beautiful invention and a great commodity to the art of painting to find oil colours”, said Giorgio Vasari. In fact, the new technique, already known by Cennino Cennini but perfected and spread only starting from the second half of the Fifteenth Century, presents an enormous adaptability, allows the colors to be spread in different ways and allows various mixtures and shades. By increasing or decreasing the quantity of binder, it is possible to obtain dense or fluid mixtures and obtain opaque or transparent glazes. Through analytical and stratigraphic investigations it is now possible to reconstruct the evolution of the techniques of the various artists of this period (for which unfortunately the sources are scarce and imprecise), comparing the data with what we can infer from the works left incomplete that document intermediate moments of the pictorial process. This is the case, for example, of the Madonna of the Baldacchino by Raffaello, the subject of recent and in-depth investigations1.
This “very good-term conducted draft”, as Giorgio Vasari defines it, is a complete autographed work by Raffaello who, in recent years, did not yet have a workshop organized in such a way as to allow for aid in competition. Its incompleteness makes it particularly interesting as a testimony of the artist’s working method and, more generally, of the technical procedures that were being defined in recent years.
The comparison of the painting with other works by the author reveals a constant way of proceeding with regard to the preparatory layers up to the drawing: the support is in poplar, the boards are joined together with casein glue and crosspieces, the ground preparation is made of calcinated plaster and animal glue, while the priming is uniformly white, based on lead white and boiled linseed oil.
During the cultural climate in which Raphael worked, the creative and design moment assumed fundamental importance, also with respect to the execution phase of the work. While in the early Renaissance the artist was still often the creator and at the same time executor of objects which sometimes were of common use, in these years and especially in the Tuscan environment the two phases return to distinguish themselves and the technical executive moment is increasingly entrusted to collaborators of the shop.
The creative moment, in the realization of the pictorial works, therefore ends up identifying itself with the graphic elaboration. Even for the Madonna of the Baldacchino, the long elaboration is proven by the numerous studies for the realization of the small-scale models customary in Raffaello’s technique that have come down to us.
The method for enlarging the drawing adopted by Raffaello and the artists of his time is that of the grid drawing already in use in ancient Egypt.
Having thus obtained the cardboard in real size, all that remains for the artist is to transfer it to the prepared wood panel.
In this painting, Raphael uses the technique of pouncing for the central group with the Madonna and Child and for the two angels below. The throne, on the other hand, is also transposed from cardboard, but with the indirect engraving technique. The remaining figures were defined (based on the previous model) directly by brush.
With the brush dipped in very diluted black pigment, Raffaello now secures the entire drawing.
The investigations carried out with the infrared reflectography on numerous works by the author sometimes reveal a drawing made with clear and precise strokes that outline only the margins, in other cases, however, an accurate hatched chiaroscuro is observed which, in various works, is also visible to the naked eye.
On this drawing the artist defines the chiaroscuro and therefore the plastic masses, working with light brown layers consisting of lead white and burnt lacquer combined with boiled linseed oil as the only binder. The obtained result is a monochrome from underneath which the drawing, still the fundamental structure of the work, transpires.
The Virgin’s mantle – despite being destined to turn out, as traditional iconography dictates, blue in color – receives a red background, in order to obtain, when the painting is finished, studied iridescent effects.
The green curtain of the canopy (which constitutes the bottom of the detail proposed by us) is built with transparent copper green, mixed, for the parts in light, with lead white.
On the draperies veils of color are now spread that mark the differences in chiaroscuro and create those iridescent effects already sought in the previous phase. Thus the Virgin’s mantle is painted in natural lapis lazuli and lead white on the base of red lacquer. The curtain, on the other hand, is completed with the addition of glazes of burnt lacquer that intensify the shaded parts. On the complexions the painter begins to apply flesh-colored veils (lead white, ocher and a little vermilion) that give the faces their natural color.
Manfredi Faldi – Claudio Paolini, Florence 1999
Painting done by Francesca Berni
1AA.VV. Raffaello a Pitti. ‘La Madonna del baldacchino’ storia e restauro, a cura di M. Chiarini, M. Ciatti, S. Padovani, Catalogo della mostra (Firenze, 1991), Firenze, Centro Di 1991.
Si veda in particolare gli studi di Marco Ciatti e Adria Tortelli sulla tecnica pittorica; Mauro Matteini, Arcangelo Moles, Giancarlo Lanterna, Maria Rosa Nepoti sulle indagini scientifiche; Alfredo Aldrovandi, Ottavio Ciappi per le indagini diagnostiche.
Disponibile su Amazon: La Madonna del baldacchino. Storia e restauro
Estratto da: Artis (Art and Restoration Techniques Interactive Studio), Direzione scientifica: Manfredi Faldi, Claudio Paolini. Cd Rom realizzato da un gruppo di istituti di restauro europei, con il determinante contributo della Commissione Europea nell’ambito del programma d’azione INFO2000.
Quest’opera è distribuita con Licenza Creative Commons Attribuzione – Non commerciale – Condividi allo stesso modo 4.0 Internazionale.
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