Raffaello Sanzio – Urbino 1483- Roma 1520 – Madonna del Baldacchino, 1506 – oil on wood, 279×217 cm – Galleria Palatina, Firenze
Raphael – Painting technique
“The use of colours in oil was a wonderful invention and a great aid to the art of painting”, claims Giorgio Vasari. In effect, the new technique known in Cennino Cennini’s time but winning widespread acceptance only after the mid-1400’s, was extremely flexible and allowed for a variety of ways to apply paint and for the greatest diversity of blending and shading. By increasing or decreasing the amount of binder, dense or fluid impastos and opaque layers or transparent glazes could be produced. Today analytic and stratigraphic examinations reveal a great deal about the materials and techniques employed by artists in this period– about which, unfortunately, the literary sources say relatively little. These investigative results can be compared with the presumed un-finished works that document the intermediate points in the pictorial process. This, for example, is precisely the case with the Madonna del Baldicchino by Raphael, which has been the subject of recent, in-depth investigations.
This “abbozzo has been beautifully made” relates Giorgio Vasari. The work was painted entirely by Raphael during the years when he did not yet have a formal “bottega” and therefore did not use assistants. It is precisely the incomplete nature of this work that makes it interesting as a document attesting to his working methods. More generally, it gives important information regarding the technical procedures that during this period were in process of development.
The comparison with other works by Raphael reveals that his working method remained constant in terms of the preparatory layers and the drawing. The panel is made of poplar and the boards are joined together with casein glue and battens. The ground preparation is made from calcinated plaster and animal glue. The priming is uniformly white and composed of white lead and boiled linseed oil.
In the cultural climate were Raphael practised, the ideation and planning of the work was of fundamental importance. This was true as well for the execution phase of the work. During the first years of the Renaissance artists were often the designers and the craftsmen for even commonplace objects. It is precisely during this period – and especially in Tuscany – that the two phases of work become differentiated, and the technical execution is more and more often given to collaborators in the workshop.
In the creation of paintings, the development of the idea ends up becoming a graphic design. Even for the Madonna del Baldacchino, the long period spent in developing the idea is evidenced by numerous studies and even a model in reduced scale.
The method that Raphael and his contemporaries used to enlarge the drawing was already in use by the ancient Egyptians and consists in the squaring off of a grid.
In this manner, once the cartoon is enlarged to actual dimensions, the artist must then transfer the drawing onto the prepared panel. In this painting, Raphael used the pouncing technique for transferring the central group depicting the Madonna and Child and the two lower angels from the cartoon to the support. The throne was transferred using the cartoon, but the method consisted of an indirect incising into the ground. The rest of the figures were created directly with a brush, following the model previously created.
TS06E 5 Techniques. Oil painting in Italy Raphael then passed over the entire drawing with very diluted black pigment and paint brush. The infrared reflectograms made on many of the artist’s works reveal that at times the artist proceeded using precise, net lines simply outlining the contours, while at other times a careful chiaroscuro made with “tratteggio” appears. In some of Raphael’s works this latter is even visible with the naked eye.
Raphael then passed over the entire drawing with very diluted black pigment and paint brush. The infrared reflectograms made on many of the artist’s works reveal that at times the artist proceeded using precise, net lines simply outlining the contours, while at other times a careful chiaroscuro made with “tratteggio” appears. In some of Raphael’s works this latter is even visible with the naked eye.
On top of this drawing the artist defines the chiaroscuro and the plasticity of the forms, working with light layers of brown composed of white lead and burned lake in a boiled linseed oil binder. The result is a monochrome picture that lets the underlying drawing show through, still the fundamental structure of the work.
The Virgin’s cloak – as traditional iconography dictates will eventually be blue – however, here it is given a red field of colour as a base. This allows the artist to achieve iridescent effects (cangiante)once the painting is finished.
The green cloth of the canopy is made with copper resinate, mixed with white lead for the highlights (lumeggiatura).The green cloth of the canopy is made with copper resinate, mixed with white lead for the highlights (lumeggiatura).
Coloured glazes are laid on the drapery and folds. These glazes mark the differences in chiaroscuro and create the iridescent effects already mentioned. The Virgin’s cloak is painted in natural lapis lazuli and white lead on the red lake base. Instead the curtain is finished with glazes of burnt lake that intensify the shadows. On the flesh areas the painter applies flesh-coloured glazes (white lead, yellow ochre and a small amount of vermilion) that give the faces their natural colour.
In this painting the artist has left the flesh areas less complete. Even in the faces of the Madonna and Child there are no final glazes, nor is there the white in the final highlights.
Manfredi Faldi – Claudio Paolini
Dipinto realizzato da Francesca Berni
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, coordinati dall’Istituto per l’Arte e il Restauro Palazzo Spinelli, con il determinante contributo della Commissione Europea nell’ambito del programma d’azione INFO2000.
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