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Raphael at the Metropolitan: The Colonna Altarpiece
[adapted from The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, v. 63, no. 4 (Spring, 2006)]

Wolk-Simon, Linda (2006)

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Raphael at the Metropolitan: The Colonna Altarpiece

Raphael at the Metropolitan: The Colonna Altarpiece will highlight the Colonna Altarpiece, the only one by Raphael in America and, since 1916, a treasure of The Metropolitan Museum of Art's collection. This exhibition will reunite the altarpiece's two main panels with the scenes from its predella, which were separated from the altarpiece in 1663. A select group of drawings and paintings by Raphael produced close in time to the Colonna Altarpiece, including a preparatory study for the Metropolitan's predella panel, will also be included. The exhibition will be on view at the Metropolitan from June 20 through September 3, 2006.

In 1901, to great fanfare, the fabulously wealthy and acquisitive New York banker J. P. Morgan acquired the Colonna Altarpiece, the last major altarpiece by Raphael still in private hands. Painted by the young artist for a convent in Perugia, the work conforms to the conservative Umbrian style of Perugino, while at the same time reflecting Raphael's first response to the artistic innovations of Leonardo da Vinci and Fra Bartolommeo in Florence.

Dismembered and sold piecemeal in the 17th century, Raphael's altarpiece traversed the Continent for the next 200 years, passing through the hands of a succession of illustrious owners, from Queen Christina of Sweden to the venerable Colonna family in Rome, the licentious Duc d'Orléans, and the despotic kings of Naples and the Two Sicilies. To obtain it, Morgan paid the phenomenal sum of two million francs; when it arrived in New York, the work was acclaimed by the press as the most important painting ever to cross the Atlantic.

For the first time since the altarpiece was disassembled more than three centuries ago, the main panel and the lunette of the Colonna Altarpiece will be reunited with all the scenes from its predella, the loans of which have been secured from museums both in the United States and abroad. The exhibition will also include a focused but rich presentation of paintings and drawings by Raphael dating from the years 1502–1505, including a modello for one of the predella panels and a sketch for the landscape background of the altarpiece—the only drawings by this prolific draftsman that can be directly connected with the painting. Thus, in addition to reassembling the altarpiece and presenting it in the relevant context of Raphael's career, the exhibition also brings together for the first time the scant body of related preparatory drawings, which will be set within the broader context of his activity as a draftsman. Finally, a selection of works by Perugino and Pintoricchio, the highly influential artists who shaped Raphael's early style, and by Fra Bartolommeo—exemplar of the new artistic paradigm he sought to emulate upon his transfer to Florence—will round out this exploration of the Colonna Altarpiece and Raphael's early career.