Sublime Beauty: Raphael’s “Portrait of a Lady with a Unicorn” makes U.S. debut in Cincinnati, San Francisco. October 3, 2015 – January 3, 2016, at Cincinnati Art Museum. And January 9 – April 10, 2016, at Legion of Honor.
The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and the Cincinnati Art Museum are pleased to announce Sublime Beauty: Raphael’s “Portrait of a Lady with a Unicorn.” This focused exhibition features one of Raphael’s most beguiling and enigmatic paintings. The masterpiece, presented in the United States for the first time, will be lent by the Galleria Borghese in Rome, where it was first recorded in the collection in 1682.
“Raphael’s Portrait of a Lady with a Unicorn is a stunning masterpiece of the Italian High Renaissance. When it arrives in San Francisco for the first time, we will greet it with new scholarship as well as a celebration fitting for the blond beauty and her mysterious unicorn,” says Dr. Esther Bell, curator in charge of European paintings at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. She is the organizing curator of the exhibition and the editor of the accompanying catalogue. Dr. Bell was previously a curator of European paintings, drawings and sculpture at the Cincinnati Art Museum.
“The Cincinnati Art Museum is excited and honored to showcase this magnificent work in its U.S. debut. We are grateful to the Foundation for Italian Art and Culture for the partnership that brings this important and highly esteemed treasure to Cincinnati,” said Cameron Kitchin, the Louis and Louise Dieterle Nippert Director of the Cincinnati Art Museum. “The painting is revelatory when encountered in person, and we look forward to sharing it with our visitors.
Portrait of a Lady with a Unicorn (ca. 1505–1506) features an unidentified blond-haired sitter and epitomizes the beauty of Raphael’s female portraits during his Florentine period. The exhibition will explore the possible identity of this subject, as well as the painting’s distinct iconography, including the unicorn she holds in her lap. Scholars believe that the painting was commissioned to celebrate a wedding, and the unicorn, a conventional symbol of chastity, may offer clues to her familial lineage.
The exhibition further highlights the stylistic relationships between this masterpiece and Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Leonardo’s canonical work, painted in Florence in the early years of the 16th century, had a great impact on the younger Raphael, who also practiced in the city during this period. Raphael’s sophisticated adaptation of Leonardo’s innovations in portrait compositions resulted in Portrait of a Lady with a Unicorn, a painting that hints at the Mona Lisa with its half-length format, its sitter with hands folded in her lap, and its setting before a distant landscape. Visitors will be able to explore Raphael’s painting in detail and get a glimpse into its intriguing history.
About the Artist:
Painter, draftsman and architect Raphael (1483–1520) was one of the most famous artists working in taly during the period from 1500 to 1520, often identified as the High Renaissance. His paintings are noteworthy for their great beauty and harmony, epitomizing the Renaissance virtues of balance and ideal form. His later production exhibits an interest in expressing movement and emotion through narratives. He is best known for religious subjects, portraits, and historical scenes.