Aldobrandini Madonna
Yearc. 1509–1510
TypeOil on wood panel
Dimensions38.9 cm × 32.9 cm (15+14 in × 12+78 in)
LocationNational Gallery, London

The Aldobrandini Madonna is a painting from about 1509–1510 oil by the Italian renaissance artist Raphael. The picture is of the Virgin Mother, Christ child and infant John the Baptist, one of many paintings by Raphael with this trio. It is from early in his third, or Roman period, where distinctive changes are seen from his Umbrian or Florentine period in style, use of colour, and introduction of more natural subjects and settings.

Owned for centuries by the aristocratic Roman Aldobrandini family, it has been part of the collection of the National Gallery in London since 1865. It was sold to the National Gallery in 1865 after about five decades of ownership by the Lord and Lady Garvagh, and is still sometimes known as the Garvagh Madonna.

The painting

Aldobrandini Madonna, one of several small and mid-size Madonnas painted by Raphael in Rome, was likely something he worked on in his spare time of projects for the Pope or members of his court.[1] During this time period, Raphael was painting the Stanza della Segnatura,[2] the first room in the Vatican Palace to receive Raphael and his workshop's frescoes.[3]

Exploratory sketches of this and other Madonnas from 1509 to 1511 are found in Raphael's "pink sketch-book".[1] It is one of several of Raphael's Madonna and Childs that uses a pyramidal composition.

The painting takes place within a room, with a backdrop of the Roman landscape through the windows. The dark pillar between the windows sets off the bright face of the Madonna who is seated on a bench, holding the Christ child to whom he shares a flower with infant John.[4] The painting has also been referred to as Madonna del Giglio (of the dianthus or pink) for the flower that infant John gave to the infant Christ. In addition to the sweetness of the painting, it is well regarded for its grace, beauty and technical skill. Only the discreet ring halos imply anything other than a very human scene.[5]

One topic of conversation has been that the folds of material around the Virgin's lap do not seem to indicate sufficient room for her legs.[6]

Relationship of the Christ Child and John the Baptist

Raphael appears to have a special affinity for the relationship between Jesus, the Christ child, and his similarly aged cousin, John. Likely that was due to the special relationship that they would enjoy as they went through adulthood. Raphael clothes infant John here, and other paintings of the trio, in a little skin garment, like cloths of the desert as described in The Bible, "camel's hair and with a girdle of skin about his loins."[7]

In a sweet gesture, the Christ Child sits naturally in the lap of the Virgin, taking the carnation, sign of his future Passion, from Saint John.[1]

Comparison to paintings from Raphael's Florentine period

The Madonna paintings from his early Roman years evolved from his Umbrian and Florentine Madonnas, are more informal in dress and pose. At the same time, the composition is more complex.[1] The colors are cooler, jewel-toned, an experiment with the dominant colors of the Stanza della Segnatura's School of Athens[2] and bright, as if on porcelain.[6]

The painting contrasts significantly with Raphael's earlier Ansidei Madonna (1505), influenced by the strict expression of divinity of the Umbrian School within his Florentine Period. Here Madonna is a more human mother, with divinity only expressed through the halo. The Christ child and Saint John are both children. The painting is more reflective of natural circumstances.[8] And, yet, there is a severity of this Madonna that will ease into a greater naturalness, such as the Alba Madonna slightly later into Raphael's Roman period.[9]

In further contrast to the paintings of his Florentine period, the Madonnas of his Roman period are stronger and more imposing. This is due in part to the difference between the gaunt woman of Umbria and the beautiful women of Trastevere and Campagna, and also by Raphael's pursuit of the ideal. He instructed his students that "we must not represent things as they are, but as they should be."[10]

A strong influence in Raphael's growth as an artist in Rome was Michaelangelo.[11] There are aspects of the composition of Aldobrandini Madonna that are similar to Leonardo da Vinci's Madonna Litta, such as the portrait style painting before two windows that overlook the countryside and style of the Virgin's clothing.[12]

Skill near perfection

Per Wornum, Aldobrandini Madonna is one of Raphael's paintings that is painted in near perfection, and in the process "elevated the standard of perfection." Raphael executes with such skill, combined with imitative formative art, and the power of invention to reach a noteworthy state of excellence. While others have surpassed him in execution, Raphael's strengths are his mastery of design and use of invention, composition and expression.[13]

Other paintings by Raphael of Madonna, Child and Saint John

There are several paintings by Raphael with the same trio:


Provenance refers to the history of ownership of a work of art. Tracing the provenance tells who owned the painting and can lead to the painting's artist. Raphael's Aldobrandini Madonna, now of the London National Gallery.

In the 16th century the painting was owned by the Aldobrandini family who owned apartments in the Villa Borghese in Rome. Raphael painted a number of Madonnas that passed into the Aldobrandini family; Virgin and Child with Saint John may have been in the collection of Lucrezia d’Este (d. 1598), inventoried in 1592, that came to the Aldobrandinis. The National Gallery's painting is most likely identical to the painting in Jacomo Manilli's Villa Borghese guidebook in 1650 titled ‘Vergine, con Christo, e San Giouannino, ... di Raffaelle’ (‘Virgin with Christ, and Saint John, … by Raphael’). In the 1780s art critic Basilius von Ramdohr noted that the painting was still kept in Prince Aldobrandini's apartments, verified by the National Gallery to Seroux d’Agincourt's illustrated publication of 1823, which includes a sketch of the painting and states that the painting can be seen at Prince Aldobrandini's apartment, and is notated in the margin:

"A most precious small painting of his middle period. The composition is very good. The Christ is beautiful, and the Saint John true, only the head of the Madonna compared with the others, is less beautiful. The disegno is most delicate. One notices from the colouring that the master had painted a lot al fresco at that time. The inks are not very much rubbed."

Per the National Gallery, and in contradiction to the Agincourt publication, the painting was acquired by George Canning, 1st Lord Garvagh in 1818 from Alexander Day's collection before it was sold in 1865 to the National Gallery by his widow and heirs for £9,000.[16][17]


  1. ^ a b c d Chapman, H; Henry, T; Plazzotta, C (2004). Raphael, from Urbino to Rome. London: National Gallery Company. p. 253. ISBN 1-85709-999-0. Retrieved 2011-03-10.
  2. ^ a b Joannides, P (1983). The Drawings of Raphael: With a Complete Catalogue. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press. p. 21. ISBN 0-520-05087-8.
  3. ^ "Room of the Segnatura (1508–1511)". Vatican City: Vatican Museums. 2003–2007. Retrieved 2011-03-11.
  4. ^ Fraprie, R (1912). The Raphael Book: An Account of the Life of Raphael Santi of Urbino. Boston: L.C. Page & Company. pp. 179–180.
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  6. ^ a b Dryhurst, A (1905). Raphael. London: Methuen & Company. pp. 111–112.
  7. ^ Hurll, E (1895). Child-Life in Art. Boston: Joseph Knight Company. p. 151.
  8. ^ Ruskin, J (1888). A Popular Handbook to the National Gallery. Vol. 1. London: MacMillan & Company. p. 113.
  9. ^ Müntz, E (1882). Armstrong, W (ed.). Raphael; His Life, Works and Times. London: Chapman and Hall. p. 377.
  10. ^ Sweetser, M (1877). Raphael. Boston: James R. Osgood & Company. p. 54.
  11. ^ Addison, J (1906). The Art of the National Gallery. Boston: L.C. Page & Company. p. 90.
  12. ^ Muntz, E (1898). Leonardo da Vinci: Artist, Thinker and Man of Science. Vol. 1. London: William Hienemann. p. 175.
  13. ^ Wornum, R (1864). The Epochs of Painting: a Biographical and Critical Essay on Painting and Painters. London: Chapman & Hall. p. 207.
  14. ^ "The Virgin and Child with Saint John the Baptist (La Belle Jardiniere)". Retrieved 2011-03-10.
  15. ^ "The Alba Madonna". Retrieved 2011-03-10.
  16. ^ Catalogue of the Pictures in the National Gallery. London: Printers for Her Majesty's Stationery Office. 1889. p. 402.