Raphael’s Hidden Treasure, Revealed

By Mary Jo Gibson

April 15, 2015

Art Institute logo


William Gurley, geologist and paleontologist from Danville, Illinois had a secret passion; European drawings.  At its height, Gurley’s collection numbered over 6,000 pieces, which he turned into a stunning donation to the Chicago Art Institute in 1943 to commemorate his late mother, Leonora Hall Gurley. The difficulties in managing this magnitude of works is overwhelming considering the technology of the early 1940s.  It wasn’t until the 1980s that curators finally began work to thoroughly catalog the donations.  Tucked away in this treasure trove archivists found a rare sketch by Raphael, one of only a few works by this Renaissance giant known to exist in the United States.

Raphael hand

Raphael signature

The traditional attribution to Raphael was confirmed by the work’s similarity to sketches made by the master for the frescoes of the Sala di Constantino, the largest room in the papal suites at the Vatican.  There, a powerful hand similar to this sketch, offers an emphatic ceremonial gesture for a portrait of the first pope, Saint Peter.  Peter’s presence in the space strongly reinforced the idea of papal supremacy, acting as a counterweight to the undermining efforts of Martin Luther and the Reformation.  This rare chalk drawing is on a short list of Raphael’s last known drawings, done before his death in 1520 on his 37th birthday.


Saint Peter in the Sala di Costantino

For additional reading, please see this excellent resource from the Chicago Art Institute, which goes into great depth discussing the drawing, comparative art by the master, and the symbolism represented in the finished work connected to the sketch.

Raphael’s masterwork hand is displayed among the Art Institute’s possessions in the Prints and Drawings collection, on the second floor of the main building in galleries 202A-226A; a hidden gem from a massive collection of about 60,000 prints and 11,500 drawings. Only a small sample is ever on display at one time in the museum’s general galleries just off the main staircase. I have some choice pieces to share with my readers this week; Cranach, Carracci and Durer all represent their fine abilities.  The details are incredible, and I look forward to discussing them with you.

The Chicago Art Institute, voted the best museum in the world by Trip Advisor, graciously allowed me press privileges and I owe them a debt of gratitude for that kindness.  Look for more posts showcasing their exquisite collection, and a rare overview of a very special Cabinet.




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Museum Monday at the Getty

By Mary Jo Gibson

April 6, 2015

Renaissance Splendors of the Northern Italian Courts

The Getty has always embraced new mediums for museum exhibitions by enhancing the museum experience on levels that will reach the widest possible audience.  Their new exposition, Renaissance Splendors of the Northern Italian Courts, launched an accompanying virtual presentation and App displaying illuminated manuscripts alongside comparative art, timelines, and other influences, bringing a fresh new approach to the museum experience.

Saint John the Evangelist

Saint John the Evangelist, Lombardy, early 16th century, Master BF, cutting from an antiphonal, The J. Paul Getty Museum.

Illuminated manuscripts have suffered disbursement over the years, and the Getty retrospective reunites the numerous collections of pages that are physically scattered between disparate locations.  The majority of the objects are leaves (single pages) or cuttings (parts of pages) from choir books. This practice of re-purposing manuscripts whose contents had become outmoded was popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. The practice of cutting up illuminated manuscripts led to many irreparable holes in the art historical record, with orphaned fragments making it difficult to reconstruct the full story of the artists’ collaboration on commissions.

Two Saints before God

Two Saints before God, Venice 1410-20, Cristoforo Cortese, Fondazione Giorgio Cini, Venice.

Lives of the Twelve Caesars

Frontspiece, Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Venice, 1471, Giovanni Vendramin, artist, Suetonius, author, Archivio Storico Civico e Biblioteca Trivulziana.

A physical presentation of manuscripts suffers a limitation by only allowing visitors to view only a single opening (pair of pages) from a book.  Yet illuminated manuscripts are full of rich decoration and detail throughout.  In contrast, this virtual presentation allows several pages of such manuscripts to be viewed, comparing them with other works of art by the same artist and discussing the varied icons and symbolism.  If biblical history and saint iconography intrigue you, the App shares obscure information on these images alongside commentary on their representation in worship.

The Ascension

The Ascension, Venice 1410-20, Cristoforo Cortese, Private collection, San Francisco.

However, to this viewer, it is the art of these pages that is the star of the show.  The images originated in Milan and Venice, made for Princes, prelates, and other courtiers. While these intricate pages were only available for viewing by a select few, their art is preserved.  An important feature of the online exhibition is the ability to view these pages and their characteristics in hi-res detail.  The array of vibrant color and brilliant gold gives a complete viewing experience, as impressive today as it was 600 years ago.

Calling of the Saints Peter and Andrew

Calling of Saints Peter and Andrew, Private collection, San Francisco.

While exhibitions in museums give a singular experience, virtual presentations complement and extend the relevance of the artwork beyond just the physical pieces. By bringing these artworks together online from several varied sources making the result an international curatorial collaboration.  The resources within the App can be built upon, expanded, and used as educational tools on many levels, allowing the works to become an integral part of study much like any other online course.  The Getty has broken new ground with their App and the virtual exhibition that accompanies the Renaissance Splendors of the Northern Italian Courts. I look forward to many more efforts from them in the virtual museum experience.

transporting the Ark of the Covenant

Transporting the Ark of the Covenant Verona, 1476-1500, Francesco dai Libri, Psalter, Archivio Storico Civico e Biblioteca Trivulziana.

Conversion of Saint Paul

The Conversion of Saint Paul, attributed to Pisanello and the Master of the Antiphonal Q of San Giorgio Maggiore, The J. Paul Getty Museum.

Thank you for viewing my Museum Monday at the Getty, I hope you enjoy the exhibition and the virtual experience as much I enjoyed sharing it with you readers!







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