Classic Week: Highlight of the Old Master Paintings



An intriguing painting of the “Madonna and Child” with an excellent provenance is to be offered in Dorotheum’s Old Master Paintings sale on 22 October 2019. Its style and subject, its composition and its technical prowess place it very near the centre of the body of religious works produced by the great master of the Renaissance, Raphael.

Associate of Raffaello Sanzio, called Raphael (1483–1520) Madonna and Child oil on panel, 56.5 x 41.5 cm estimate € 300,000 – 400,000

This previously unknown picture of the “Madonna and Child” has remained in the same aristocratic family collection for generations. It was once the property of the Swiss noblewoman and artist, Adèle d’Affry (1836–1879) who was a sculptor, painter and writer. She chose the pseudonym of “Marcello” for her debut at the Salon of 1863, during the Empire of Napoleon III, in order to disguise her identity. She was married to Carlo Colonna, Duke of Castiglione (1829–1856) who was the son of Apsreno Colonna, Prince of Paliano (1787–1847). The present painting of the “Madonna and Child” can be recognised, in a 19th century frame, in a picture she painted of an elegant interior of her own home in Switzerland (see fig.1).

The painting is of the highest quality. The Virgin supports on her knees the standing Child, who with his right hand clasps his mother’s finger, while he rests his left arm against her. In the background, a hilly landscape with a high horizon opens out, punctuated by a river on the left, and a small fortified homestead to the right. The “Madonna and Child” are placed before a landscape according to the canon established by Perugino and brought to perfection by Raphael. The Mother and Child are shown hovering between reality and the sacred ideal.

fig.1: Marcello (Adèle d‘Affry, Duchess of Castiglione Colonna), Young lady in a salon Fondation Marcello

It is generally agreed by scholars that this painting should be dated to the time around 1504. It is regarded to be a high-quality version of a Raphael composition and has been confirmed as a work of the greatest interest.

Technical studies have revealed under-drawing and preparatory work for the composition very similar to that found in works by Raphael. Images from the infrared reflectogram clearly reveal under-drawing on the prepared surface of the panel which can be compared to Raphael’s earliest style of drawing.

The composition of the present painting closely resembles other early representations of the “Madonna and Child” and particularly bears comparison to the so-called “Northbrook Madonna” in the Worcester Art Museum, Massachusetts which has, until recently, been regarded as an autograph work by Raphael. It has furthermore been suggested that this present painting, for sale at Dorotheum, could possibly be the missing prototype for a number of similar works.

Infrared reflectogram of
“Madonna and Child”

The confidence of the draughtsmanship and the refinement of technique displayed in this painting can be compared to Raphael’s earliest style of painting. As a result of the technical analysis and research conducted by international experts, the author of this painting can be regarded as being an associate of Raphael, from his closest circle of collaboration.

Little is known of Raphael’s early working practice, especially as attributions for many of his works from this period are subject to ongoing scholarly debate. A definitive attribution for this painting remains uncertain and subjective as, in the end, attributions of undocumented works can only be based on opinion, which may change. Nevertheless, the possibility that the young Raphael worked on this painting should be taken into consideration as this is a work of great quality, executed with an impressive ability.


Auction date: Old Master Paintings auction, 22nd October 2019, 5 p.m.

Location: Palais Dorotheum, Dorotheergasse 17, 1010 Vienna

Exhibition: 12th October 2019 – 22nd October 2019

Contact: Mark MacDonnell, specialist for Old Master Paintings at Dorotheum

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