Doubts cast on history of the Haddo Madonna

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Painting owned by the National Trust had been attributed to Renaissance master Raphael. 

14th August 2019 by Gavin Stuart 0 Comments

Experts have cast doubt on claims that a painting owned by the National Trust for Scotland is by a Renaissance master.

It had been suggested that the so-called Haddo Madonna, part of the collection of the Trust’s Haddo House in Aberdeenshire, might be the work of the Italian painter Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, better known as Raphael. 

The theory received worldwide attention when it was first proposed in the 2016 BBC documentary Britain’s Lost Masterpieces, but new research suggests it could be wrong.

In an attempt to uncover the truth, the Trust’s head of curatorial and conservation services, Jennifer Melville, arranged for the painting to be taken to the National Gallery in London for examination. 

After in-depth examination of the ‘under drawing’ and composition was carried out and compared against known Raphael works, the National Gallery concluded that the painting is not likely to be by the hand of Raphael, but may instead be an 18th century Italian work by an unknown artist.

Other conservators and expert art historians think that the Haddo Madonna might be a 16th century work, but perhaps not actually by Raphael, whereas others suggest that it may be by an artist of the Bolognese School, which was strongly influenced by Raphael.

Ms Melville said: “In trying to prove a theory, we have instead created a puzzle.

 While I agree the painting is probably not by Raphael, further research is needed – for example, to identify the wax seals that are on the back of the wooden panel and which may indicate a previous owner or be a clever piece of trickery.

“It will be fascinating to research the work’s provenance further, as the history of the picture’s ownership will add to our current understanding of this very fine painting.”

At a talk being delivered at Haddo House on the evening of 14 August, Jennifer will explain her reasons as to why she agrees that Raphael is probably not responsible for the painting.

She said: “Raphael’s known Madonnas have a distinctive tactile interaction with the Christ Child, whereas the pose here, where the Madonna is seen to be adoring the Christ Child who, if the panel had not been cut down (or gives the impression of having been cut down) would appear below her to the lower right of the composition.

“The decorative play of hands and arms, which is a distinctive feature of Raphael’s known Madonna and Child compositions and introduced a new tenderness and human element to these religious paintings, is absent here.

“This is a more formal ‘adoration’, as seen in the art of a slightly earlier generation, by such artists as Bellini, Botticelli and Raphael’s teacher Perugino and this may point us in fascinating directions as to where this painting really came from.”