Raffaello Santi (Raffaello Sanzio) La Muta


National Gallery of the Marche




480 x 652 mm



historical period


Exhibit Artwork

Artwork Details

The enigmatic portrait depicts a woman slightly turned in a three-quarter pose. The work recalls the famous paintings Mona Lisa and the Portrait of Ginevra Benci by Leonardo da Vinci which Raphael had certainly seen in Florence where he painted the work. He had already used the same approach in the Portrait of Maddalena Doni and La Gravida, both painted in the Tuscan city around 1506 (Florence, Uffizi Galleries). The melancholic La Muta is soberly dressed, and her hair is tied up. She is portrayed in half-length with a completely black background. She has small and slightly squinting brown eyes that look at the viewer in an enigmatic way. The woman is defined as La Muta (the mute) because of her tight mouth and her unreadable gaze. She wears a green cloth and red velvet dress with cut sleeves tied with red ribbons and a white linen shirt under them, according to the fashion of the time, as well as a white apron tied at the waist. Her fashionable dress is embellished with silk veils that frame her face and shoulders which indicate that she certainly did not belong to a modest class, as evidenced also by the precious jewellery she is wearing, such as sapphire and ruby rings, symbols of chastity and prosperity, and a cross-shaped pendant decorated with plant motifs and an emerald in the centre which embellishes the golden necklace with a knot at the height of her chest. She is holding a handkerchief in her left hand that rests on a frame and her index finger is pointing something out of our sight, a pose that was common in Flemish painting which Raphael knew through engravings and paintings he had seen in Florence, as well as in the works of Ghirlandaio. The Nordic manner influenced the artist also in the details of the well-defined garments, in the rendering of the texture of the fabrics, and in the precision in which the ornaments are displayed as well as the warm light that envelops the figures and enhances refined details, such as black embroideries that adorn the shirt. Even the dark background recalls the pictorial culture of northern Europe. Raphael modified the painting several times with changes and adjustments, as demonstrated by the investigations carried out in 1983 on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of the artist, and the more recent ones operated by the Opificio Delle Pietre Dure in 2014. It emerged from the x-rays and reflectographs that in the first version of the portrait the woman was younger with wavy hair and a dress with a wide neckline which was later covered. The more austere rendering of the portrait suggested that the woman might have been widowed – hence the dark colour of the dress and the handkerchief in her hand, symbols of widowhood – and therefore the figure was modified to seem more appropriate. Raphael also changed the pose several times, which can be traced in the height, the position of the shoulders, the veil and the sleeve, as well as the hands. The fascinating portrait is mysterious not only because we don’t know the identity of the woman. There is no information on the client, which could be Florentine given that the work dates back to the period when Raphael was staying in the Tuscan city. Over time, critics have suggested various hypotheses about the identity, proposing the artist’s mother, Magia di Battista di Nicola Ciarla, who died when he was only eight years old, or Elisabetta Gonzaga, who, however, was quite different physically. Fert Sangiorgi proposed Giovanna Feltria da Montefeltro, daughter of Federico, wife of Giovanni Della Rovere, and mother of the future Duke of Urbino Francesco Maria I. This hypothesis was not entirely convincing because at the time of the portrait Giovanna, who supported Raphael’s trip to Florence in 1504, was over forty years old while the figure in the painting is certainly younger. In addition, considering her importance she should have been mentioned in the first inventories of Della Rovere’s property. The hypothesis suggesting that she may be Giovanna’s daughter, Maria Della Rovere Varano, is not widely supported. The first information on the owners of the painting dates back to 1666 when the work is mentioned in the inventory of the Florentine collection of Cardinal Carlo Dei Medici. However, the inventories of the collection of the Grand Prince Ferdinando Dei Medici in Palazzo Pitti (1702-1710) identify Raphael as the author of the portrait. Since then, the work has been attributed to him, even though there has been some discussion in the past. After the death of the Grand Prince Ferdinand in 1713, the painting was transferred to the Villa di Poggio a Caiano and seventy years later to the Uffizi Gallery, first in the Room of the Hermaphrodite, then in the Tribuna. It remained here until 1927 when it was permanently moved to the National Gallery of the Marche. In February 1975 the painting and the works of Piero Della Francesca preserved in the museum of Urbino (The Flagellation and Madonna of Senigallia) were stolen. The three paintings were recovered in Switzerland the following year.

Artist Details

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Raffaello Santi was born in Urbino in 1483. Son of the painter Giovanni Santi was mainly influenced by the artists of the second half of the 15th century who had worked in the court of Montefeltro, such as Francesco Laurana, Francesco di Giorgio Martini and Piero della Francesca.

Raphael studied in Perugino’s workshop, where he concentrated on landscapes and Piero della Francesca’s works and painted calm compositions and characters with delicate features, which was typical for him.

In 1504 he painted The Marriage of the Virgin for the church of San Francesco in Città di Castello (Brera, Milan) which was a step further from the paintings of Perugino, where he showed great perspective for architectural and spatial layout. In the same year he moved to Florence, where he stayed until 1508. He studied the works of Leonardo, Michelangelo and Fra Bartolomeo. In this period he painted the The Vision of the Knight (London, National Gallery) and other small paintings, but also Madonna of the Grand Duke, portrays of Agnolo and Maddalena Doni, Madonna of the Goldfinch, Cowper Madonna and Tempi Madonna.

In Rome Raphael painted the frescoes of the Loggia in Villa di Agostino Chigi, La Farnesina, with the Triumph of Galatea (1511) and number of other paintings, such as the Portrait of Cardinal (1510 – 1511, Prado Museum) the Madonna of Foligno (1511 -1512, Vatican Museum), the Sistine Madonna (1513-1514, Dresden, Gemaldegalerie) the St. Cecilia (1514, Bologna, Pinanoteca Nazionale) Madonna della Seggiola (1514, Florence, Palatina Gallery) and the portrait of his friend Baldassare Castiglione (1514-1515, Louvre).

During the papacy of Pope Leo X Medici in 1513 Raphael became closer to the papal court and continued the decoration of the Vatican halls. The decoration of the Constantine Room was completed by his students after his death, between 1520 and 1524. During the years in Vatican he also painted cartoons for tapestries with the Acts of the Apostles (1514-1515, Victoria and Albert Museum, London) and from 1514 he dedicated himself mostly to the architecture, studying ancient decorations like those of Domus Aurea, which was recently discovered.

In Villa Chigi he worked in Loggia di Psiche (1517) and then in Vatican Loggias (1518-1519) always with his hard-working students.

As an architect he was responsible for the Chigi chapel in Santa Maria del Popolo and after Bramante’s death in 1514 he was appointed as the architect of the new St. Peter’s. Between 1517 and 1520 he designed the Branconio building in L’Aquila, which since then has been destroyed, and Villa Madama.

In this period he painted the Vision of Ezekiel (1518, Florence, Palatina Gallery) the Portrait of Leo X with Two Cardinals (1518-1519, Florence, Uffzi Gallery) La Fornanina (1518-1519, Rome, Galleria Nazionale D’Arte Antica) and the Transfiguration, completed by his students after his death (Vatican Museum).

Leo X appointed Raphael as the superintendent of the antiquities of the city of Rome, giving him the responsibility for taking care of the artistic and architectural heritage of the city.

Raphael died in Rome at only 37 years old. He was buried in Pantheon.

Collection Details

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National Gallery of the Marche