The panel represents Madonna with Child emerging from the dark background. She is standing and wearing a red dress with blue mantle, as the tradition requires, holding baby Jesus in her arms, as if she wanted to show the child to the observer.
The scene is sweet and calm, surrounded by strong sentimentality.
It is one of the most famous paintings of Raphael, although quite different from his other Madonnas with Child, as this one has completely black background.
The painting has been X-rayed which showed that on the left side there was an arched window and below a seat that crossed the painting, which were covered with black paint. This was probably an alternative background which Raphael didn’t want to show so he covered it.
However, there is no question of the attribution to him. The veil and the Lady’s hair are characterized by brushstrokes which could have only been done by Raphael.
The painting was probably commissioned by a private client around 1504, when young Raphael had just arrived to Florence. In the end of the 18th century Ferdinando III, Grand Duke of Tuscany, bought the work by the advice of Tommaso Puccini, director of the Uffizi Gallery at the time.
The painting was documented in Uffizi for the first time on November 3, 1799. The painting was sent to Vienna, where the Grand Duke had fled the arrival of Napoleon’s troops in Florence. Ferdinando III loved the work so much that he had to bring it with him during his exile and for this reason the painting goes by the name Madonna of Grand Duke.
In 1800 the panel was restored by Vittorio Sampieri, restorer of the Grand Ducal Galleries. In 1815 Ferdinando III returned to Florence and the painting was moved to Palazzo Pitti, first to the Grand Ducal room, then to the halls of Pietro Da Cortona, also known as Sala di Apollo. In the following decades the painting was often moved from a room to another inside Palazzo Pitti. It was temporarily moved to Uffizi in 1821, when it was copied by Luisa Saedler (or Seedler).
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.
The Uffizi gallery was established in 1560 when Cosimo I Medici, the Duke of Tuscany, wanted to put together the Florentine offices and magistrates (hence the name uffici, offices) in a single building, to have a better control over them.
The work was entrusted to Giorgio Vasari and the construction started the following year. The building was designed in U-shape, consisting of a long east wing, a short corridor overlooking the Arno river and a short west wing, forming classic pattern of a Tuscan loggia. The entrance of the gallery is situated right next to Palazzo Vecchio, the house of the dukes.
The first museological exhibition was organized by Francesco I, the Grand Duke of Tuscany from 1574 to 1587. Thanks to the architect Buontalenti and the initiative of Ferdinand II, the gallery became a representation site, decorated by Antonio Tempesta, where the artworks were conserved as well as the series of the portraits of the Illustrious Men which were placed next to the portraits of the Medici family.
The overall space consists of 8000 square meters and forty-five rooms, all in the third floor, where the art collection includes some of the greatest masterpieces of Italian and European art, such as Giotto’s Maestà di Ognissanti, Simone Martini’s Trinity, the altarpieces of Duccio, Gentile da Fabriano and Mantegna, the Annunciation and Adoration of the Magi by Leonardo Da Vinci, many works of Botticelli, among them the Venus and the Spring, Raphael’s Madonna della Seggiola and Madonna of the Goldfinch, Tiitan’s Venus of Urbino, Caravaggio’s Bacchus and Rubens’s Triumph of Henry IV.
Ferdinand II wanted to add other rooms in the gallery: the room of Mathematics, a terrace and the armory. Between 1696 and 1699 the Grand Duke Cosimo III ordered the decoration of the corridor overlooking the Arno river with frescoes of religious subjects and he sent to Florence some of the most famous examples of ancient statues conserved in Villa Medici of Rome. In this occasion was built the Sala della Niobe, where the ancient sculptures were placed. Other self-portraits of ancient and contemporary painters were acquired and placed in the Vasari Corridor. Cardinal Leopoldo de Medici added to Uffizi his collection of graphic art and created the cabinet nowadays known as the department of drawings and prints.
After the extinction of the house of Medici due to lack of heirs, in 1737 Anna Maria Luisa de Medici donated the treasures of the Uffizi gallery to the city of Florence, so that the collection would always stay where it was created. In 1769 the Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo opens the gallery to the public. In the 1770s’ Uffizi was seen as a advantaged laboratory for the studies of art history and for preparation of art, thanks to the work of Luigi di Lanzi and Giuseppe Pelli Bencivenni.
During the Kingdom of Italy, the renaissance statues were moved to the new museum of Bargello and the gallery was gradually taking the function of Pinacoteca. More and more visitors came, and the magistrates were transformed to public archives.
In 1900 the gallery acquired the painting collection of the Arcispedale of Santa Maria Nuova, including artworks such as the Portinari Triptych of Hugo van der Goes, from the church of Sant’Edigio. In the beginning of the 20th century the gallery reinforced the collection by acquiring many works of the 14th and 15th centuries from churches and other religious institutes, which were still absent in the museums historical framework.
The first renovation of Uffizi’s rooms dates back to 1956, when the architects Giovanni Michelucci, Carlo Scarpa and Ignazio Gardella renewed the rooms with light tones of colors that highlight the wooden ceiling. In 1969 the gallery purchased the collection of Contini Bonacossi including Giovanni Bellini’s St. Jerome, Cima da Conegliano’s St. Jerome, Francesco Francia’s St. Francis, Savoldo’s Mary Magdalene, Tintoretto’s canvases and Velazquez’s Waterseller of Seville and Portrait of Philip IV of Spain.
In 2006 the Uffizi galleries started the architectural restoration work, adjustments of the implantation and new layouts for the rooms. The museum remained always open and with the reform of the Italian museum system in 2014 the museums of Palazzo Pitti and Boboli Gardens were joined to the Uffizi.