The painting represents a scene of the Apocryphal Gospels and Golden Legend of the marriage between Mary and Joseph, after his cane, which was delivered by the priest, was miraculously bloomed with flowers.
As in the iconographic tradition, there are female figures on Mary’s side, while on Joseph’s side there are male figures.
The group of figures is clearly visible thanks to raised viewpoint and it’s not rigidly symmetrical as the work by Perugino: Raphael’s version is more natural and balances harmoniously the architectural composition.
Even though the individual characters are portrayed with effectiveness, the poses and the alternation of cold and warm colors make them seem lively.
The compositional balance is based on precise mathematical designs: closer analyzations have revealed and dense group of lines converging towards the temple door defining the precise perspective view of the image (a method probably found in the De Prospectiva Pingendi by Piero della Francesca). Thanks to this aid, the circular temple with central plan (and such precise details that make one think of an existing model) becomes the visual center of the composition, balancing well with the figures arranged in a semicircle in the foreground.
The importance given to the architectural composition and invention certainly derives from the master’s origins of Urbino.
Between 1502 and 1504 Perugino painted the same subject for the Anello chapel of the Perugia cathedral, where the relic identified as Mary’s wedding ring was preserved (now in the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Caen).
Young Raphael was probably commissioned to paint a similar painting. However, the two works share the similar compositional system, but there are several differences between the two artists and Raphael had generally surpassed Perugino’s fifteenth century style.
The altarpiece consists of eight panels made of poplar and arranged horizontally. The painting is in quite good condition, even though in 1958 it was attacked for political reasons by painter Nunzio Guglielmi. The artwork arrived in Brera in 1805 and it was originally made for the Albinizzi Chapel in the church of San Francesco in Città di Castello
The Marriage of the Virgin, dated 1504 can be considered as a work that closes Raphael’s early period and starts the new period of artistic maturity.
Berenson B., Le “Sposalizio” du musée de Caen, in “Gazette des Beaux Arts”, aprile 1896, pp. 273-290;
Malaguzzi Valeri F., Catalogo della R. Pinacoteca di Brera, con cenno storico di C. Ricci, Bergamo 1908, pp. 267-269;
Da Como U., Le vicende dello Sposalizio di Raffaello, in “Nuova Antologia”, 1 marzo 1935;
Bertelli C.-De Vecchi P.L.-Gallone A.-Milazzo M., Lo sposalizio della Vergine di Raffaello, Treviglio 1983;
Shearman J., The Born Architect?, in Raphael Before Rome, a cura di J. Beck, Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, Symposium Series V, Studies in the History of Art, vol. 17, Washington 1983, pp. 203-210;
Bertelli C., Anonimo lombardo del XVI secolo: Progetto di chiesa a pianta centrale, in Raffaello e Brera, catalogo della mostra. Milano 1984, p. 37, n. 1.3;
Bertelli C, Brera per Raffaello in Raffaello e Brera, catalogo della mostra, Milano, 1984, pp. 13-19;
Bertelli C., Raffaello Sanzio: Lo sposalizio della Vergine in Raffaello a Brera, catalogo della mostra, Milano 1984, pp. 25-30, n. 52;
Bertello C., in Pinacoteca di Brera. Scuole dell’Italia centrale e meridionale, Milano, Electa 1992, pp. 192-200, cat. 79, (con bibliografia precedente);
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.
Pinacoteca di Brera is a complex that consists of the departments of Accademia delle Belle Arti, Biblioteca Nazionale Braidense, Sopraintendeza per il Patrimonio Storico ed Artistico, Istituto Lombardo di Scienze e Lettere, Botanical garden and Astronomical Observatory.
The origins of this collection, where the chronological period of the artworks ranges from 13th to 20th century, with great examples of national and international figurative artistic culture, allow us to understand the motives of this heterogeneity and variety.
Pinacoteca di Brera is situated in the namesake building on the area which, in the past, was occupied by the Order of the Humiliati who came to Milan in 1209, designed by Milanese architect Carlo Maria Richini and later renovated by Giuseppe Piermarini.
In 1773 after the suppression of the Jesuit order, Pinacoteca di Brera became a state property. The first collection was introduced by Maria Theresa Of Austria, who wanted to create a collection of exemplary works intended for the students’ training.
When Milan became the capital of Italian kingdom by Napoleon’s will, the gallery became a real museum with exhibitions of great paintings from all the conquered territories, in addition to the already existing collection. In total there were 269 artworks, and the museum was opened to the public in 1809 with a unique collection of artworks from all the Italian museums, among them the Marriage of the Virgin by Raphael, the Crucifixion by Bramantino and the Disputation of St. Stephen by Carpaccio.
In the 19th century the collection was enriched with many significant works taken from Lombard churches and conventions, due to the abolition of many religious orders. Other works of identical origin, which were removed from the departments of the Italian kingdom, were added to the collection, thanks to the initiative of Giuseppe Bossi and Andrea Appiani. This explains the presence of so many important sacred paintings, which gave the museum its particular appearance, as well as the paintings by Bellotto and the portraits by Lorenzo Lotto.
Corrado Ricci, writer and art historian of undisputed fame, reorganized the exhibition to a strict chronological order by the schools and the polyptych of Valle Romita by Gentile da Fabriano and Men at Arms by Bramante were added to the collection. After the historic reorganization of Ettore Modgliani and architect Piero Portaluppi, following the bombings of 1943, director Feranda Wittgens gives the Pinacoteca a modern and almost aristocratic structure, taking advantage of Franco Albini’s work as well.
The collection was enriched with paintings and sculptures from the 20th century, thanks to the donation of Emilio and Maria Jesi (1976) and Vitali (1984) and with the acquisitions managed by the historic Associazione Amici di Brera which has always kept the museum in dynamic and continuous evolution. Among these were the Self-portrait by Umberto Boccioni, Mother and Son by Carlo Carrà, the Still Life by Giorgio Morandi, the Red Wagon by Fattori and the Afternoon by Silvestro Lega. The director at the time, Franco Russoli, started the expansion process in the halls of the Citterio palace and denounced the problems of that era with the exhibition “Processo per il Museo” in 1974, held in those unused halls. The Pinacoteca was reopened and expanded with Carlo Bertelli.
More recent renewal process began in 1989 with the renovation of technological installations and reorganization of the spaces. The work was organized by Vittorio Gregotti, who created the Napoleonic rooms and the small rooms next to the original gallery.
Among the most important and internationally famous works are Piero della Francesca’s Monterfeltro altarpiece, Andrea Mantegna’s Dead Christ, Gentile and Giovanni Bellini’s Preaching, Barocci’s Martyrdom of St. Vital, the scenes by Antonio Campi, the Christ at the Column by Bramante, the Supper at Emmaus by Caravaggio and the Kiss by Hayez.
On 17 December 2011 a new staircase was introduced, designed by Adolfo Natalini. It connected the historical floor of the gallery with the new halls on the first floor. The most recent (2017) renovation was organized in the heart of the Brera, the Napoleonic rooms.