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Oil painting - The Madonna of Leo X
  • The Madonna of Leo X
    Raphael, born 1483 - died 1520
  • Enlarge image

The Madonna of Leo X

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    Rome (possibly, painted)

  • Date:

    mid 16th century (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Raphael, born 1483 - died 1520 (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oil on oak panel

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Rev. Chauncey Hare Townshend

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Raphael (1483-1520) was born in Urbino and trained with Perugino, the master of Pinturicchio. A stay in Florence between 1504 and 1508 was decisive for his artistic development as he changed significantly his manner while he became familiar with the works of the great Florentine masters such as Leonardo and Botticelli among others. He was later summoned to the papal court in Rome where he stayed until his death in 1520, decorating affresco the papal chambers in the Vatican and creating an impressive series of portraits and independent easel paintings of religious subject matters. Raphael had many pupils among whom the most notables are Giulio Romano, Perino del Vaga and Polidoro da Caravaggio.

This painting is an ancient copy inscribed 1547 of the so-called Madonna of Leo X executed by Raphael around 1513. It shows the Virgin Mary, the Child and the Infant St John in the foreground before a bluish landscape receding into the distance. The compositional idea is rather the same as the one retained for the Belle Jardiniere in the Louvre, Paris, which was executed earlier in 1507 and completed by Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio. The present painting is of very good quality and reproduced the exact same format as the original.

Physical description

In a bluish grey hilly landscape with small edifices and an arched bridge on the right, the Madonna with the Child and the Infant St John the Baptist kneeling before Christ.

Place of Origin

Rome (possibly, painted)


mid 16th century (painted)


Raphael, born 1483 - died 1520 (artist)

Materials and Techniques

Oil on oak panel

Marks and inscriptions

Inscribed at the hem of the Virgin's robe, left: VLEONI KNMP...;right: MDXLVII; lower edge: IN RAPHA[EL]O V...


Height: 118 cm approx., Width: 81 cm approx., Height: 1449 mm Frame, Width: 1080 mm Frame, Depth: 130 mm Frame

Object history note

Bequeathed by Rev. Chauncy Hare Townshend, 1868
Ref : Parkinson, Ronald, Catalogue of British Oil Paintings 1820-1860. Victoria & Albert Museum, HMSO, London, 1990. p.xix.

'Chauncy Hare Townshend (1798-1868) was born into a wealthy family, only son of Henry Hare Townsend of Busbridge Hall, Godalming, Surrey. Educated at Eton and Trinity Hall, Cambridge (BA 1821). Succeeded to the family estates 1827, when he added 'h' to the Townsend name. He had taken holy orders, but while he always referred to himself as 'Rev.' on the title pages of his books, he never practised his vocation... . Very much a dilettante in the eighteenth-century sense, he moved in the highest social and literary circles; a great friend of Charles Dickens (he was the dedicatee of Great Expectations) with whom he shared a fascination of mesmerism... Bulwer Lytton described his life's 'Beau-deal of happiness' as 'elegant rest, travel, lots of money - and he is always ill and melancholy'. Of the many watercolours and British and continental oil paintings he bequeathed to the V&A, the majority are landscapes. He is the first identifiable British collector of early photographs apart from the Prince Consort, particularly landscape photography, and also collected gems and geological specimens.'

Historical significance: The present painting is a copy of the exact same dimensions after the so-called Madonna of Leo X (Weiss collection, Zurich) depicted by Raphael about 1513 in Rome, probably on the occasion of the coronation of pope Leo X on the 11th of March 1513. A preparatory cartoon (i.e. a pin-prinked drawing used like stencil to replicate design) is in the Earl of Leicester's collection in Holkham House. The Weiss painting derives from the Belle Jardiniere, Louvre, Paris, depicted in 1507 in Florence and completed later by Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio on Raphael's order (Nicodemi, 1956). The Louvre and the Weiss paintings slightly differ from each other especially in terms of landscape in the background, vegetation and the figures limbs.
The V&A painting is almost an identical copy of the Madonna of Leo X and is dated 1547. It shows the Madonna with the Child and the Infant St John the Baptist in a classical triangular composition: the kneeling Infant St John is looking at the Child who is gazing at his mother making eye contact with her. In the right background, one can distinguish the Isola Tiburina or of San Bartolomeo in its pre-1527 appearance before a flood destroyed the temple of Faunus recognisable among the other edifices for its cupola. The arched bridge on the far right may be the Emilio bridge, restored by L. Cestio. The large tower in the middle is the Torre del Castello, with the church of St. Bartholomew on the left.
The figures have a porcelain finish and the rather cool tonality of the sky and flesh are dominated by hues of blue, brown and white pigments. A technique that recall Flemish paintings.
This work is one of the five known copies recorded by Nicodemi (since 1956, it appears no further studies have been addressed on the subject): one, probably from the 18th century, in the collection of the Musei Civici of Genoa; a copy by the Netherlandish painter Karel van Mander (1548-1606), dated 1575, in Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Dresden; a third one, probably from the 16th century and formerly in the collection of bishop Mazzarino, now in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Avignon; a fourth in Windsor castle, most likely from the early 19th century. None of these versions are dated whereas the V&A painting is inscribed 1547 on the hem at the elbow on the right. This inscription could be original or added later but the supporting media, an oak panel, encouraged an early dating. The rest of the inscription VLEONI KNMP and IN RAPHA O V lower edge, does not seem to make much sense apart from the name Leoni that alludes to Leo X and in the lower edge the abbreviated names of Raphael and Urbino. Because the other copies lack of inscription, it is rather reasonable to think that the present copy was probably made after a direct contact with the original.
Compare with these copies, the V&A painting seems to present different vegetation in the foreground on each side of the group of figures. In fact, on the left starts a field of wheat whereas on the right are depicted small white daisy and behind a branch from a rose bush. All these plants contain powerful symbolical meanings alluding to the story of Christ. Wheat is for the Christians a Eucharistic symbol alluding to the sacrifice of Christ who would associate during the Last Supper bread and his body (and whine with his blood) while roses and therefore the rose bush are an attribute of the Virgin Mary and her purity.
These many copies witness the importance of that painting in the preceding centuries whereas it has been slightly forgotten in the last century. According to Nicodemi, this painting is, compare with its variant in the Louvre, a complete autograph, which make it even more precious than the Louvre painting completed later by Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio. This painting, like the original, was probably originally used as a devotional painting in private domestic setting. Ancient copies are a rather important document for the fortune of the original artwork and the present one is of very good quality, suggesting that it has been made on a commission. The interest in copies in those days was very different from nowadays as a good quality replica of a sought after composition was almost as appraisable as the original.

Historical context note

Objects and images were used for protection, intercession and as votive offerings since Antiquity. Amulets, rings and talismans were common throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and often had pagan and erotic imagery. Popular images were also produced expressly for the purpose of intercession, protection and instruction. In particular the Virgin, Christ and the saints were depicted, for they were considered to be advocates before God and agents of protection against evil. Christians in the Middle Ages and Renaissance periods expressed and strengthened their faith through public rituals, such as celebration of the Eucharist, and personal devotions conducted in a private chapel, monastic cell, or simply in a secluded part of their home. In Western Europe, a form of spirituality that emphasized the emotional involvement of the faithful emerged by 1300. Believers were encouraged to contemplate events from the life of Christ, the Virgin, or the saints, as if they were present. Images of the Virgin and Child were among the most popular images for private devotion and these were primarily small religious paintings suitable as a focus for private worship, as opposed to larger altarpieces intended for public display. Such images frequently emphasized the tender relationship between the mother and her child.

Descriptive line

Oil on panel, 'The Madonna of Leo X', after Raphael, mid 16th century

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Kauffmann, C.M. Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, I. Before 1800, London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973, pp. 230-233, cat. no. 290.
Waagen, Galleries and Cabinets of Art in Great Britain: Being an account of more than forty collections of Paintings, Drawings, Sculptures, Mss, etc, London, 1857, p.179.
J. A. Crowe and G. B. Cavalcaselle, Raphael: his life and works, i, 1882, p. 365, n.
G. Nicodemi, 'Discorso su due originali della 'Bella Giardiniera' dipinti da Raffaello Sanzio' in L' Arte, n. s., xx, 1956, p. 11 f. (with appendices by S. di Volo and A. Eibner)
L. Dussler, Raffael, 1966, p. 55.


Oil paint; Oak


Oil painting

Subjects depicted

Isola Tiberina, Rome




Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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