Raphael and the Madonna del Cardellino in Florence

A not-to be-missed exhibit currently in Florence is without a doubt the one dedicated to Rafael’s famous painting, the Madonna del Cardellino, which after years of restoration has returned to shine more beautiful than ever.
On a recent day we went to Palazzo Medici Riccardi which is just a stone’s throw from the Cathedral and where the painting is on exhibition after a demanding period of restoration as it awaits to be relocated to the Uffizi Gallery.

The Madonna del Cardellino is not the only work on display in this exhibition, in fact, there are four additional works from the same period (early 500’s): The “Gravida” (attributed to Raphael), the “Monk” (from the Florentine school) and the interesting table that covered this painting and a characteristic glass terracotta by Girolamo della Robbia, “The Madonna, Child and Saint John.”

The painting of the Madonna del Cardellino is, however, the undisputed protagonist of the exhibit where the visitor learns of all that this wonderful work has gone through over the centuries.
As you enter, the first area presents an introduction to the Madonna del Cardellino, where you can learn about the painting’s troubled history, including information on the various past restorations that were carried out, with a special focus on the last. At first we were tempted to go on to the last room to see Rafael’s painting, but we preferred to follow the path suggested by the exhibit setup and which proved to be very interesting. After you read all that this masterpiece has gone through, you’ll surely be even more impressed once you see it!

The Madonna del Cardellino was painted in the early 1500’s by Raphael for Lorenzo Nasi, on the occasion of his marriage. Giorgio Vasari in his “Lives” tells us that in November 1547 the Nasi house collapsed and the paiting by Raphael was unfortunately found in pieces. Lorenzo’s son, however, had it put back together in the best possible way but unfortunately it was not a good job. The painting then became part of the Medici family’s collections and was restored several times, with the effect of altering its original beauty.
The most recent restoration, by the “Opificio delle Pietre Dure” workshop in Florence, has now made it possible to restore the Madonna del Cardellino to its original splendor, eliminating the past clumsy interventions to which it had been subjected to over the centuries.

In one of the exhibition’s rooms, a video shows the various stages of restoration and we definitely recommend to stop and see it since it is very interesting.

Almost drunk on all the details and trials that surround the Madonna del Cardellino, we finally arrived at the last room – at the center and in the dark, the Rafael painting shined. After all the detailed history we had read, our excitement at seeing the painting was even stronger: it is literally a jewel, even given its small size (it is about a meter by 70 cm). The sweet face of the Madonna and the beautiful colors leave us open-mouthed, and if you saw a few pictures of the painting dating from before the restoration, you’ll be shocked to see it now because of the different colors and light which remain very natural.

If you are in Florence absolutely do not miss this exhibition!
In case you do not have the good fortune of seeing the Madonna del Cardellino in person, we found this beautiful video titled “Gianna Nannini meets Raphael” on the Youtube channel of the “Opificio delle Pietre Dure”. We really enjoyed how it combines the painting with music, joining the art of Raphael with the contemporary art of Gianna Nannini, the beloved singer and songwriter from Siena.

Up until March, the entrance ticket to the Palazzo Medici Riccardi includes a visit to all of the exhibitions and open halls of the palace. We definitely recommend visiting the Chapel of the Magi by Benozzo Gozzoli located on the main floor of the building. The chapel is very small and access is limited to ten people at a time and for only ten minutes, so a bit of a wait is likely but worthwhile.

If you are not in a hurry, also visit the garden and then climb to the upper levels to see the halls of this building Medici palace, including the opulent Gallery of Mirrors by Luca Giordano in Florentine baroque.

Love, art and grace
Raphael: the restored Madonna del Cardellino

Palazzo Medici Riccardi, Florence runs until March 1, 2009


About Cristina Romeo

Born in Florence at the end of the fabulous '70s, Cristina has always lived in the famous "cradle of the Renaissance". She's in love with her homeland, but also enjoys traveling and discovering new places. Cristina is mum to a lovely little girl, to whom she hopes to pass on all the passion and love of our precious, wonderful Tuscany.