Opinion on Raphael’s Portrait of Leo X

Raphael’s Portrait of Leo X with Cardinals Luigi de’ Rossi and Giulio de’ Medici exhibition is now on display virtually at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. The thought that sat with me after studying the exhibition was how interesting the complex restoration and attention to detail the painting received, which was done to fully understand the brilliance of Raphael. 

The experts assigned to restore the piece first set out to debunk a theory that studio assistants had aided Rapahel by painting the Cardinals Giulio de’ Medici and Luigi de’ Rossi. They disproved this theory and began restoration by using modern day technology like x-ray and profilometry, which is truly amazing to think about. These technologies led to multiple new discoveries, such as the underlying drawings of the Cardinals done by Raphael himself.

The restoration began about three and a half years ago, which goes to show how meticulous and perfect the process must be. The team of restorationists’ main problem was running into failed prior attempts at bringing the painting back to its full glory. Various layers of paint across the canvas had been lifted or flattened as a result of these previous attempts. Many viewers’ main takeaway from the exhibition was the vibrance of Raphael’s work. The team restoring the piece made it their mission to ensure viewers could enjoy Raphael’s brilliant use of color and definition. The reason this definition had been previously hidden was because of the dulled cover up work from previous attempts. Semi-opaque varnish used by older restorers dimmed the colors and unintentionally robbed the painting of one of its best attributes. The attention to Raphael’s original brushstrokes saw a return of the varying weight and use of color and texture. 

This in-depth attention to detail gave way to the curators being able to study whether or not studio assistants or other talented helpers aided Raphael in creating the second and third figures. The exhibition description summarizes the fascinating clues that led to the discovery. Raphaels grid is aligned with the cardinals in the background of the painting, and the paint layered on top of the grid halts cleanly when it reaches not only the cardinals, but the Pope as well. The fact that the Pope’s silhouette was also accounted for shows that Raphael set-up the figures equally, and cadered them for himself, as he painted each one. The final finding is that the figures were either painted beforehand, or sketches of them were done prior to the finishing of the work. 

Another decision made by Rapahel that swayed my likeness was perfectionist attitude towards the painting. A second reason why experts thought this may have not been an autograph work is the insane detail on Pope Leo X. The Florence team of curators found that Raphael had come back to add even more freehand detail to the Pope, as he was not yet satisfied. While observing, I spent the most time studying the sleeves of Pope Leo X, and their lifelike qualities. The stitching and embossed details are truly incredible when coupled with the fur bordering. This add-on work and superhuman talent shows the ethic and respect of Raphael. 

The work of Raphael is spectacular, and my thoughts were filled with nothing but amazement in the time spent studying the painting and exhibition. Along with Raphael’s original work, I also found the work of the restorationists incredibly impressive. Their care to bring Rapahel’s autograph work to the public is a testament to the mastery displayed in Raphael’s painting.