Making its California debut is a fantastic Raphael original. See where you can catch a view and experience a host of connected events.
As one of the most famous names in the history of art, Raphael gets people to museums, even if it’s a single painting. “Portrait of a Lady with a Unicorn” is permanently housed at the Galleria Borghese, Rome, but traveled to the States for the first time this fall, premiering at the Cincinnati Art Museum on October 3.
The painting is now being shown at The Legion of Honor in San Francisco before its return to Europe. Painted around 1505, “Portrait of a Lady with a Unicorn” is a quintessential example of Raphael’s excellence in female portraiture. The blush of the skin radiates off the canvas, and the sitter’s beautiful vermillion dress is absolutely stunning. The background displays a typical Tuscan landscape, with rolling hills and trees fading in the atmospheric perspective.

The Legion of Honor offers, “‘Portrait of a Lady with a Unicorn’ features an unidentified blond-haired sitter and epitomizes the beauty of Raphael’s female portraits during his Florentine period. The exhibition explores the possible identity of this subject, as well as the painting’s distinct iconography, including the unicorn she holds in her lap. Scholars believe that the painting was commissioned to celebrate a wedding, and the unicorn, a conventional symbol of chastity, may offer clues to her familial lineage.

“The exhibition further highlights the stylistic relationships between this masterpiece and Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Mona Lisa.’ Leonardo’s canonical work, painted in Florence in the early years of the 16th century, had a great impact on the younger Raphael, who also practiced in the city during this period. Raphael’s sophisticated adaptation of Leonardo’s innovations in portrait compositions resulted in ‘Portrait of a Lady with a Unicorn,’ a painting that hints at the Mona Lisa with its half-length format, its sitter with hands folded in her lap, and its setting before a distant landscape. Visitors are able to explore Raphael’s painting in detail and get a glimpse into its intriguing history.”

In conjunction with the exhibition of the masterpiece, the Legion of Honor is hosting a number of lectures on January 23 and 31; and February 2 and 7. The painting will be on view through April 10. To learn more, visit the Legion of Honor.

This article was featured in Fine Art Today, a weekly e-newsletter from Fine Art Connoisseur magazine. To start receiving Fine Art Today for free, click here.

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Andrew Webster is the former Editor of Fine Art Today and worked as an editorial and creative marketing assistant for Streamline Publishing. Andrew graduated from The University of North Carolina at Asheville with a B.A. in Art History and Ceramics. He then moved on to the University of Oregon, where he completed an M.A. in Art History. Studying under scholar Kathleen Nicholson, he completed a thesis project that investigated the peculiar practice of embedded self-portraiture within Christian imagery during the 15th and early 16th centuries in Italy.


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