Tempera and oil, on panel
28.5 × 21.5 cm
Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest 71
The Esterházy Madonna belongs to the small devotional pictures of the Virgin and Child that have been in great demand in Florence from the fifteenth century. It is one of a group of Leonardo-inspired pyramidal compositions dating from the end of Raphael’s Florentine sojourn. His approach to Leonardo’s models was reflective: he integrated the figures in a spacious landscape and created a compact and clear, lively ensemble by the interlocked forms and gestures. The classical ruins included in the background suggest that the painting was completed after Raphael’s move to Rome.
The small picture, executed on a very thin, therefore heavily wrapped panel, is partly unfinished. Its most transparent layers make the painting’s extensive underdrawing clearly visible. While work on the landscape and draperies had progressed quite far, the flesh tones are not completely modelled. Raphael sketched the fresh and confident underdrawing directly on the ground, possibly with silverpoint.
The painting originates from the famous collection of Prince Nikolaus II Esterházy (1765–1833). A note once attached to the back of the panel, today lost, stated that the painting was presented to Empress Elizabeth Christine (1691–1750) by Pope Clement XI (1700–1721).