(b. 1483, Urbino, d. 1520, Roma)
Allegory (The Knight's Dream)c. 1504
Oil on wood, 17 x 17 cm
National Gallery, London
The figurative powers which Raphael developed in Florence led to a more synthetic conception of form, a refinement of intellectual expression, which are visible in the Knight's Dream in the National Gallery, London, and the Three Graces of Chantilly. Critics believe that the two panels may have formed a single diptych presented to Scipione di Tommaso Borghese at his birth, in 1493. The theme of the paintings may by drawn from the poem, Punica, by Silius Italicus, which was well known in antiquity and which humanistic culture restored to fame. In the first panel, Scipio, the sleeping knight, must choose between Venus (pleasure) and Minerva (virtue); in the second, the Graces reward his choice of virtue with the Golden Apples of the Hesperides. The classical origin of this theme brings us back without doubt to the Florentine environment. The composition, which is dominated by a sense of great harmony, is a figurative consequence of the literary theme.
A young knight is asleep in front of a laurel tree that divides the picture into two equal parts. There is a figure of a beautiful young woman in each half on the left the personification of Virtue is holding a book and a sword above the sleeping figure, while the figure on the right is presenting a flower as a symbol of sensual pleasure. The probable meaning of the allegory is that the young man's task is to bring both sides of life into harmony.