(b. 1483, Urbino, d. 1520, Roma)

Madonna with the Book (Conestabile Madonna)

Tempera on canvas transferred from wood, diameter 17,9 cm
The Hermitage, St. Petersburg

Before his arrival in Florence, Raphael had already had occasion to compose small-scale devotional icons of the Madonna and Child, linked to a taste for the versions created by Perugino. An interesting sequence of this type can be seen in several examples, all from around 1502 to 1504, built on the motif of the Madonna holding a book. They are known as the Solly Madonna (in Berlin), the Norton Simon Madonna (in California) and the Conestabile Madonna (in St. Petersburg).

The painting was a gift of the Conestabile family of Perugia to the Russian tzaress in 1871. When transferring to canvas at the end of the last century it was discovered that originally instead of the book there was a pomegranate in the hands of the Madonna. The landscape of the background with snow-capped peaks deserves a particular attention.

Raphael met the challenge of creating a round composition when he painted this delicate Madonna. He provides a stable structure for the round picture by means of the vertical figure of the Madonna and the horizontal lines of the landscape. The Madonna's head is gently inclined and the contour of her left hand flows rhythmically into the outline of the Christ Child's body, thus responding to the circular form.