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

The Virgin and Child with Saint John the Baptist (La Belle Jardinière)

Oil on wood, 122 x 80 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

The so-called La Belle Jardinière, now in the Louvre, is one of the several Madonna paintings executed by Raphael during his stay in Florence (1504-1508). It follows the Madonna of the Goldfinch (Uffizi, Florence) chronologically. Its composition is a mirror image of that of the Madonna of the Meadow (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna). The painting was commissioned by Fabrizio Sergardi, a Sienese nobleman, and was left uncompleted by the artist. Nevertheless, it is signed and dated. According to tradition it was finished by Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio, although the recent restoration would seem to contradict this attribution. It was subsequently acquired by Francis I of France. The painting is known primarily for the harmonic and proportional balancing of the poses of the figures and for the high formal quality present in every element, particularly in the face of the Virgin, which served as a model of beauty for generations of artists.

This painting is the highpoint of all Raphael's Florentine Madonnas. The bodies occupy the space with great freedom, while the figures interact with deep feeling. The arch formed by the frame completes the composition harmoniously. Raphael put the date of the picture into the hem of the Virgin's mantle, as he often did, but it is not clear if the Roman numerals are meant to be read as 1507 or 1508.