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

Madonna and Child (The Large Cowper Madonna)

Oil on wood, 81 x 57 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington

The dominance of the lyrical and graceful aspect of this painting (known also as The Niccolini-Cowper Madonna) over the religious content mark it as belonging to Raphael's Florentine period, 1505-08. In fact this panel, signed and dated 1508, was executed near the end of Raphael's stay in Florence. The date 1508 and the artist's monogram "RV" have been worked into the embroidery of the Virgin's robe. The title derives from the names of two former owners.

The full, well-formed figures reveal an early influence of Michelangelo, while the soft modeling and the use of chiaroscuro reveal the influence of Leonardo. Fra Bartolomeo's influence is particularly clear.

The composition is extremely simple and essential; the gesture of the Child, who stretches his hand toward the Virgin while turning his attention toward the spectator, and the gesture with which the Virgin holds the hand to her breast, provide the only signs of life. The sentiment of anxious motherhood which, enriched by greater awareness, will be fully expressed in the Tempi Madonna, now in the Alte Pinakothek of Munich, appears here for the first time.