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

The Alba Madonna

Oil on canvas, diameter 98 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington

Paolo Giovio, Raphael's first biographer, commissioned this Madonna. Jesus has taken the cross from the boy Baptist, thus indicating the symbol of His Passion. The older boy is looking at him full of understanding, and visibly saddened. The Virgin has put her hand on his shoulder as if to comfort him.

So-called after the Spanish ducal family of Alba, who owned it for over a century, this painting was later purchased for the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, from which it was acquired for the Mellon Collection. The painting is a perfect expression of the Renaissance art theory. Harmony and balance of design are found in Raphael's ability to stabilize the circular form of the painting with a triangular arrangement of the figures and the strong horizontal line behind them, composed of the river and trees.