In the first decade of the sixteenth century, Raphael painted a set of portraits for Agnolo Doni, a successful Florentine merchant, and his aristocratic wife, Maddalena Strozzi Doni. To complement and complicate these portraits, another artist—the anonymous Florentine Master of Serumido—painted scenes of Ovidian myth in grisaille on their verso sides. These scenes are often overlooked in scholarship regarding the Doni portraits, but they critically shape interaction with and interpretation of the portraits.
The Doni, newly married when they commissioned their portraits, were sophisticated collectors. They created a remarkable art collection including works by Michelangelo, Donatello, and Fra Bartolommeo. Agnolo and Maddalena commissioned works from the most highly acclaimed artists of their era, yet their collection contained many very personal works of art. The Doni collection demonstrates the couple's enthusiasm for erudite engagement with art.
Raphael's portraits, Agnolo Doni and Maddalena Strozzi Doni, encouraged this kind of creative intellectual involvement as well. In these portraits, Raphael aimed to create a ‘living image’ in the manner of Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa. Raphael studied this painting in 1506, around the same time he began the Doni portraits. The Mona Lisa presented a great challenge to the young Raphael, for it achieved the living quality desired in Renaissance portraits. During the early sixteenth century, creating portraits that seemed like they were alive was equally, if not more, important than creating a mimetic representation. Raphael combined his studies of the Mona Lisa with his own ideas in Agnolo and Maddalena Doni's portraits to create images possessing a living quality.
This emphasis on the portraits as not only mimetic representations but as “living images” is reinforced by the myth painted in grisaille on the verso sides of the Doni portraits. These verso images present the story of Deucalion and Pyrrha from Ovid's Metamorphoses: this couple alone survived the great flood sent by Jove. They then repopulated the earth by throwing stones over their shoulders that morph into new men and women. The verso paintings significantly comment upon the Doni portraits; the story of Deucalion and Pyrrha's metamorphosis of the rocks of the earth resonate with the role of the portraitist, who must create ‘living representations’ out of raw materials. The materiality of the recto and verso sides of the portraits reinforces this message. For turning the panel moves the viewer from grisaille to full color, performing the transition from inanimate matter to life. Thus, with both their content and materiality, the verso paintings extol Raphael as one who created portraits that truly live.
|Commitee:||Buono, Amy, Herring, Adam|
|School:||Southern Methodist University|
|School Location:||United States -- Texas|
|Source:||MAI 49/05M, Masters Abstracts International|
|Keywords:||Doni, Patronage, Portraits, Raphael, Serumido, Verso|
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