The Sala delle Nicchie in the Palatine Gallery at Palazzo Pitti welcomes the homecoming of the Portrait of Pope Leo X with Cardinals Giulio de’ Medici and Luigi de ‘Rossi’ by Raphael (Urbino 1483 – Rome 1520). The show forms part of a triptych of exhibitions for the 500th anniversary of Raphael’s death and is titled Raphael and the Return of the Medici Pope – Restorations and Discoveries, on display from October 27 to January 31, 2021. The display documents the extensive restoration undertaken by the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, with the supervision of superintendent Marco Ciatti, and the direction of Cecilia Frosinini who, since autumn 2017, have carried out painstakingly detailed work to return the masterpiece to magnificence.
Lasting two years, each phase of the works is extensively documented along with scientific analysis that revealed surprising information. The diagnostic analysis carried out proved beyond all doubt that the figures of the cardinals who flank Leo X were not added later as was commonly believed, but are in fact by the artist from Urbino. The show was curated by the superintendent of the Opificio, Marco Ciatti, and director of the Uffizi, Eike Schmidt, who designed the exhibit to document and explain the complex restoration that successfully returned the work to the extraordinary beauty that made it one of Sanzio’s best-known works.
Following the restoration, the work was transferred to Rome for the great exhibition at the Scuderie del Quirinale to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Raphael’s death. Now, it finally returns home to the Uffizi Galleries in Florence, where it first arrived in early September 1518, commissioned to place over the main banquet table at the wedding celebrations of Leo X’s nephew, Lorenzo de ‘Medici, Duke of Urbino, with Madeleine de la Tour d’Auvergne.
The work depicts the pontiff together with two cardinals, both belonging to the Medici family: the cousins Giulio de ‘Medici and Luigi de’ Rossi. However, it is the Pope who dominates the scene, depicted as both severe and important, with deep reds, golds, silvers and whites from which the furniture and valuable furnishings stand out. The open Bible in front of him was a well-known masterpiece of book production in the 14th century in Naples, illustrated for Queen Giovanna I by the most important illuminator of the Angevin court, Cristoforo Orimina, now conserved at the Kupferstichkabinett in Berlin.
Raffaello Sanzio (Urbino 1483 – Rome 1520) Portrait of Leo X with the Cardinals Luigi de ‘Rossi and Giulio de’ Medici
Following its time in the Sala delle Nicchie at Palazzo Pitti, it will be placed in the Sala di Saturno upon the completion of the show.