Set of allegorical prints after famous frescoes by Raphael depicting female personifications of Justice, Philosophy, Poetry, and Theology, seated in the clouds with putti and attributes of their disciplines. The frescoes, considered among Raphael’s greatest achievements, were commissioned in 1509 by Pope Julius II as part of the decoration of the Stanza della Segnatura, one of the four stanze, or rooms, in the Vatican apartments. This room was meant to serve as Julius’s private library, and the decorations encompass the major pillars of human knowledge. The four personifications are painted in tondos (circles) on the vaulted ceiling, and between them and below them on the walls are frescoes related to the areas of knowledge they represent. The titles of each print make reference to the major wall paintings beneath each tondo. The room as a whole combines references to antiquity, the Bible, and contemporary theology, suggesting an ultimate unity of knowledge descending from God, symbolized in the center of the ceiling by an octagon displaying the Papal arms. The prints were published by Giovanni Volpato (1740-1803), who also was one of the engravers of a set of prints after Raphael’s frescoes, Loggia di Rafaele nel Vaticano (1772-77).
Raphael was one of the three greatest artists of the Italian High Renaissance and an accomplished architect as well. As chief archeologist to the Pope, he was involved in the excavation of the ancient Golden House of Nero, and adapted many of the elaborate Roman frescoes he saw there in creating his own innovative painted wall and ceiling designs in the Vatican and private villas in Rome. Prints made after Raphael’s drawings, designs and paintings were produced during his lifetime by the engraver Marcantonio Raimondi (c.1470-1482 – c. 1527-1534). Raphael prints by other engravers were especially popular in the neoclassical period of the mid 18th century and early 19th century coinciding with the tremendous revival of interest in the classical art of ancient Greece and Rome, as well as the classicism of the Renaissance. Some of these prints served as references for architects and designers because many were based on frescoes that had been incorporated into interior architecture. This interest in Raphael, often reflected in prints, continued throughout the 19th century as he achieved legendary status.
Among the more famous prints after Raphael are series from the late 18th century illustrating his frescoes in the Vatican stanze (notably Picturae Raphaelis Sanctii Urbinatis,Rome: 1722); the Vatican loggia (notably Loggia di Rafaele nel Vaticano, Rome: 1772-77) and the Villa Farnesina in Rome (notably Psyches et Amoris Nuptiae ac Fabula, Rome: 1693). One popular set, variously issued as engravings and lithographs during the 19th century, shows details of Raphael’s allegorical frescoes of 12 hours of the day and night. A related set of engravings depicts the gods and goddesses of the Roman pantheon riding in chariots in their heavenly domain, probably representing the seven days of the week.
Bernardino Nocchi was an Italian painter of portraits, religious and historical subjects who lived and worked in the Italian cities of Lucca and Rome. In 1780, he was appointed an official Vatican painter by Pope Pius VI, and decorated numerous palazzi in Rome, including the frescoes in the Palazzo di Consulta and Musei Vaticani. He also completed commissions for churches, including well known paintings for the Church of San Secondo in Gubbio, and the Basilica of San Frediano in Lucca.
Raphael Morghen was an extremely skilled and successful Italian engraver, considered among the greatest who had ever lived by his contemporaries. He was initially trained by his father, the artist Filippo Morghen, and then apprenticed to Giovanni Volpato in Rome, becoming his collaborator and marrying his daughter. His oeuvre comprises some 250 prints in various genres, but especially engravings after masters of the Italian Renaissance, such as da Vinci and Raphael. Morghen served as a professor in the Florence Academy and engraver to the Grand Duke of Tuscany. He also was esteemed in France, where he was made an associate of the Institut de France in 1803 and a member of the Légion d’Honneur by King Louis XVIII.
Giovanni Volpato was a prominent Italian draftsman and engraver. Early in his career, he worked with the engraver Remondini, and studied in Venice with the engravers Wagner and Bartolozzi. The Duke of Parma was one of his major patrons. Arriving in Rome, Gavin Hamilton commissioned several plates for his series Schola Italica Picturae. Volpato also was a major collaborator on the series of color engravings of the Raphael frescoes in the Vatican. Volpato founded a school of engraving in Rome, where he mentored a number of fine engravers, including Raphael Morghen.
Condition: Generally very good with the usual light overall toning, soiling, and wear.
Bénézit, E. Dictionnaire critique et documentaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs. France: Librairie Gründ, 1966. Vol. 6, pp. 223 (Morghen), 372 (Nocchi); Vol. 8, p. 617 (Volpato).
Huerta, Robert D. Vermeer and Plato: Painting the Ideal. Lewisburg, Pennsylvania: Bucknell University Press, 2005. pp. 31-33.
Hunt, Leigh. “Raffaello Morghen.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. Online at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10568b.htm (30 Oct. 2008).
“Raphael.” The Oxford Dictionary of Art. Online at eNotes.com 2008. http://www.enotes.com/oxford-art-encyclopedia/Raphael (28 October 2008).