Raphael’s Hours captured the imagination of the 19th century public. Sarah Hutchins Killikelly explained their iconography in her 1889 book Curious Questions. The First Hour of Day carries a torch to waken the sleepers and has a bouquet of roses “with which she daily adorns the southern gate of heaven.” The Second Hour welcomes the sun with an outstretched arm. The Third Hour floats beneath the sign of the god Jupiter, “the shining one who rules in the regions of light,” and carries a censer as an offering to the god. The Fourth Hour holds a sundial denoting the afternoon hours. The Fifth Hour of Day (not present in our set of 10), who represents the late afternoon, holds a bunch of grain and points to the rising moon. The Sixth Hour, representing twilight, carries flowers in one hand and a bat in the other as a symbol of the coming night.
The First Hour of Night “bears in one hand the sleep-inducing poppyheads, in the other an owl, guardian of the night” as the planet Mars rises in the background. The Second Hour of Night (not present in our set of 10) holds an hourglass representing the passage of time. The Third Hour represents midnight, and floats beneath the sign of the planet Saturn, “shielding with her dark raiment an animal of night.” In contrast to this somber vision of darkness, the Fourth Hour represents the blessings of night as a winged woman crowned with flowers, pouring dew from an urn. The Fifth Hour, under the planet Venus, carries an owl, “sacred to Minerva, goddess of wisdom, this betokens the secrets which discover themselves to the inspired seeker in the stillness of the night.” The Sixth Hour personifies the promise of a new day, as the morning star, the planet Mercury, appears above her, “and the singing swan on her arm suggest Psyche floating upward to her everlasting home.”
According to Killikelly, the scenes of animals in each predella also relate to the moods and activities associated with the times of day and night. The swan depicted in the First Hour of Day, the dove in the Second Hour, and the ram in the Fourth Hour, are associated with Venus. The bristly animals in the Fourth Hour of Night and the panther symbolize “the double nature of love” and the squirrel teasing the snake in the First Hour of Night symbolizes jealousy. The snake entwined around the altar in the Fifth Hour of Day signifies health or prosperity. The lizard in the First Hour of Night is “the good angel of the sleeper” guarding “the urn containing diseases, evil dreams, etc.” The rooster in the Sixth Hour of Night stands before a tripod with a flame, “the altar of the Penates, or household gods, the symbol of peaceful home life.”
By the late 19th century, the fresco paintings that these prints were based upon no longer existed and their origins were a mystery, though they have been consistently attributed to Raphael. In 1885, the scholars Joseph Archer Crowe and Giovanni Battista Cavalcaselle posited that Raphael may have made the original sketches, incorporating female figures identical to those found in the ancient Roman wall decorations, but that the frescoes were actually executed by his apprentices in the Sala Borgia at the Vatican. Crowe and Cavalcaselle’s theory rests on a “rare print by Montagnani” made in 1790, showing the ceiling decoration of the room with “frescoes of the twelve figures of the Hours in threes, on two sides of the rectangle, resting, as handed down to us in the copper-plates engraved by Fosseyeux and his comrades in 1805 and 1806, not on the air, but on flowers rising from antique meanders.” Soon after the prints were made, they believed, the Hours frescoes were covered by the stucco decorations that were there when they wrote their book.
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.
Condition: Generally very good with the usual overall light toning and wear.
Crowe, Joseph Archer and Giovanni Battista Cavalcaselle. Raphael: His Life and Works: With Particular Reference to Recently Discovered Records, and an Exhaustive Study of Extant Drawings and Pictures, Vol 2. J. Murray, 1885. pp. 549-550. Online at Google Book Search. 26 June 2007. http://books.google.com/books?id=ivIDAAAAYAAJ (30 October 2008).
Killikelly, Sarah Hutchins. Curious Questions in History, Literature, Art, and Social Life: Designed as a Manual of General Information, Vol. 2. Philadelphia: David McKay, 1889. pp. 11-15. Online at Google Book Search. Oct 10, 2005. http://books.google.com/books?id=_c9v4MwufQQC (30 October 2008).
“Raphael.” The Oxford Dictionary of Art. Online at eNotes.com 2008. http://www.enotes.com/oxford-art-encyclopedia/Raphael (28 October 2008).