A local art enthusiast may have identified a rare print by Renaissance master Raphael hanging in a small, rural church outside of Richmond, Virginia. The artwork, which could be a significant and valuable copy of a famous painting by the Italian artist, apparently went unnoticed by church staff for decades.
In November 2015, Italian expat Federico Colagrande, a Renaissance art fan, attended a funeral at Gilboa Church, a quaint brick building in Louisa County that dates back to 1849. After mourners left, Colagrande and his girlfriend Annette Bronson stayed behind to explore the church, a pastime the couple called “extreme churching” in a report by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Wandering through the place of worship, Colagrande recognized what appeared to be a print of Raphael’s Madonna di San Sisto (The Sistine Madonna), a 16th-century painting of the Virgin Mary and the baby Jesus, commissioned by Pope Julius II in 1512 as an altarpiece for the church of San Sisto in Piacenza, Italy. The artwork is famous for the iconic pair of cherubs the artist included at the bottom of the work. “My eyes were captured by this print,” Colagrande told the newspaper.
In 1754, the original painting was sold to Augustus III, Elector of Saxony, who brought it to Dresden where it was copied by the German master printer Friedrich Müller—the handful of so-called “Müller Madonnas” that remain today are incredibly rare and valuable. The Metropolitan Museum in New York has one in their collection, so does the MFA in Boston, and the British Museum in London. Colagrande thinks he may have stumbled on another edition in Gilboa Church. Read more