A Mother’s Wise and Prudent Grief: Reading Raphael’s Baglioni Entombment through the History of Emotions
Assistant Professor, California State University, Long Beach
Raphael’s Entombment (1507) altarpiece, created for the funerary chapel of the Perugian widow Atalanta Baglioni, is relatively well-documented and much studied. In the artist’s dynamic staging and sophisticated figure treatment, scholars have recognized the influence of Florentine artistic theory as well as Raphael’s engagement with both contemporary and classical forms. Commissioned several years after her own son’s public murder in 1500, the work’s subject—the brutalized body of a beloved son carried to its tomb while his mother collapses in sorrow—has been tied to Atalanta’s personal history, an association informing most readings of the patron’s motivations and the work’s reception. Few studies, however, have focused on the artist’s treatment of affective states. This paper builds upon previous scholarship by contextualizing Raphael’s compositional choices for the Baglioni altarpiece within their original emotional community. I suggest that Raphael’s oft-noted departure from altarpiece conventions in foregrounding the transitory effort of carrying Christ’s body to its tomb over the stability of a more traditional lamentation scene served to simultaneously monumentalize and compartmentalize the Virgin Mary’s maternal woe. A potent dramatic tension is created by his depiction of a swooning Virgin, overcome by a loss so profound her somatic control is altogether relinquished, and the regulation of this woe to the extreme right, middle-ground of the composition. By reading these choices in light of sixteenth-century understanding of the emotions and descriptions of Atalanta’s own exemplary emotional comportment as recorded in the chronicles of the Perugian humanist, Francesco Matarazzo, I explore how the altarpiece likely communicated ideas about grief, gender, and decorous emotional comportment to its original audiences.