“Sì come piacque a quelle semplici e venerende donne”: Raphael and Gendered Viewing
Sheryl E. Reiss
Newberry Library Scholar-in-Residence / University of Chicago, Graham School
In his 1568 vita of Raphael Giorgio Vasari incisively observes that the infant Jesus in the Colonna Altarpiece (ca. 1504/05) was clothed “sì come piacque a quelle semplici e venerende donne.” This was a singular and telling variation from Raphael’s customary practice, going back to his earliest works, of depicting the Christ Child nude. Vasari refers here to the Franciscan nuns of Sant’Antonio of Padua in Perugia, for whose eyes the pala was intended. In this paper, I will consider this example and others that inform us about Raphael’s appeal to female viewers — both during his lifetime and after. My case studies include both religious and secular painting, from his early career in Perugia and Urbino until near the end of his Roman years. In a brief coda, I will discuss women who collected paintings by Raphael in the late sixteenth and early twentieth centuries in Rome and America.