die sixtinische Madonna von Raffael
© SKD, Foto: Estel, Klut

The Sistine Madonna. Raphael's iconic painting turns 500

Five hundred years ago Raphael, the great master painter of the Renaissance, was commissioned by Pope Julius II to paint the Sistine Madonna. Today, it is one of the most famous works of art in the world. It belongs to the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden; even those who are unaware of this fact are at least familiar with the two angels that perch cutely at the lower edge of the painting and have been copied countless times.

  • DATES 26/05/2012—26/08/2012


To mark the 500th birthday of this altarpiece, the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden will be holding a major anniversary exhibition. The five hundred years of the Sistine Madonna have been characterized by exciting stories involving secret negotiations and illustrious display, periods of obscurity and international acclaim, artistic inventiveness, and abysmal kitsch.

Divided in four sections, the exhibition will shed light on the art and cultural historic context as well as on the reception history of this masterpiece:


I. Raphael in Rome
This section of the exhibition presents the “Sistine Madonna” in the context of other Roman works by Raphael and those by other artists of the Renaissance. Important works by Raphael lent from international museum will be on view. Among them are the “Garvagh Madonna” (c. 1509/10) from the National Gallery in London or a fragment of an angel (c. 1512) from the Pinacoteca Vaticana. Other masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance are, for instance, the drawing “Mary in the Mandorla with Apostles and the kneeling Pope Sixtus IV” from the Albertina in Vienna as well as a Madonna by Filippino Lippi (c. 1475) from the Szépmüvészeti Museum in Budapest. Moreover, the commissioner, Pope Julius II, who had the Dresden altar piece painted for the monastery San Sisto in Piacenza, will be introduced in this section.

die sixtinische Madonna von Raffael
© SKD, Foto: Estel, Klut
Raffael (Raffaello Santi), Die Sixtinische Madonna, 1512/ 13 Öl auf Leinwand; 281 x 426 cm


II. „Make room for the great Raphael!“ -
The spectacular acquisition of the “Sistine Madonna” by August III
For almost 250 years the “Sistine Madonna” nearly remained unknown in her original installation site in Piacenza. Only through the spectacular acquisition for the picture gallery in Dresden in 1752/54 did the painting appear in the public. Adolph Menzel recorded August’s legendary saying when the painting had arrived in his pastel “Make room for the great Raphael!” (1855/1859). The eventful purchase story will be presented by means of documents from the Saxon Principal State Archive Dresden, the Biblioteca Passerini-Landi and the Archivio Gulieri in Piacenza. Many of them have never been exhibited before.

Raffaels Sixtinische Madonna wird vor den Kurfüst Friedrich August III. von Sachsen getragen
© Germanisches Nationalmuseum Nürnberg
Adloph von Menzel, "Platz für den großen Raffael!", 1855/59 460 x 620 mm


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Die Sixtinische Madonna. Raffaels Kultbild wird 500
Die Sixtinische Madonna. Raffaels Kultbild wird 500


III. On its way to becoming a myth –
The “Sistine Madonna” in literature, art, music and design
Due to the public presentation of the “Sistine Madonna” in the picture gallery in Dresden, the reception of the artwork in literature, arts and crafts, photography and music started around 1800. As a parallel development, the Madonna was copied in paintings and graphic arts. Friedrich Bury’s painting “Electress Auguste copies the Sistine Madonna” (c. 1808/09) from the Museum Schloss Wilhelmshöhe in Kassel is just one example. Moreover, the painting was a favourite motive in magazines, embroidered pictures, advertisement, caricatures and scrapbooks of the middle class in the periods of the Biedermeier and the German Empire. The myth surrounding the painting continued in the 20th century when following World War II the painting was brought to Russia in 1945. According to the propagated legend, it was herewith rescued by the Soviet army. The rescue legend survived the painting’s return to Dresden in 1955 and, for instance, found its expression in the painting “The rescue of the Madonna” (1984/85) by Mikhail Kornetsky that is today in the Latvian National Museum of Art in Riga.


IV. An international career: The little angels in kitsch and art
For the first time around 1800, the little angels were copied out of the entire content of the painting – that was the start for their solo career. The exhibition shows examples and caricatures from the early 19th century to the present.

Foto mit Merchandising mit den Engelchen der Sixtinischen Madonna
© SKD, Foto: Hans Peter Klut
Merchandising mit den Engelchen


Main sponsor: Sparkasse

cooperation partner: Schloss Wackerbarth

mobility partner: DB

Technical partner: acoustig guide; Pocket Book

Media partner: DNN; FAZ

Kindly supported by: Ströer; DVB

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