The de Brécy Tondo and it's relationship with Raphael's Sistine Madonna
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Raphael painted Castiglione's portrait in 1514-15, which is now in The Louvre. However Castiglione was the owner of two other paintings by Raphael, which are documented but still unidentified.

One painting was the portrait of a "very beautiful and illustrious lady" which was first mentioned in 1606 by Beffa-Negrini371 :

"The count also wrote two other sonnets ... which, with the portrait of a very beautiful and most illustrious lady by the hand of Raphael Sanzio de Urbino, he concealed behind a fine large mirror, which could be opened and shut by those who knew the secret thereof; there these sonnets which were written by his hand in the year 1517 were found in the year 1560 by the Countess Caterina Mandella, his daughter-in-law, when the mirror happened to stand in need of repair."372

Julia Cartwright, the 1908 biographer of Castiglione373, adds that the sonnets and portrait were placed behind the mirror in 1517. This latter observation may be an extrapolation from the date of the sonnets. This painting is still acknowledged as 'lost' by Camesasca.374

The second painting by Raphael, which belonged to Castiglione and has not been identified, is "un quadro d'una nostra Donna". This painting was sent by Castiglione from Rome to his mother in Mantua at the end of December 1520. His letter, dated 29 December, which accompanied the painting, stressed the secrecy with which his mother must treat the consignment :

"My earnest wish is to know if they have arrived in safety; therefore I beg from you to notify me after you have received them. Unwrap them and put them in a place where nobody can see them and where they are not exposed to smoke. Your small studio would be a fit place; there is a painting of Our Lady by the hand of Raphael, the head of a peasant and an antique, a small statue in marble. All those things are very dear to me and as I have told you do not let them be seen by any one."375

Golzio fails to mention a second letter from Castiglione to his mother dated 1 January 1521 from Rome. As most twentieth century experts rely on Golzio, it has not been mentioned in any contemporary criticism. It is therefore worth reviewing the letter in full. It is of two paragraphs : the first being instructions to his shoe-maker in Mantua : and the second reads :

"I have sent my mule to Mantua with a picture of Our Lady, and another picture, and a small marble statue, which I am certain Anna will say is St.Joseph : it left this morning. Your Grace, please, advise me, I repeat, immediately that they are in Nantua, and they reach safety : and have the boxes, which they are in, unnailed, and they must not be seen by anyone, since I am not in Mantua. I reccommend myself to Your Grace, and to all the family, and I kiss the little ones "376

Castiglione is obviously worried about the journey, but more than that, he is worried in case anyone sees the objects. This may be because of their value, and that he did not want his creditors in Mantua, of which he had many, to find out. Or it may be that they were presents for his "little ones", and he wanted to be in Mantua when they received them. The small marble statue may have been intended for Anna, his daughter. (Befana is on the sixth of January (Epiphany). On the eve of Befana. in Italy, an old woman arrives with presents for the children : the Italian variation of the Santa Claus tradition.)

Another down-to-earth explanation of Castiglione's caution is provided by Fletcher377 :

"By borrowing paintings, Isabella (d'Este, Duchess of Mantua) educated herself as a connoisseur. In 1502 Bernardo Bembo offered to lend her his Memling Diptych. In 1498 she sent a messenger to Milan to collect Leonardo's portrait of Cecilia Gallerani so that she could compare it with portraits by Giovanni Bellini that she had just seen. It may have been fear of an extended loan or enforced presentation that prompted Castiglione to beg his mother to hide his collection, which included a Raphael Madonna, when he moved it from Rome to Mantua in 1520."

However, all that can be definitely abstracted from this letter is that Castiglione was worried about the safety and security of the consignment.


Less than two months before these letters, Cardinal Bibbiena had bequeathed to Castiglione a Madonna by Raphael. In his will, 8 November 1520, Bibbiena left to the Count

"quadrum pannum pictum manu Raphaelis cum figura b. Virginis, quo ipse testator in eius cubiculo utebatur..."378

("a square canvas with the figure of the Blessed Virgin, which the testator enjoyed in his bedroom...")

It is interesting to note the choice of words used to describe the painting :'quadrum pannum' means literally 'a square piece of cloth', rather than any formally mounted or framed painting. As it was hanging in the Cardinal's bedroom, it may be supposed that the presentation conventions of public display did not apply.  It may be that the artist considered the painting unfinished, or that he rated the work as being a working sketch which did not merit formal presentation. Camesasca reasonably suggests that the Bibbiena painting and the Mantua painting may be the same painting : and states that the painting, in 1963, was still 'lost'. Camesasca, or his translator, wrongly translate "pannum" as meaning panel.379



371. Beffa-Negrini : Elogi historici di alcuni personaggi della famiglia di Castiglione : Mantua 1606 Cited by Cartwright, J. : The Perfect Courtier : John Murray : 1927 : vol.1, p.93
372. Ravine, A. : The Romance of Raphael : Grafton : 1916 : p.8
373. Cartwright, J. : The Perfect Courtier: vol.1, p.93
374. Camesasca, E. : A11 the Paintings of Raphael : vol.11, P.99
375. Golzio, V. : Raffaello nei Documenti : p.144
376. Castiglione, B. : Le Lettere : Arnoldo Mondadori Editore : 1978 : pp.670-71
377. Chambers, D. & Martineau, J. (eds) :Splendours of the Gonzaga : Victoria and Albert Museum : 1981 : p.53
378. Golzio, V. : Raffaello nei Documenti : p.140
379. Camesasca, E. : A11 the Paintings of Raphael : vol.II, p.101

Excerpt from Dr Murdoch Lothian's PhD thesis 'The Methods Employed to Provenance and to Attribute Putative works by Raphael
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