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The medieval story of the forbidden love of an artist and model: Raphael and his Fornarina

Perhaps many consider Leonardo da Vinci an artist who hides the most mysterious and curious facts about his paintings and models. What is the famous “Mona Lisa” worth? Not at all! No less mysterious today is the love story of the artist Raphael and his model Fornarina.
Mysterious model
Who is this girl? Some historical data prove that she was the secret bride of the artist.
Fornarina is the nickname of a girl named Margarita Luti. According to some reports, she is the daughter of a local Baker, Francesco Luti from Siena, who so charmed Raphael that he could not even work! Hence the nickname la fornarina-the little Baker girl.

There is even a curious story. Raphael, born in 1483 in Urbino, was invited by the Sienese banker Agostino Chigi to paint his Villa on the Tiber embankment in Rome. Agostino patronized the young Raphael and therefore invited the artist to carry out the paintings of the second floor of the Villa Farnesina. The work took a long time, with delays, and the customer later guessed the “reason” for the irresponsible work and allowed Fornarina to move to the Villa with Raphael. He successfully completed the work and together with students Giulio Romano, Sebastiano del Piombo, Francesco Penni and Sodoma created the composition of the famous fresco “the Triumph of Galatea”.
The most famous portrait with Fornarina
The most famous depiction of Fornarina by Raphael’s brush is the ” Portrait of a young woman “(also known as” Fornarina”), a painting by Raphael made between 1518 and 1519. In the painting, the master uses the classical style of realism typical of Renaissance art. There is a strong and powerful use of light on the canvas, which envelops the model in a glow, further enhancing its beauty and attractiveness. Fornarina smiles charmingly at both the artist and the viewer. Today it is in the National gallery of art in the Palazzo Barberini, Rome. A very significant detail in favor of the opinion that Fornarina is the artist’s beloved: in this famous portrait with Marguerite Luti, Raphael wrote his name. And not just in a corner… And on the model’s left hand, the hand that leads to the heart. “Raphael of Urbino”. The signature is engraved on a thin ribbon that the girl wears just under her left shoulder. An even bigger mystery was revealed a few years ago: when the painting was cleaned and restored, something amazing was found on the girl’s left hand – an engagement ring! Yes, Fornarina was the artist’s fiancee, his lover. But why did the artist paint over the ring?
A secret engagement and the formal betrothal of Raphael
There is a whole drama unfolding here: Raphael had to do this because being in love with the Baker’s daughter, Raphael made a promise to marry… the niece of cardinal Bernardo Bibbiena Dovizi. Raphael could not refuse the girl’s status uncle, who strongly “recommended” her for a wife. This engagement had its advantages: it gave the artist a status and a platform from which to successfully create and sell their art, so it is possible that Raphael simply did not want to refuse the offer. But even against his will, he did not go. A young singer of female beauty came up with a clever solution: he constantly postponed the wedding, until the cardinal’s niece-Maria-died. Raphael never married her. The ring was hidden for 500 years.

Raphael, or perhaps his friend Giulio Romano, who sold the painting shortly after the artist’s death, painted over the ring. If the truth about the marriage of the artist and model was revealed, a public scandal would be inevitable. Raphael’s reputation would be ruined. His students would lose all orders from the Vatican. And this is not the last mystery of the portrait of the beloved: x-ray structural analysis showed that the background of the picture was originally a landscape in the form of a Myrtle Bush, which was sacred to Venus, the goddess of love. Thus, all the unraveled secrets suggest that the artist was in love and connected by secret marriage with Fornarina, who remained his favorite model until the artist’s death.
“Donna Velata»
Vasari, a contemporary of Raphael, wrote in his “Lives of artists” that Raphael once created a portrait of a woman of unprecedented beauty. And that this was the woman Raphael loved for the rest of his life. We are talking about “Donna velata”, the model of which was again Fornarina. There are two interesting details in this work: the first is the decoration. Please note that the girl’s hair has the same decoration as in the first portrait. Only it was written 2-3 years earlier. The second detail: “Donna Velata” is translated from Italian as “woman with a veil”. These capes were worn exclusively by married Roman women. But Fornarina was not officially married…

The Fate Of Fornarina

What was the fate of Raphael’s beloved woman after the artist’s death? Vasari writes that Raphael, realizing that he was dying, sent his beloved out of his home and ordered her to live a comfortable life. Pavel Muratov, an expert in Italian art, is sure that the girl was later forcibly exiled to a monastery . Although Raphael had provided for her completely, she was already defenseless after his death. No one needed her to make her relationship with Raphael public. After all, he was buried as the fiance of the cardinal’s niece.

Based on existing stories, “Portrait of a young woman” can be called a real relic, a story about a tragic and deeply romantic forbidden love. From the point of view of aesthetic value, this is a wonderful work of art that has fascinated the audience since its creation and is a real masterpiece of the Renaissance.

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