QUEEN VICTORIA first loaned the Raphael cartoons to what has become the V&A in memory of her late husband, whose insistent enthusiasm had led him to establish a portfolio of photographs and copies of every known work then credited to the master. Some five thousand images, many of them using pioneering photography, were reproduced and housed in a cabinet still at Windsor. An excellently illustrated, free, online catalogue is available (albert.rct.uk).
It is the Lightbox gallery in Woking that has benefited most from Prince Albert’s passion and industry. In addition to four of Raphael’s original sketches, the Queen’s generous loans allowed Michael Regan to curate the only exhibition in the UK to be able to open in 2020 for the quincentenary and, belatedly, the prince’s own bicentenary — even if it has had to open and close twice.
Raphael is unusual, in the Western canon of art, as the only artist whose reputation has never dimmed or been questioned, unlike many other 16th-century titans: Michelangelo, Leonardo, Perugino, and even Dürer.
Royal Collection Trust © HM Queen Elizabeth II 2020Raphael (1483-1520), A Woman Standing in Profile: Florentia (1514)
The exhibition, which I saw before the coronavirus tier level was raised for Woking, makes clear Raphael’s continuing popularity and high regard, as it opens with one of the tapestries dating from a much later set, woven in the 1670s or 1680s for the 1st Duke of Montagu (Boughton House). In my childhood, it used to hang in the V&A alongside the cartoons.
The first wall shows engravings “after Raphael” by near contemporaries, the Mannerist painter Giovanni Battista Franco (c.1510-61) and Antonio Fantuzzi, and a later chiaroscuro woodcut published at Mantua in 1609, each of them pasted into Albert’s folios.
This inspired show concludes with Victorian artists painting in the style of the great Raphael, notably William Dyce in 1845/46. The Prince even had his personal favourite painting (“The Colonna Madonna”) transferred to enamel on porcelain.
Marred as the quincentenary celebrations have been by lockdown (Arts, 17 April 2020), a visit to Woking more than made up for it, while the National Gallery’s exhibition has been rescheduled for March 2022. The Lightbox director, Marilyn Scott, had hoped to reopen the show for at least some of January. The announcement of the new lockdown will have been a disappointment.
Owing to Covid regulations, “Raphael: Prince Albert’s Passion” at The Lightbox, Chobham Road, Woking, Surrey, until 31 January, is closed until further notice. www.thelightbox.org.uk