Raphael at the NMA
Reno, NV 89501
Raffaello Sanzia da Urbino, known to his friends as simply Raphael, is, along with peers like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, one of the big-name artists of the Italian Renaissance. And one of Raphael’s masterpieces is coming to the Nevada Museum of Art.
“This particular portrait, ‘La Velata,’ is from Raphael’s later years,” says Ann Wolfe, the NMA’s curator of exhibitions and collections. “It was painted in 1516 when he was living in Rome, and the speculation is that the painting is of his mistress.”
“La Velata,” or “The Woman with the Veil,” depicts, as its name might lead you to believe, a woman wearing a veil. The veil does not cover her face, and she appears to gaze at the viewer in an intimate, familiar way. The speculation that the woman in the painting was Raphael’s lover stems from the writings of Italian biographer Giorgio Vasari. In his 1550 book Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, he makes a comparison between the model in “La Velata” and the model in “La Fornarina,” another Raphael portrait from the same era. “La Fornarina” is a more blatantly erotic portrait—the model is nude, and her hands are placed in a somewhat suggestive pose—and she wears an arm band bearing the name of the artist, suggesting an intimate relationship between the two.
In 1814, French artist Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres reignited the rumors about “La Fornarina” with his painting “Raphael and La Fornarina,” which depicts the model straddling the artist’s lap. Whether “La Fornarina” and “La Velata” depict the same woman is unclear—they are rendered in very different styles—but this 500-year-old celebrity gossip imbues the painting with a sense of intrigue that still resonates today.
“La Velata” might have been partially inspired by an even more familiar masterpiece of the Renaissance painted by one of Raphael’s rivals.
“It was painted only a few years after Leonardo Da Vinci painted the ‘Mona Lisa,’ so you can make a comparison between ‘La Velata’ and the ‘Mona Lisa,’ both being of a single female sitter, about whom little is known, and with this very intriguing gaze,” says Wolfe.
“La Velata” is being co-presented at the NMA by the Northern Nevada organization Arte ITALIA and the national Foundation for Italian Art & Culture. The painting belongs to the Palazzo Pitti in Florence, and the logistics of transporting a 500-year-old painting internationally are quite daunting, and Wolfe says it was a truly collaborative effort.
Arte ITALIA, founded in 2008, is dedicated to exploring Italian culture, including classic works of art like “La Velata,” as well as contemporary, regional Italian cuisines. For the duration of the “La Velata” exhibition, Arte ITALIA will present supplemental material, including a film, about the life and work of Raphael at their building near the corner of Flint Street and California Avenue, just down the street from the NMA.
“No experience of La Velata is complete without a visit to Arte ITALIA,” says Wolfe.
The La Velata exhibition gives Northern Nevadans an opportunity to experience firsthand one of the most universally beloved periods of art history.
“Painters of the Renaissance were very interested in returning to the ideals of classical beauty,” says Wolfe. “That meant idealizing forms and idealizing the female figure, and this painting of ‘La Velata’ epitomizes those Renaissance values.”