Artibus et Historiae no. 24 (XII)

1991, ISSN 0391-9064

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JANUSZ WAŁEK - The Czartoryski Portrait of a Youth by Raphael

The Portrait of a Youth from the Czartoryski Collection in Cracow, a remarkable work generally attributed to Raphael, vanished without a trace just a few months before the end of the Second World War. Its history had always been dramatic. It came into the possession of Poland's highly cultured Czartoryski family at the beginning of the nineteenth century, at the same time as Leonardo da Vinci's Lady with an Ermine, and survived repeated wartime evacuations over the years until its theft by the Nazis and subsequent presumed destruction.

The portrait can be dated on stylistic grounds to c. 1509-16, between Raphael's great frescoes in the Stanza della Segnatura and the Sistine Madonna. Its subject may well be the "ideal man" of the High Renaissance, a courtier along the lines of Baldassare Castiglione's literary model. Once thought to be Raphael's self-portrait, the painting perhaps does indeed represent the artist as such, if not as an individual. This is a creator so supremely confident of his divine gifts and social status that he can afford to depict his hands in idle repose, free of the tools of his trade.

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