A Thousand Words
by Mary Elizabeth Podles
In 1508, the young Raffaello Sanzio was hired away from Florence to Rome to assist in the decorations of the Vatican Palace, work that occupied him until the time of his death. During his Roman years, he also accepted private commissions for easel paintings like this one (Figure 1). The physician, writer, and prelate Paolo Giovio most likely commissioned the Alba Madonna around 1510 or 1511, intending to hang it over the altar of his church in Nocera.
At first blush, it is a simple enough devotional image: the Madonna, seated on the ground and leaning against a grassy bank, holds the baby Jesus on her lap while the infant John the Baptist looks on; behind them spreads a serene and pastoral landscape.
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Mary Elizabeth Podles is the retired curator of Renaissance and Baroque art at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. She and her husband Leon, a Touchstone senior editor, have six children and live in Baltimore, Maryland.
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