Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Veiled Woman, Part II: In the Chapel of Love

My friend at sent me this photo of the Veiled Woman in Las Vegas, while another friend said she should be the Madonna in the Elvis Wedding Chapel.

What a combination, but hardly more ironic than using Raphael's Madonna of the Chair, right, in one of the interior settings of the Desperate Housewives' TV show, although the neighbors on Wisteria Lane hardly embody the ideals of Raphael's beautiful women.
As I'm thinking of it more and more, it seems that The Veiled Woman may represent Raphael's ideal for a perfect womanhood more than a real person, the same ideal behind his images of Mary at this time.  She looks like she could be the mother to Raphael's bambini Jesus of this time, also portrayed as the perfect chubby baby.   For example, the Madonna of the Chair, left,  has a similar face, but is almost in profile.
The Sistine Madonna, right, has the same face in a frontal view. Either the same model is seen in these three paintings or the artist used the same "ideal" features to  represents a concept of female beauty. During the Renaissance, it was thought that a virtuous woman of beauty could tame a man and make him a better person.

If Raphael painted his portrait of Baldassare Castiglione, author of The Book of the Courtier, as the ideal gentleman, the veiled woman is his match. Although his features are more specific than hers, they are in similar poses with large abundant sleeves and both wear a headdress. If he is unified in blacks and grays, she is unified in variations of white and beige, also in a brown background. Donna Velata is warm and approachable while Castiglione is self-contained. To me, he is dark and brooding, even sad; she is a more optimistic and outward-looking image.

In the end, are the portraits of the Donna Velata and Baldassare Castiglione two parts of the same coin, a reconciliation of masculine and feminine as well as other opposites of human nature? Is she the hopeful and calming influence needed by this gentleman in the same way this loving, brown-eyed woman can tame desperate housewives, casinos and neon-studded venues in the American west?


  1. Grace outshines and stands ahead of... anything else! I love this contrast!

  2. The Sistine Madonna. Where is it displayed? She is breathtakingly beautiful...something about the veil moving off to the side and the color/tone. I would like her image in my home as an inspiration. Interesting that women during the Ren. were necessary to bring out the best qualities in men...that may still be true today. I think women are often (not always, but often) the ones to set the moral tone for the family. I agree that visual art morally uplifts and does music! Pam

  3. She is in Dresden, Germany--worth taking a trip there!
    She is actually a full-length Madonna standing on clouds. Below are 2 darling angels looking up at her, a better known detail of that large painting.

  4. I enjoy the juxtaposition of selected "old master's" figures placed in a contemporary setting. This is a project I have often given to my advanced drawing students. I expect the students to carefully research the painting from which the figure will be extracted carefully searching for obvious or hidden symbolism that might suggest the new setting.
    Compositionally, I would like to see the image of the veiled woman a bit larger, as if she was posing for a photo, and perhaps positioned in the lower right corner.
    One rarely sees smiles in portraits of the time. Could this be intentional or like early photography, where the subject had to remain still, often held in a brace, for an extended period of time?


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