The Cardsharps, lost for almost a century, has been found and is now in Texas, and helps to fill in an important stage in the development of Caravaggio's art. Behind a table that protrudes into the spectator's space, a youthful innocent studies his cards, overlooked by a sinister middle-aged man, whose fingers signal to another, younger scoundrel to his right, who holds a five of hearts behind his back. To the left-hand side of the canvas is the object of their conspiracy, a pile of coins.
This low-life scene links Caravaggio's discreet dramas to the genre paintings favoured by his followers. It was to have many imitators - within a few years of the painter's death an early variant had been painted by the Franco-Roman Valentin de Boulogne - but few equals. Caravaggio was less melodramatic than many of the artists known as the Caravaggisti who painted in his style, and he suggests only enough of the interaction between the three actors to imply the sequel.
In the 1820s and 1830s, the Russian court purchased a number of works by Friedrich at the suggestion of the poet and state councillor Zhukovsky. These included the beautiful, large-format Moonrise by the Sea, which is dated fairly unanimously to around 1821. A contemporary description of the painting says that two men have clambered across the rocks a long way out into the shallows and appear to be waiting for a ship. Their two female companions are seated more in the foreground. Two massive anchors take the place of vegetation, which is here reduced simply to some saltwater plants.
Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 4 minutes):Franz Schubert: Auf Dem Wasser Zu Singen (To Be Sung On The Water), Franz Liszt's transcription
The Portrait of a Young Man with an Apple (1505) in the Uffizi has been associated with the paintings representing St Michael and St George. It is difficult to perceive the hand of the artist in the face which, although beautifully drawn, lacks the physiognomic characteristics which typify Raphael's subjects. But the overall attention to the analytical effects of Flemish art leads us to attribute the work to Raphael, since his attention was turned to the production of this school precisely in these years. Furthermore, the compositional harmony which is a principal element of Raphael's art is visible in the compact forms of the solidly conceived portrait.
The subject has been associated with Francesco Maria Della Rovere, and possibly correctly: the portrait reached Florence with the Della Rovere patrimony in 1631 on the marriage of Vittoria Della Rovere to the future Grand Duke Ferdinand II.
The picture illustrates a theme of nude bathing much taken up by the classical painters. But its opulent, baroque vision offered an alternative to academic paintings well before Manet showed his model Victorine Meurent in Déjeuner sur l'herbe (1863).
The Madonna del Granduca (1504) in the Pitti Gallery in Florence shows the pre-eminent influence of Leonardo. Its simple composition is a prototype for the future Madonnas of Raphael's last Florentine period. The figures of the Virgin and Child emerge from a dark background (an element evidently derived from Leonardo), bound together by a sweet sentiment which derives largely from the gesture of the Child who, while looking toward the spectator, presses against his Mother The painting belonged to the 17th century Florentine painter, Carlo Dolci, and then to Grand Duke Ferdinand III of Lorraine from whom its name derives.
In spite of the fact that this painting is in part changed by the drastic nineteenth century restoration which included the repainting of the background and of the dress, it has still remained one of the finest creations of Raphael in his early period, at the time, when having come to Florence after his first formation under Perugino, he became acquainted with Florentine art at the beginning of the Cinquecento; and as is clearly seen in this work, was especially impressed by the painting of Leonardo. In the Madonna del Granduca both the Peruginesque and the Leonardesque influences are fused and assimilated by the young artist into a marvellous harmony which extends to the whole composition, from the spacing of the two figures in the space with that sense of flowing rhythm to the magic of the colour which softly dissolves into delicate shadow.
Raphael's greatest paintings seem so effortless that one does not usually connect them with the idea of hard and relentless work. To many he is simply the painter of sweet Madonnas which have become so well known as hardly to be appreciated as paintings any more. For Raphael's vision of the Holy Virgin has been adopted by subsequent generations in the same way as Michelangelo's conception of God the Father We see cheap reproductions of these works in humble dwellings, and we are apt to conclude that paintings with such a general appeal must surely be a little 'obvious'. In fact, their apparent simplicity is the fruit of deep thought, careful planning and immense artistic wisdom. A painting like Raphael's 'Madonna dell Granduca', is truly 'classical' in the sense that it has served countless generations as a standard of perfection in the same way as the works of Pheidias and Praxiteles. It needs no explanation. In this respect it is indeed 'obvious'. But, if we compare it with the countless representations of the same theme which preceded it, we feel that they have all been groping for the very simplicity that Raphael has attained. We can see what Raphael did owe to the calm beauty of Perugino's types, but what a difference there is between the rather empty regularity of the master and the fullness of life in the pupil! The way the Virgin's face is modeled and recedes into the shade, the way Raphael makes us feel the volume of the body wrapped in the freely flowing mantle, the firm and tender way in which she holds and supports the Christ Child - all this contributes to the effect of perfect poise. We feel that to change the group ever so slightly would upset the whole harmony. Yet there is nothing strained or sophisticated in the composition. It looks as if it could not be otherwise, and as if it had so existed from the beginning of time.