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Virtual lecture from Rome explores the influence of artist Raphael

| Wednesday, October 7, 2020

The Nanovic Institute for European Studies hosted a virtual lecture Tuesday titled “Raphael in Rome,” where Ingrid Rowland, professor at Notre Dame’s School of Architecture, led a virtual lecture from her home in Rome and discussed some of her research of Raphael’s work in the Eternal City.

The first half of the lecture commenced with Rowland analyzing several influential works of art by Raphael. The lecture closed with a brief question-and-answer session in which participants, including faculty and students, posed questions for Rowland to answer.

One of the art pieces Rowland analyzed during the lecture was “Madonna della seggiola.” It depicts Mary embracing Christ while John the Baptist watches from the side. Rowland cited this work as a representation of how Raphael changed his style of painting.

Elizabeth Prater | The Observer

Professor Ingrid Rowland analyzed Raphael’s “Madonna della seggiola” as an example of how he changed composition in his paintings.

“Raphael figures out that composition is a process of abstraction and the way that he paints changes. You get paintings like ‘Madonna [della seggiola]’ where you can see all of this looks totally lifelike,” Rowland said.

Rowland described seeing this painting as “deeply emotional.”

“When I first saw this painting, I really just burst into tears,” she said. “It’s so moving and so perfect. But at the same time, on a technical level, he is brilliantly just taking the human body and slightly improving it, making it slightly better than it really is. … That’s a real master of work. You take reality and you shift it.”

Rowland explained the impact Rome had on Raphael. A primary influence was Pope Julius II. Attributable to the Pope’s decision to commission the best artists of the time, Rome was revolutionized in culture, artistic mastery and style.

Pope Julius II commissioned Raphael to paint four apartments located in the Vatican Palace. She said Bramante, one of the architects for the Pope, snuck Raphael into the Sistine Chapel to get a sneak peak of Michelangelo’s work before it was officially released. She mentioned this source of competition as an influence in Raphael’s work, alongside the social and political context of Rome during this period.

Rowland said that it is evident from some of Raphael’s work that he imitated some of Michelangelo’s work.

“I think [in ‘School of Athens’], Raphael’s saying, ‘I can do those colors. I can do paintings as beautiful as Michelangelo,’” she said.

“School of Athens” depicts philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle and even portrays a form of the artist, Raphael, himself.

Elizabeth Prater | The Observer

In addition to talking about the technical elements of Raphael’s works, Rowland explained her personal connection to his work.

Professor Rowland commented on her emotional connection to “School of Athens.”

“The first time I saw this painting in any form was a partial reproduction in a little art book I got for my ninth birthday,” she said. “I love this painting because I knew what was going on with all the people and knew that they were exactly where they were supposed to be. The fact that Raphael could communicate this to a nine-year-old is an amazing confirmation of his mastery.”

Clemens Sedmak, interim director of the Nanovic Institute for European studies, introduced Rowland as a fellow of the Institute for European Studies.

“She is a citizen of the world, and specifically, a citizen of Rome. Ingrid writes and lectures on classic antiquity, the renaissance and the age of the Baroque,” Sedmak said.

He said Rowland “has been trained in Classics, Greek Literature, and Classic Archaeology.”

Additionally, Sedmak stated that Rowland is a fellow at the American Academy in Rome, the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Scientists and part of a plethora of other organizations.

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