Transfiguration by Raphael detail 14 copied by Gaubaud. Bowyer Bible print

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An illustration from “An analysis of the picture of the transfiguration of Raffaello Sanzio d’Urbino translated into French from the Spanish of Sig. Benito Pardo di Figueroa, by S. C. Croze-Magnan . . . and now translated into English . . . Illustrated by seventeen heads, traced from the picture, and finished of the same size, by Mons. J. Gaubaud.” London : Printed by Bensley and Son, for Robert Bowyer, 1817. (Translated into English from the French editiion of 1804 by Thomas Hartwell Horne.) Gaubaud was artist in residence to the Prince of Orange. As the title indicates, he traced the images in their original size from Raphael’s painting. He then had them engraved in copper plates in London by James Godby, using the elaborate mezzotint technique. One of the finest examples of the craft, the series attracted the attention of Bible-illustration conoisseur Robert Bowyer. These photographs have been taken from his collection known as “The Bowyer Bible” now in Bolton Museum and Archives.

The “Transfiguration” was Raphael’s last painting, left unfinished upon his premature death in 1520, and is believed to have been completed by his pupil, Giulio Romano. “Raphael did not paint the standard interpretation of the story, as he combines it with the story of The Healing of the Lunatic Boy . . . In the Gospels the possessed boy was brought to the apostles to be freed of his demonic possession. However the twelve apostles, ‘small and impotent,’ were unable to cure the sick child until Christ arrived. The Transfigured Christ, to whom one of the apostles points, is the only help; only he can heal the pains of this life” (Robin Urton). The picture is now housed in the Pinacoteca Vaticana of the Vatican Museum.

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The Rubens Mysteries of Salvation 14: The Ascension of Christ

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Rubens’ Mysteries of Salvation re-imaged; presented by Phillip Medhurst.

In 1621 the Jesuits in Antwerp completed the construction of a magnificent new church. Rubens was commissioned to create 36 ceiling paintings in the sanctuary’s side aisles and galleries, and 3 in the underside of the organ loft. Each work measured approx. 210 by 280 cms. All of his designs were rendered di sotto in sú. In 1718 the church was struck by lightning, and the paintings, on canvas set into wooden frames, were destroyed in the ensuing fire.

In the side aisles and under the organ loft were depictions of saints.

The paintings in each of the 18 bays in the upper-level galleries (copies of which are here presented) depicted the mysteries of salvation through a series of typological comparisons between Old and New Testament scenes. Rubens’s original compositions survive in 2 preliminary drawings and 29 oil sketches by his own hand (5 grisailles and 24 coloured modelli), now in various collections. In 1711-12 Jacob De Wit (1695-1754) made drawings (now lost) after 36 of the 39 ceiling paintings. On hearing of their destruction he set about publishing his set of drawings. Dissatisfied with his initial sketches, De Wit made several sets of variously sized copies using red and black chalk and watercolours. A set of 36 watercolours is kept in the Stedelijk Prentenkabinet in Antwerp. 35 watercolours reside in the Courtauld Institute. De Wit then passed on the project to the engraver Jan Punt. Another series of drawings was completed by Christian Benjamin Müller (1690-1758) six months before the fire. These are now in the Stedelijk Prentenkabinet, Antwerp.

Phillip Medhurst