Raphael and the Pope’s Librarian

Up Close and Personal at the Gardner Museum

By: - Jul 16, 2019

To mark the 500th anniversary of the legendary painter Raphael’s death, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum will bring together - for the first time – Raphael’s portrait of papal librarian, Tommaso Inghirami, from its collection and a painting depicting an episode in his life  from the Musei Vaticani in Vatican City. This special exhibition called Raphael and the Pope’s Librarian is part of the Museum’s Close Up series and begins Oct. 31 through Jan. 26, 2020.

Nearly five centuries after his death in 1520, Raphael’s fame remains undiminished. Crowned “prince of painters” by Giorgio Vasari, he inspired both artists of his own time and others for centuries afterward. According to the celebrated writer Henry James, Raphael’s work was “semi-sacred.” The exhibition – and its accompanying publication – will tell the story of the first Raphael in America and will explore Inghirami’s fascinating career in Renaissance Rome.

Following a daunting quest by her art dealer in Europe, Gardner was the first collector to bring a work by Raphael to America. Despite any hesitations over the painting’s beauty, Gardner named an entire gallery of her new Boston museum after the Renaissance master and installed many of her most acclaimed works of art around his portrait of Tommaso Inghirami.Celebrated by Erasmus as “the Cicero of our era,” Inghirami was a celebrity in the Renaissance, esteemed for his profound erudition and theatrical abilities. His unparalleled knowledge and grasp of classical literature made him the ideal choice to head the Vatican Librarian. Yet he achieved a lasting fame on stage, playing a leading role in the revival of ancient theatre and acquiring the nickname “Fedra” after starring as the lovesick Queen Athens in Seneca’s Greek tragedy Hippolytus (Phaedra). Inghirami’s friend, Raphael, cast him in another role, as the philosopher Epicurius in his legendary School of Athens fresco and then memorialized him in the painted portrait at the center of this exhibition.

Raphael and the Pope’s Librarian is the latest in the Close Up series of exhibitions, each installment of which sheds new light on an outstanding work of art in the Gardner Museum’s permanent collection. The publication is edited by Dr. Nathaniel Silver, the Gardner Museum’s William and Lia Poorvu Curator of the Collection, with an essay by Ingrid Rowland (University of Notre Dame.)

The exhibition is also accompanied by public programs including a lecture by Prof. Rowland and a conversation between the curator and Prof. Joseph Connors (Harvard University.)