July 07, 2005

The Dream of Raphael

The engraving by Marcantonio Raimondi known as The Dream of Raphael (below) is thought to date from some time between 1507 and 1510. Raimondi (1480-1527/34) was from Bologna, and, it seems, spent a few years in Venice (from about 1506) before settling in Rome (by 1510). The engraving’s title is a misnomer, courtesy of an 18th-Century art-historian: while Raimondi collaborated with Raphael to produce numerous engraved versions of the latter’s drawings and paintings, it is unlikely that the two men worked together until 1513.

Engraving by Marcantonio Raimondi known as 'The Dream of Raphael,' ca. 1507-10.

The image is a complex and a puzzling one: a perfect invitation for erudite speculation. In the upper left is a distant cityscape’s waterfront. Lightning flashes from the sky, and the buildings in the upper right are in flames: over and around them tiny figures scramble to escape, or rush to the rescue. In the foreground two female nudes recline, sleeping, their bodies facing one another, almost mirror-images, and their faces tilted skyward. On the shoreline at their feet, there is a quartet of chimerical monsters.

Detail view of Marcantonio Raimondi's 'The Dream of Raphael.'

Raimondi had achieved some of his first successes by producing copies of Albrecht Dürer’s woodcuts, complete with the German artist’s monogram, apparently provoking Dürer to complain of plagiarism to the Venetian senate. In thir book on Raimondi, Innis Shoemaker and Elisabeth Broun claim that The Dream of Raphael copies a painting of Giorgione’s, now lost, which also supposedly inspired Battista Dossi’s 1544 canvas Il Sogno (‘The Dream’). It’s a tempting supposition, given the image’s apparent similarity of tone with Giorgione’s renowned painting La Tempesta (‘The Storm’).

Detail view of Marcantonio Raimondi's 'The Dream of Raphael.'

In her book The Italian Renaissance Imagery of Inspiration, (previously mentioned here), Maria Ruvoldt credits Raimondi with the composition, but nevertheless notes some clear points of reference to other artists’ work. A couple of the small figures around the burning buildings apparently quote Michelangelo’s cartoon The Battle of Cascina. The weird beasties in the foreground are decidedly Bosch-like. And, even though the composition as a whole may not be Giorgione’s, the female nudes are certainly Giorgionesque, although it has been suggested that the Venetian painter’s influence may have been mediated via the engravings of Giulio Campagnola: note especially his Reclining Venus.

Detail view of Marcantonio Raimondi's 'The Dream of Raphael.'

It is altogether unclear who or what the two nudes are meant to represent. In one theory, the image depicts a classical fable in which ‘two maidens were sleeping side by side in the Temple of the Penates at Lavinium […] the unchaste one was killed by lightning, while the other remained in peaceful sleep.’ Another hazards that the scene is the ‘Dream of Hecuba,’ in which ‘the mother of Paris, who, shortly before his birth, dreamed that she gave birth to a torch that set the city of Troy in flames,’ where ‘The second woman in the engraving […] would be Hecuba seeing herself as she had the dream.’ In a third, the nudes personify ‘sacred and profane love…’

Detail view of Marcantonio Raimondi's 'The Dream of Raphael.'

Click on the first of the images above to see an enlarged version of the whole print, which I scanned from Shoemaker & Broun’s The Engravings of Marcantonio Raimondi. The remaining images are all detail views cut from the first one & resized.

Posted by misteraitch at July 7, 2005 01:35 PM

Fascinating post. Thankyou.

Posted by: Chy on July 8, 2005 09:34 AM

just a thought- if in fact this piece is essentially a combination of other people's styles, figures, and ideas perhaps it does not "represent" anything at all? if Drer had good reason to accuse Raimondi of being a plagiarist (the only sensible reason i can think of plagiarizing is to "cash in" as it were) perhaps it is only meant to vaguely bring to mind the work of the artists it references? meant to vaguely recall other popular works in the mind of viewers therefore transferring the sense of weight and worth? that might account for the puzzling nature of the thing. seems just as likely though that the Giorgione theory might be correct.

interesting stuff mr.h thanks.

Posted by: jmorrison on July 9, 2005 04:37 PM

Mr. Morrison: yes, it’s entirely possible that this is a pastiche, and that Raimondi chose the pictorial elements as means of showing off his technical ability, rather than as an illustration of some obscure allegory.

Posted by: misteraitch on July 11, 2005 08:58 AM

Seem to me that the picture shows a world falling apart while angels sleep.

Posted by: on April 21, 2006 08:30 AM
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