Optimism-watch: Raphael special

November 24 2011

Image of Optimism-watch: Raphael special

Picture: Art History Today / Graeme Cameron

You may remember a while ago that some startling 'discoveries' were announced in a new self-published book by Australian art historian Graeme Cameron, The Secrets of Leonardo Da Vinci, and on Art History Today. They included a 'Holbein' and a 'Leonardo Self-Portrait'. Aside from some trenchant wonderment expressed by me here, the discoveries have sunk without trace because they are, alas, fantastical.

Now Mr Cameron is back, this time with a newly discovered 'Raphael' (above). Cameron (who despite my horridness was kind enough to send me a copy of his book) claims that the picture dates to 1512, and shows not only a self-portrait of Raphael, but his lover, Margerita Luti. He also uses a technique he calls 'Vegascanning' to find clues in the 'subsurface' of the picture, including another Raphael design. The only problem is there is not one jot of reliable evidence that this picture is by Raphael. The likenesses of the figures are generic (and thus not to be relied on as portraits of anyone). And the 'Vegascans', whatever they are, are taken from digital photographs, and not to be relied on. I noticed the story of the latest discovery on Art History Today a while ago, but have been waiting for Three Pipe Problem to sink his razor-sharp analytical teeth into the theory first.

Read 3PP's views for yourself, but it's fair to say he is sceptical of Cameron's conclusions. For what it's worth, so am I. And if you look closely enough at the available images, you will be too. Go on, try a spot of connoisseurship. Here are some genuine Raphaels. Marvel at their brilliance, their sophistication, and intricate detail. And then see the plodding brushwork in The Judgement of Paris. See the solid drapery evident throughout the picture, from the bulky red of Paris' jacket through to the stiffly blowing orange drape far right. This is not the drapery of Raphael. In fact, it is not the drapery of any reasonably competent artist of the 16th Century - but almost certainly a 17th Century copy of an earlier work. Look also at the badly drawn profile faces of two of the female figures, the solid and unconvincing flesh of the naked bodies, the curious cartoon-like dog, not to mention the inept transition from foreground to background. All of these point to a work of poor quality of execution, and thus a poor artist. Agree? Then count yourself a connoisseur. 

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