While walking through the corridors of the Belgian BRAFA 2023 fair, I had my “coup de coeur” for this work: small but worthy of being exhibited in a museum. It attracted me immediately for its particularity. It is a meticulous wax model, a miniature copy, but 3D, of the Marriage of the Virgin by Raphael, now kept in Brera. The only difference is the frame, which in this case is also made of wax and enriched by portraits of important philosophers.
It is truly a unique piece both for the technique in which it was conceived and for its history. Chiale Fine Art exhibited it, and it is Alessandro Chiale himself who illustrated to me the story of this marvel, a story that has definitely captured me.
In fact, wax modeling has usually been used to reproduce anatomical models, but in this case we are dealing with an artistic artefact of great historical value.
Of Raphael’s large panel we know that it was “donated”, not quite spontaneously, by the Municipality of Città di Castello to the Napoleonic general Lechi. The latter resold it just three years later to Count Giacomo Sannazzari della Ripa, a Pavia native, merchant and one of the most important collectors in Milan. Sannazzari bequeathed the work to the Ospedale Maggiore in Milan in 1804. Once again the work was put up for sale and was purchased by Eugenio de Beauhernais who donated the work to the Milanese Academy of Fine Arts. Finally, together with all the other works in the Academy’s collection, it arrived at the Pinacoteca di Brera, inaugurated in 1809, where it is still on display.
It is still unclear whether this wax copy was commissioned by Beauhernais before depriving himself of the large altarpiece to give it to the Academy, or was given to him as a thank you for the legacy. It may also have been a wedding gift; in fact, the subject of the work would be entirely suitable as a wish for prosperity.
This work, in its rarity, is therefore a fascinating document that allows us to peek into a very interesting historical moment, during which the foundations were laid for the establishment of one of the most important art galleries in the world. We do not know the name of the artist who created it, but this work is also evidence of the existence of very skilled workers, capable of making a work of great value with this humble technique.
Who knows, maybe it will become part of a public collection, and therefore could become accessible to everyone.