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National Gallery reaches out to the underprivileged in bid to save Raphael from export

“The Madonna of the pinks” may have been painted for a nun in Perugia

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A 13-year-old girl is sitting with her baby, one of England’s many young single mothers whom the system has failed. She is not, however, sitting in some bleak council flat, but in the National Gallery (NG), discussing Raphael’s “Madonna of the pinks”.

The NG is basing its campaign to acquire this picture not just on its art-historical importance, but on the grounds of social responsibility, especially on the painting’s capacity to enhance the quality of life of the underprivileged—a profound change in what is meant by “heritage”.

The painting, which has been on loan to NG since 1992 after it was identified in the home of the Duke of Northumberland, is nominally sold to the Getty for £34.9 million ($56.8 million), but it is currently under export ban until 27 August, by which time NG must raise £29.5 million to keep it, with or without a contribution from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The NG’s campaign has conventional aspects to it. Credit card contributions can be made by phone (% +44 (0)20 7747 5875) or on the NG website (www.nationalgallery.org.uk), as well as by sending donations. Some large sums have already arrived—as well as a schoolchild’s cheque for £1.36.

To reach out beyond the NG’s usual middle-class constituency, staff have made contact with local councils and other groups to invite not only young, single mothers to see the painting, but also the Afro/Caribbean community, children with special needs, and Bengali-speaking mothers, generally from London’s poorest boroughs. Drawings by “school phobic and excluded” children inspired by the Raphael are to be hung in the NG café.

The approach is explained in the NG’s policy document addressed at the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Besides explaining that an integral part of the NG’s function is to forge new links with the socially excluded, it also suggests that comparisons between the small and exquisite Raphael with Indian miniatures could be a means of encouraging tolerance between different faiths and cultures.

Amanda Bradley, acting head of the campaign, told The Art Newspaper: “It is hoped that in bringing these groups into the gallery a greater sense of public ‘ownership’ will be achieved.”

This campaign is very different from the one that saved the Leonardo cartoon of St Anne, acquired by NG in 1952. This was bought for £800,000, equivalent in today’s terms of exchange to around £10 million.

In those days, the only justification needed was on aesthetic grounds, as defined by nationally respected experts, and there was no question of making special appeal to minorities, partly because British society was more homogeneous then, partly because the cartoon’s universal reputation and value were never questioned.

The campaign was strongly supported by the Times, and contributions from hundreds of individuals raised most of the required sum in six months.

The campaign to save Raphael’s “Madonna of the pinks” includes new research regarding its origins. The patron may have been a nun in Perugia, says NG curator, Carol Plazzotta. An entry in an inventory of the Camuccini family, which owned the painting from 1810, states that it was made for “Maddalena degli Oddi, a nun in Perugia, from whose heirs a Frenchman acquired it in 1636, taking it to France”. The very precise dating of the journey to France is corroborated by the appearance of French engravings of the painting around this time. Moreover, according to Vasari, Maddalena degli Oddi was certainly a patron of art. Nicholas Penny, who originally identified the picture as a Raphael, has argued that the inventory created a spurious link to a personality mentioned by Vasari to boost the picture’s status. Ms Plazzotta, however, points out that this is the only reference to Maddalena being a nun, which suggests that the inventory was based on genuine knowledge. Raphael was certainly a visitor to Perugia in this, his Florentine period: in 1505-07 he produced an altarpiece for the chapel opposite that of the Oddi family, which is stylistically similar to the “Madonna of the pinks”. Very little is known about Maddalena, although a family history published in 1904 by an Oddi descendant claims she knew Raphael.

In 1490 she was named universal heir of her mother’s estate, which would explain why she might have been in a position to be a patron. She suddenly ceases to feature in notarial documents, which could well be explained by her having taken religious vows. S.S.

The other key work currently under threat of export is Reynolds’s portrait of Omai, for which an export licence has been deferred until 17 September, at £12.5 million. Tate is very keen to acquire the picture, and had originally submitted application for just over £8 million to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). Then, in March, an anonymous donor promised to put up the entire sum. Tate’s HLF application was to have been considered this month and its withdrawal may marginally increase the National Gallery’s chances of winning HLF support for the Raphael.

The question now is whether the new owners of the Reynolds who applied for an export licence will relinquish the painting—or if they will decide simply to keep it in the UK. Over the past few months, the Tate has been involved in protracted discussions with the mysterious owner. The export licence application was submitted by a Swiss company, Settlements SA, and The Art Newspaper has now established that it is linked to the legal firm of Lenz & Staehelin, in Fribourg. Settlements SA has in turn been liaising with Dublin lawyers and there have been unconfirmed reports that they act for the family of Irish collector, John Magnier. London dealer Guy Morrison, who originally bought the portrait at Sotheby’s on 29 November 2001, has also been liaising between the Tate and the owner.

Meanwhile three UK institutions are getting close to jointly acquiring another depiction of Omai: William Parry’s portrait of Omai with Sir Joseph Banks and Dr Daniel Solander. These are London’s National Portrait Gallery, the National Museums & Galleries of Wales and the Captain Cook Memorial Museum in Whitby.

So far, they have raised £765,000, including support from the National Art Collections Fund, and are still hoping to find the final £185,000 required before the deadline which is mid-July.