Sublime Beauty: Raphael’s Portrait of a Lady with a Unicorn focuses on one of the artist’s most beguiling and enigmatic paintings and the mysterious blonde sitter who epitomized his female portraiture during his Florentine period. Two essays by leading specialists in Renaissance art, Linda Wolk-Simon and Mary Shay-Millea, explore the stylistic relationship between this masterpiece and Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, and the link to Petrarch’s poetry and popular notions of beauty in Renaissance art. They examine attributions and the painting’s distinct iconography, and why, in place of the usual lapdog, the woman holds a unicorn. Anna Coliva, the director of the Galleria Borghese, where the portrait now resides, proposes an alternative hypothesis about the painting and its creation.
Esther Bell is curator in charge of European Paintings, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Linda Wolk-Simon is director and chief curator, University Museums, Fairfield University. Mary Shay-Millea is an independent scholar. Anna Coliva is director of the Galleria Borghese, Rome.