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Legion of Honor Museum
January 24, 2018

Sublime Beauty: Raphael’s Portrait of a Lady with a Unicorn

The Sublime Beauty: Raphael’s Portrait of a Lady with a Unicorn exhibit has ended. Please visit Legion of Honor for current exhibitions.

The Sublime Beauty exhibition features one of Raphael’s most beguiling and enigmatic paintings. The masterpiece, presented in the United States for the first time, is on loan from the Galleria Borghese in Rome, where it was first recorded in the collection in 1682.

Portrait of a Lady with a Unicorn (ca. 1505–1506) features an unidentified blond-haired sitter and epitomizes the beauty of Raphael’s female portraits during his Florentine period. The exhibition will explore the possible identity of this subject, as well as the painting’s distinct iconography, including the unicorn she holds in her lap. Scholars believe that the painting was commissioned to celebrate a wedding, and the unicorn, a conventional symbol of chastity, may offer clues to her familial lineage.

The exhibition further highlights the stylistic relationships between this masterpiece and Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Leonardo’s canonical work, painted in Florence in the early years of the 16th century, had a great impact on the younger Raphael, who also practiced in the city during this period. Raphael’s sophisticated adaptation of Leonardo’s innovations in portrait compositions resulted in Portrait of a Lady with a Unicorn, a painting that hints at the Mona Lisa with its half-length format, its sitter with hands folded in her lap, and its setting before a distant landscape. Visitors will be able to explore Raphael’s painting in detail and get a glimpse into its intriguing history. 

This special exhibition is included with the price of general admission.

Tickets can be purchased on site or online at the Legion of Honor.

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