One of the most important international loans for the National Gallery’s long-awaited Raphael exhibition has been cancelled. The Holy Family, which belongs to Russia’s State Hermitage Museum, is grounded in St Petersburg because of the war in Ukraine.
A spokesperson for the London gallery told The Art Newspaper: “As a result of the situation that has arisen due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Raphael’s The Holy Family, in the collection of the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, is no longer included in The Credit Suisse Exhibition: Raphael".
The painting had long ago been offered protection under the UK’s Immunity from Seizure legislation, but earlier this week it was omitted from the National Gallery’s list of works coming from abroad for Raphael. This was presumably done after consultations with Arts Council England, which monitors the immunity system on behalf of the UK’s culture department.
A National Gallery spokesperson explained that withdrawing the loan request "was a decision we took last week and is therefore totally unrelated to the Hermitage asking for loans to be returned”.
This seems to be one issue in the current situation where both the Russian and British governments are in agreement: there should be no international loans of artworks between Russia and the West while the war in Ukraine continues.
The Hermitage is a state museum and Russia’s ministry of culture has now required it to halt loans and recall artworks which are currently on loan.To add to the problems, direct air links between Russia and Europe and North America have been suspended, making it impossible to safely transport artworks.
The Holy Family (around 1506-07) depicts a pensive Joseph with Mary holding the infant Christ, set in an interior with a landscape beyond. The chiaroscuro modelling suggests the influence of Leonardo da Vinci on the young Raphael. It was painted in Florence, possibly for Guidobaldo, duke of Urbino. The picture was acquired by Catherine the Great in 1772.
The National Gallery’s ambitious Raphael show was originally due to have opened in October 2020, but was delayed by Covid-19. It is now scheduled to run from 9 April to 31 July.The National Gallery still expects to show 17 Raphael paintings from international lenders (along with those from UK collections), with 8 coming from Italy, 4 from France, 3 from the US and 2 from Germany.