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Johann Michael Wittmer (1802-80)

Raphael's First Sketch of the 'Madonna della Sedia' Signed and dated 1853

Oil on canvas | 98.3 x 74.6 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external) | RCIN 403635

Billiard Room, Osborne House

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  • According to an often recounted legend from the life of Raphael (1483-1520), a hermit, having been attacked by wolves, hides in a tree and is saved by a vintner’s daughter. In gratitude the hermit prophesises that both the tree and the girl will be immortalised. The tree is subsequently felled and its timber used for wine barrels, while the daughter marries and has two children. Several years later Raphael is walking through the Roman countryside when he spies the young woman with her children and is so overcome by their beauty that he feels compelled to paint them. Being without his painting materials Raphael draws the group in chalk on the bottom of a wine barrel, thereby immortalising both tree and girl as prophesised, in one of his most admired works, the Madonna della Sedia (Florence, Palazzo Pitti). The event is credited as the moment the circular tondo format for painting was discovered, although in fact it had been used by earlier painters.

    Raphael was the artist Prince Albert admired above all others. In 1851 the Queen gave him a watercolour copy of the Madonna della Sedia by Robert Thorburn (RCIN 450007), which was hung in his bathroom at Osborne. In 1853 the Prince began a project to assemble all available reproductions of Raphael’s work, and he and the Queen spent many happy evenings together in the Print Room at Windsor occupied on this task.

    The prolific Bavarian painter Michael Wittmer was a pupil of Peter Langer and Peter von Cornelius, members of the Nazarene group of German painters whose work was known and admired by Prince Albert. Wittmer worked on the decoration of the Munich Glyptothek before travelling to Rome on a bursary from King Ludwig I of Bavaria. It is not known how he came to the attention of the Queen and Prince Albert but it may have been through Ludwig Gruner, who was in touch with Wittmer in Rome in the late 1830s. In 1847 the Queen bought his painting of Ossian (RCIN 406291) and presented it to Prince Albert on her birthday, 24 May, and in 1855 the Prince himself acquired Aesop (RCIN 406331). All three were hanging at Osborne in 1876.

    Signed and dated: M. WITTMER F. 1853

    Text adapted from Victoria and Albert: Art & Love, London, 2010

    Purchased by Prince Albert in 1853; recorded at Osborne House, 1876

  • Medium and techniques

    Oil on canvas


    98.3 x 74.6 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external)

    127.0 x 102.8 x 7.6 cm (frame, external)