- Museum number
The so-called 'Dream of Raphael' or 'Allegory of Life': a philosopher leaning against a rock with a crowned woman holding a lance approching at the right; between them an empty boat is tossed by waves. 1561
- Production date
Height: 376 millimetres
Width: 537 millimetres
- Curator's comments
State 2a of six. (For a unique state, see V,5.162).
The subject of this print is elusive, but most scholars agree that it should be taken as an Allegory of Life, with an optimistic message. An inscription claims Raphael as the original author of the composition, although this has long been doubted, and perhaps refers to the design of some of the figures, rather than the whole composition. A second figure, that of Diana, may be linked to a portrait medal by Leone Leoni of Ippolita Gonzaga, the daughter of Ferrante Gonzaga.
See The Engravings of Giorgio Ghisi, Ex Cat. New York, 1985, pp. 114-120.
Giorgio Ghisi, The Dream of Raphael, 1561
This is one of the most impressive and mysterious Italian engravings. No one has yet managed to explain fully its symbolism, but it seems clear that it portrays the dangerous path (across the sea in a leaky craft, with rocks and wild beasts in wait) lying before the wise man (on the left) in his quest to reach wisdom (or whatever the female on the right may represent). The two lines of verse at their feet are taken from Virgil's Aeneid, book vi, verses 617 and 95.
The major paradox presented by the print is in the text in Latin at the bottom left: 'The invention of Raphael of Urbino. Filippo Dati ordered it to be made in gratitude'. In the sixteenth century this would have been understood to mean that Raphael designed ('invented') the composition, which had then been engraved by Ghisi, a Mantuan engraver who usually worked after the designs of others. But, as commentators have long recognised, the composition could not possibly have been designed by Raphael, who died in 1520. It is very much later in style, and the only link with him is in the pose of the man, which derives from one of the philosophers in the 'School of Athens'.
It remains utterly unclear why Ghisi should have put on his print an inscription which he must have known was misleading, not to say false. Was it to deceive collectors, or is there a more esoteric or private joke behind it on the part of Dati, the man who commissioned it? Answering this question is complicated by the fact that no one has yet managed to find out who Dati was.
Literature: M. & R. E. Lewis & S. Boorsch, The Engravings of Giorgio Ghisi, New York 1985, pp. 114-20.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1996 Sep-Nov, Manchester, Manchester City AG, 'The Inner Eye'
1996/7 Nov-Jan, Brighton, Museum and AG, 'The Inner Eye'
1997 Jan-Mar, Swansea, Glynn Vivian AG, 'The Inner Eye'
1997 Apr-Jun, London, Dulwich Picture Gallery, 'The Inner Eye'
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number