Cardinal Raffaele Sansoni Riario: Then and Now

Who’s the teenager represented in the marble bust in the Long Gallery? Read on to find out!

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With soft skin and no stubble, the adolescent Raffaele Riario gazes outward with a confidence that belies his tender age. No ordinary teenager, he was only 16 when he was elevated to the rank of cardinal by his uncle, Pope Sixtus IV, and attended the first mass in the new Sistine Chapel. Riario probably commissioned this bust to commemorate his momentous promotion. The fact that the sculptor dressed him in a tasseled deacon’s tunic—called a dalmatic—suggests that Riario may have asked to have himself depicted in the guise of Saint Lawrence, to honor San Lorenzo, the name saint of his new church in Damaso.

A white bust of a man.

Attributed to Andrea Bregno (Italian, 1418-1513), Cardinal Raffaele Sansoni Riario, about 1478. Marble
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston. See it in the Long Gallery

Young Cardinal Riario was close friends with another individual prominently featured in Isabella Stewart Gardner’s collection. When the 13-year-old Tommaso Inghirami arrived in Rome, he moved into the teenage cardinal’s palace. Both young men shared a passion for theater, and Riario funded performances that Inghirami acted in. In one performance of Seneca's tragedy Phaedra—a Roman tragedy about the Queen of Athens—Inghirami was in the middle of his performance as the Queen herself when the stage collapsed beneath him. Despite the accident, he continued to perform unhindered, earning the nickname "Phaedra" for his perseverance.

A man in red writing something on paper.

Raphael (Italian, 1418-1513), Tommaso Inghirami, about 1510. Oil on canvas
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston. See it in the Raphael Room

Isabella purchased the bust of Cardinal Riario in 1906. Like many of the works of art in her museum, it naturally accumulated dirt and grime, not least from the open fireplaces she lit in many galleries to warm the building during cold Boston winters. In 2019, our conservation team cleaned him up. Using a steam machine, an object technician applied steam to loosen the dirty residues on the marble and then wiped them away with a soft cloth. Like a facial, it immediately brightened his appearance! 

A conservator cleaning a white bust.

Object technician Marie Desrochers cleaning the bust of Cardinal Raffaele Sansoni Riario, 2019

You can see the new and improved Cardinal Riario in the Long Gallery!

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