The exhibition will close on September 3

Ashmolean Museum

Popularity of Raphael exhibition leads to extra opening hours

Matt Pickles

The Guardian called it 'extraordinary'. The Financial Times called it ‘once-in-a-generation’. The boy in the queue ahead of me asked his dad if Raphael was the ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle’.

In a way, they are all right.

‘Raphael: The Drawings’ is a collection of 120 works by the Renaissance artist. The Ashmolean owns fifty of these, which are considered the largest and most important group of Raphael drawings in the world.

Add to that 25 works from the Albertina Museum in Vienna and dozens of portraits from international collections, and you have what Ashmolean director Dr Xa Sturgis calls “an extraordinary gathering” of Raphael drawings.

Raphael was one of the best-known Renaissance artists – and yes, he was one of the four artists who inspired the popular ‘Turtles’ cartoon.

Curator Dr Catherine Whistler says the exhibition shows a different side of Raphael.

‘We often think of Raphael as an artist who is quite idealising and graceful and possibly a bit bland,’ she says. ‘But if you start looking at the drawings, a very different Rafael emerges.

 ‘If we look at Raphael’s art, it is full of human emotion, it is devoted to the human body in all of its heroism and in all of its tenderness and expressiveness.

‘He manages to fuse a sense of naturalism and the real thing with a sense of grandeur, and what he is doing in his early drawings is very much inject them with a kind of gestural force determined to put energy into everything he is doing and drawing.

‘Of all of the artists of his day, he is the one who had the greatest impact on European art from his own time right down to the 20th Century.’

The exhibition has been so popular that the museum has announced additional opening hours in August to accommodate demand.

The museum is usually closed on Mondays but it will now open on Monday August 7, 14 and 21.

The museum will also stay open until 8pm on August 25 and September 2. The exhibition will close on September 3.