28 David Can­na­dine’s favourite paint­ing

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The his­tory pro­fes­sor con­fesses that he cov­ets an ex­tra­or­di­nary mas­ter­piece by Raphael

David Can­na­dine is Dodge Pro­fes­sor of His­tory at Prince­ton Univer­sity and Ed­i­tor of the Ox­ford Dic­tionary of Na­tional Bi­og­ra­phy

It was dur­ing the early 1970s that I first vis­ited the Na­tional Gallery of Art in Wash­ing­ton DC and en­coun­tered Raphael’s mas­ter­piece, which seemed to me more mem­o­rable and ex­quis­ite than his cel­e­brated Madon­nas. A quar­ter of a cen­tury later, I found my­self writ­ing the life of An­drew W. Mel­lon, the Pitts­burgh banker and in­dus­tri­al­ist who founded and funded the Na­tional Gallery of Art and also do­nated to it his own col­lec­tion of paint­ings. In 1930–31, that col­lec­tion was fab­u­lously en­hanced when Mel­lon, at that time Sec­re­tary to the United States Trea­sury, ac­quired some of the great­est paint­ings from the Her­mitage, sold off by the Sovi­ets, who were des­per­ate for dol­lars. This was one of the finest of them and, dur­ing the course of my re­searches, it was thrilling to dis­cover the doc­u­men­ta­tion of this ex­tra­or­di­nary sale—an ap­pro­pri­ate trans­ac­tion for such an ex­tra­or­di­nary work of art

Saint Ge­orge and the Dragon, about 1506, by Raphael (1483–1520), 11¼in by 8½in, Na­tional Gallery of Art, Wash­ing­ton DC

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