The Book Is Not Dead

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Secret: A Fascinating Title, If You Don’t Mind the Wait

Featuring a puzzling world of murder and corporate espionage, one of the most fascinating books to come out last year was Secret from Image Comics. The brain child of writer Jonathan Hickman with art by Ryan Bodenheim, this unique book follows a seemingly unconnected series of events surrounding Grant Miller, an ex-intelligence operative working for a private security firm. There’s a murder in London, a break-in at a high-profile law firm, and an accountant giving away company secrets after being tortured during a home invasion. What does it all mean? Well, I don’t know. That’s the point. Just how these events intersect is the mystery of the book, as Miller navigates a quiet and subversive world of spy-games and murder, all pointing to a widespread global conspiracy of shadow governments and secret organizations.

SECRET1Sound good? It is. If you’re looking for something a little different, with a slick design and intriguing execution, I highly recommend this book. Fans of Hickman will appreciate its complexity, a fresh counterpart to the multifaceted and surreal alternative histories we’ve seen in the pages of Manhattan Projects and East of West. Fans who know Bodenheim’s work on Red Mass for Mars and Halcyon will love its sleek visual aesthetic, heightened by the captivating color choices of Michael Garland. But there’s a catch: There have only been three issues in the last year.

Beginning in April 2012, this peculiar mix of espionage fiction and corporate intrigue saw just two issues. By the end of the summer it went on a year-long hiatus due to a series of production snags. The book, which had gained quite a bit of buzz and critical interest, was considered abandoned by readers. In the meantime, Bodenheim seemed to vanish from comics, and Hickman continued with other projects, such as Manhattan Projects, East of West, God is Dead, and championing Thanos’ return to the main stage in Marvel Comics’ timeline-shattering Infinity event. In August, the long-awaited third issue of Secret finally hit the shelves, as Miller dealt with the fall-out of the London murders. While an intriguing issue that explores Miller’s complex web of professional and personal relationships, I can’t help but keep my expectations low, even as I hope for more from this strange little world Hickman has cooked up.SECRET2

However, as an original and innovative work of spy fiction, Secret does a have lot going for it. It’s a plot-driven title with a wealth of subtly, as Hickman delivers another slow burn in exploring the complex networks and associations that tether the key players. His principal characters quietly develop in the first three issues, illuminating the peculiar fishbowl they operate in through tense nonlinear flashbacks, tinged with contrasting degrees of violence. The scripting is slick and cool, with compelling dialogue and a sharpness of tone that keeps things from turning glib, alluding to deeper relationships than what are being shown on the page. Hickman, true to form, doesn’t give anything anyway, and instead leaves the reader to ponder. You might not know what’s going on, but you’re always left wanting more. This isn’t James Bond or Jason Bourne, or any other familiar spy tale, and the title is far better for it.

SECRET3The real draw of the book is its visual execution. Hickman, Bodenheim and Garland collaborate wonderfully together to create a unique and cohesive reading experience issue to issue, even with the interruptions. Bodenheim’s use of thick, emphatic lines bring us into settings that are at once familiar and unnatural: Offices, parks, cafes, places where characters meet in private to discuss the nature of their business. These environments are often empty but for the principal characters themselves, establishing palpable tension and loneliness that almost feels claustrophobic from panel to panel. The panel compositions and page layouts are often slightly unexpected at times, affording the reader varying perspectives and playing with the chronology of events in clever ways, linked together by evocative undercurrents brimming with well-developed tension.

This is made most effective with Gardener’s subtle, selective use of color. His muted green, brown and purple tones wash over grayscale scenes in a pulp-inspired haze, affecting a cold and distant tone that removes the reader from the act, relegated to the margins to simply guess what’s really going on. The austerity of tone is then completely abandoned as emotionally heightened moments run wild in vivid oranges and reds. Flashbacks are emphasized by the richness of blood or lipstick to highlight the visceral nature of memory, providing small slivers of insight into the minds of the internal lives of the characters. All of these elements, from scripting to artwork to color, come together in an innovative package that leaves you guessing long after you’re done.

So if you’re on the lookout for a fresh, sleek title with a rich narrative and engaging artwork, pick up Secret. This is a title that swings for the fences, even with the interruptions. I can’t guarantee this book will resume a consistent release schedule, but, when the work is this good, maybe it’s worth the wait?

Magen Cubed

Retro Comics: X-Men Unlimited #3, The Whispers Scream

To begin my first edition of Retro Comics, I decided to go back and look at the first comic book I ever read: X-Men Unlimited #3. First published as a double-sized quarterly between 1993 and 2003, X-Men Unlimited served as a short story anthology series in the X-Men universe. The series focused on small, self-contained one-shots between major monthly storylines and events, and provided a vehicle for lesser known writers and artists to work with these well-known franchise characters without impacting the rest of Marvel’s continuity. Issue #3, titled The Whispers Scream, was written by X-Force and Deadpool co-creator Fabien Nicieza and penciled by Mike McKone. It was released December 1993 with cover art by Bill Sienkiewicz.

This issue follows Maverick as he seeks the help of Wolverine in stopping Sabretooth. Following the death of his friend and partner Birdy at the hands of his son Graydon Creed, Sabretooth is on a vicious killing spree, murdering the members of an illicit trade operation that took place some years prior. When Wolverine proves too elusive to find, Maverick instead enlists the assistance of X-Men, to help him track Sabretooth to Japan for an encounter with the Silver Samurai. While this issue first presents itself as a straightforward chase story with Sabretooth as its antagonist, it quickly becomes an intriguing look into the mind of a murderer.

X-Men Unlimited

Sabretooth, who had previously relied on the telepathic influence of Birdy to quell his violent urges, is now at a total loss. Overcome by insanity, he begins searching for another telepath to pacify his broken mind. This opens the door to several fascinating questions of morality as Charles Xavier takes it upon himself to venture into the hellish landscape of Sabretooth’s memories. There he finds the source of Sabretooth’s cruelty: A childhood spent under the fist of his abusive father indoctrinated the young Victor Creed in an endless cycle of violence and pain. With Birdy’s help he was able to bury his guilt behind the trauma, and excuse his own savagery as a product of his father’s abuse. Determined to rehabilitate Sabretooth, Xavier agrees to house him at the school, entering into a tenuous pact to put an end to his violence and make him pay for his crimes.

Overall this is a solid and captivating story with some serious emotional punch. A lot of the strength lies in the writing, with some deft handling of the morally compromising situations presented here. At no point does Nicieza attempt to rationalize or excuse Sabretooth’s violence, and that works to his advantage. He appropriately paints the young Victor Creed as a victim of violence, who turned his cruelty outward rather than attempting to overcome his demons. Yes, Sabretooth is a product of brutality, but he chose to pursue this life, making him culpable for his actions. He is a wounded animal, but also an intelligent one as Xavier finds, and something about him is worth trying to redeem. This moral question of putting Sabretooth down like an animal or choosing to rehabilitate him is certainly interesting in the context of a superhero book, given the weight of his crimes and the full breadth of his violence.

No matter the strength of the script, however, it’s the artwork that really carries this book. McKone’s offers some strong art here, with several really engaging panels and dynamic page layouts peppered throughout. There’s a peculiar static quality to his lines that makes the book feel somehow quiet to me, perhaps even a little eerie. It reads like Xavier’s clinical detachment as he moves through Sabretooth’s memories, looking for answers, and perhaps it’s meant to. To put the reader in Xavier’s frame of mind as an unintended viewer looking in on Sabretooth’s madness. Whatever the reason, there’s just something about the ferociousness of McKone’s flat-nosed, dog-like Sabretooth that really sticks with me. It’s sinister and beastly without coming across as cheesy or overplayed, and helps to ground Sabretooth as a villain, albeit a much more complex one than we expected.

This issue is emblematic of 1990s comic books in a lot of ways. From the elaborate and often clunky costumes designs to the sometimes long-winded dialogue, complete with the almost perplexing accents from Rogue and Gambit, this book is quite the product of its time. Even for that, the story is striking with some truly memorable scenes. A nice balance of philosophical questioning and action-adventure storytelling, this is a favorite issue of mine with real staying power, even after twenty years.

Magen Cubed

The Fearless Defenders #7: The New Status Quo

FD1After the somewhat controversial end of this title’s inaugural arc, many readers were disappointed to see Annabelle Riggs die so soon. The character’s surprising death abruptly ended her role as a powerless but capable (and certainly fearless) Defender, as the team’s resident expert on Asgardian artifacts. Her sacrifice to stop Valkyrie’s killing spree (as Val’s alternate persona, the Doom Maiden Rage) caused serious rifts in this relatively new team, as Misty Knight lashed out at Valkyrie and their fellow Shield Maidens abandoned her as their leader. However, with the recent release of the much-anticipated #7, this title has lived up to its promise to begin an all-new arc, with some surprising plans for its principal characters.

Stephanie Hans takes up the artistic reins in this issue, stepping in for regular artist Will Sliney, as Annabelle deals with her new status as a member of the celebrated dead in Valhalla. Her particular station is at an old inn and tavern, filled with many great and boisterous warriors, all of whom Annabelle feels little kinship with. She doesn’t belong here but she’s resigned to her fate, content to have sacrificed herself to help Val return to her senses. Meanwhile, Val mounts a rescue effort and travels to Valhalla to resurrect Annabelle, making amends for stranding her there undeservedly. Her quest reunites her with Clea, the exiled sorceress Val helped hide from otherworldly threats, whose skills Val requires for this spell. Although Clea is pleased to see Val, she hesitant to use her magic to revive Annabelle, warning that the ritual comes at a great cost.

Determined, Val convinces Clea and brings her to see Annabelle at the inn. There Val and Annabelle try to FD2reconcile their thorny recent past, and Clea brings Annabelle back, but at a price: Val must sacrifice her life to restore Annabelle’s, and Annabelle is her new host. Their spirits tangled in the same body, Annabelle is the vehicle through which Val must navigate the mortal realm, switching back and forth between forms whenever the need arises for Val’s brute warrior strength. Changing things up for the team, this decision helps to mend the rift between Val and Misty, and allows Annabelle to fulfill her new role as Val’s earthly vessel. Val sacrificing herself for Annabelle, and Annabelle’s upgraded status as Val’s host, adds another layer of humor and interest to the team dynamics. While things seemed to be smoothed over between them, and Misty is likely on her way to forgiving Val for killing Annabelle in the first place, this opens the doors to new intrigue as the Defenders gear up to tackle Le Fay’s new team of Doom Maidens. New status quo, indeed.

A striking departure from Sliney’s regular pencils, Hans’ artwork steers this book in a gorgeous new direction in tone and presentation. Her vision of Valhalla is lush and fertile, with an ethereal quality that feels dreamy and fantastic but appropriately so, offset by the ugliness of the trolls Val and Clea face. The principle characters are gorgeously rendered with the help of strong panel compositions and soft, otherworldly color palettes. Her females are strong but still feminine, sacrificing little of their quirks or flaws to embody the strength and power that warriors like Val FD3represent. Gone is the serviceable but at times bland artwork we’ve seen from Sliney, upgraded to Hans’ decisive action sequences and evocative interior spaces, which keep the story balanced and well-paced. Overall, Hans strikes a good equilibrium of emotional weight and action-adventure, making for a highly engaging visual reading experience.

As for the writing, Bunn’s script this issue is straightforward but intriguing. The surprising reveal of Val’s updated backstory could have cheapened the character, but it continues to work here, especially in the face of recent developments. Although it was somewhat surprising to see Annabelle come back so quickly, after the pomp and circumstance surrounding her death, the decision for Val to immediately look for Annabelle is true to her character. Val’s resolve to make amends speaks to her need for redemption; not just for Annabelle’s death, but for the sense of loss and ineffectiveness she’s felt since the beginning of the series. She’s looking to restore her own honor by living up to Odin’s expectations, which she has previously failed to do. All of this feels very natural for her characterization, and further humanizes her, despite the many twists and turns she’s taken as of late.

Bunn also does something very interesting with Val and Annabelle’s relationship in this issue. While far more FD4complicated than before, their dynamic remains refreshingly downplayed, and very much based on the mutual respect of comrades. Just what comes of their uncertain friendship, however, remains to be seen. Annabelle’s romantic interest in Val, as seen since the first issue, has not yet been fully addressed, and is likely to be further confused by recent events. It does say a lot about Val’s feelings for Annabelle in that she was so willing to sacrifice herself for her, which does open the door to some exploration on Val’s side of the relationship. As Val’s new host Annabelle has a lot to ponder, but her feelings for Val have been given the opportunity to further develop her character. All of this will be interesting to see in the future.

Overall this is a successful issue with some solid writing and stunning artwork. Big on promises, it lives up to nearly all of them, offering an intriguing new opportunity for this team to grow. Where this title goes from here is uncertain, but the foundations put in place make for some interesting possibilities.

Magen Cubed

Books We’ll Miss: Journey into Mystery

JiM1While the Marvel Universe is embroiled in its share of sweeping drama this year, from the reality-crushing consequences of the Infinity event to the mutant brawling going on in Battle of the Atom, something quite sad happened. In the fray of big budget movies and multi-title tie-ins, a little book slipped under the radar and ended a beautiful run after only ten issues. The fourth and final incarnation of Journey into Mystery, helmed by writer Kathryn Immonen and artist Valerio Schiti, recently wrapped up its last issue at #655, sailing off into that good night with little pomp and circumstance. Despite rave reviews and consistently excellent content, this little book that could just couldn’t live up to the hype of other, better selling titles. Although this book is gone, the adventures of Lady Sif, as well as the amazing efforts of Immonen and Schiti in bringing her to life, won’t soon be forgotten.

The original Journey into Mystery began its life as a horror-fantasy title leftover from Marvel’s predecessor Atlas Comics, carrying into two volumes that ran intermittently between the 1950s and 1970s. Focusing principally on the adventures of Thor, this title covered much of the mystical fantasy elements of the Marvel Universe, and over time served as an introduction for many other characters in the same vein. Taken over by Kieron Gillen and Doug Braithwaite after the events of the Siege series, the focus shifted to Loki from issues #622 to #645 for a run that was praised by both critics and fans. With issue #646, the title was relaunched to coincide with its rebranding under the Marvel NOW imprint, JiM2and Immonen stepped in to bring Lady Sif into the spotlight.

For ten issues, Sif led a dynamic cast of Marvel’s most well-known Asgardians into a world of magic, mystery, humor and action, expertly developed by Schiti’s skillful pencil work.  Sif, while a major supporting character in Thor’s title, is not quite so well-known beyond the pages of his companion’s book. This made it somewhat difficult to stir a strong sales base, as many mainstream readers just weren’t as familiar with Sif as they were other, better known Asgardians. Despite its short run, Journey into Mystery covered a lot of ground. From the depths of ancient ruins to New York City, deep space to children’s fairytales, this adventure title followed Sif’s character development with poignant resonance. While taking a few cues from Gillen’s run, Immonen made this series her own, putting a unique spin on the character and the tone of the book. Every adventure was well-framed by Immonen’s strong scripting and razor-sharp dialogue, offering equal measure of heartfelt introspection and witty banter to keep things fresh and fun. Even in keeping with the expectations set by her predecessors, this title was always uniquely Sif’s.

JiM3When we first encountered Sif, she was conflicted about her role as a warrior in what she saw as a culture in decline, as Asgardia turned its back on its once-proud past. We saw this reflection throughout the series, a question of purpose in uncertain times. With regular guest appearances from many big-name hitters in the Marvel stable, Sif was always busy and had a great cast to play off of, with much success. Through her perilous journeys, first as a wayward berserker then later as the warrior we know and love, we watched Sif grow and change, forging new relationships and strengthening old ones. Over the course of the title she came to terms with her place in a changing world, and accepted Asgardia’s new role in that world as well. Her journey wasn’t easy, and it certainly didn’t always paint her in a favorable light, but she was always fascinating, relatable, and engaging to read about.

The book’s biggest strength was its visual consistency, guided by Schiti’s amazing pencils and the stellar color work of Jordie Bellaire. Issue after issue, this title was a gem with its inventive page designs and panel compositions, serving as an evocative complement to Immonen’s scripting. Bursting with energy and emotion, Schiti carried every plot through to the end with dynamic action scenes and engaging character interactions, his pages rounded out by Bellaire’s distinctive color palettes and clever background development. This visual cohesion helped to make the book so enjoyable: not only did every component of this title work well, JiM4but they worked even better together.

While this book certainly wasn’t flawless, and did have a few fumbles as it sought its footing in the opening issues, it was a highly enjoyable addition to the Marvel pantheon. Immonen and Schiti told poignant stories, full of adventure and heart, intrigue and humor. Sif was a strong protagonist with a fun supporting cast and engrossing exploits, offering a consistently satisfying reading experience month after month. So while Sif may be shelved for now, she will not soon be forgotten by her readers and fans, who got to enjoy this little gem of a book for as long as it lasted.

Magen Cubed

The Marshall Islands and World War II

The Marshall Islands, an old German colony in the Pacific Ocean, were caught in the tag of the World War II as it was there where many air and naval operations took place between the Americans and the Japanese. Today, they are under the protection and care of the United States.

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fig.1 The sets are wonderfully designed while covering all the aspects of the War

The thing that we would like to point out, from a philatelic point of view, is the fact that this inland complex has issues a great number of stamps with reference to World War II. From 1989 to 1998 there were about 230 stamps issued on the specific topic. Any collector wishing to start a thematic collection on World War II, it goes without saying that s/he will certainly find those islands of invaluable help. The sets are wonderfully designed while covering all the aspects of the War (fig. 1).

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Stamps have been issues ranging not only from very important events but also covering battles of lesser significance such as the Warsaw battle and the Dieppe landing. The Katyn graves have not been forgotten either (fig. 2). All first-class leaders, generals and admirals of both sides, Allied and Japanese forces alike, are portrayed. Even Mark Clark, the well-known blunder-head of the Italian expedition, is also depicted.

One may also find: all the American and Japanese war ships, including the German

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ones; most of the fighter aircraft which took part in World War II; military uniforms; even the surrender of Japan in 1945 (fig. 3).

There is no other country with so many issues in such a short spell of time covering the topic of World War II to that superlative extent. Perhaps the 230 stamps from Marshall Islands along with some more from the rest of the world, would be enough to satisfy the needs of a potential collector embarking on the theme of World War II.

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KO for eCharta

Rafael the Italian painter through philately

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Pic: 1: Federico da Montefeltro di Urbino

Raffaello Sanzio, or simply Raphael, was an Italian painter who was born in Urbino of the Montefeltro in 1483 (Picture 1), an important cultural center at the time.

Raphael, along with Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, are regarded as the Great Masters of the later Renaissance, who have exerted a lasting influence on Western art. His father, also a painter, sent his son to be apprenticed to Perugino (Picture 2) where he quickly rose to teacher status himself.

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Pic: 2: Leonardo da Vinci                                                 Michelangelo                                                Perugino

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Pic. 3: Kolona’s Retample

One of his first surviving works is the Retample of Colona (Picture 3), an altar painting of 1502, situated in the New York Metropolitan Museum. This is a grand masterpiece with rich decor. The main piece is made of tempera wood and it measures 1.70 x 1.70 meters.

On the block of Turks and Caicos, we can see the Gavari Crucifixion also

Pic. 6: Mond or Gavari Crucifixion

Pic. 4: Mond or Gavari Crucifixion

known as the Crucifixion of Mond (Picture 4). Measuring 2.80 x 1.65 meters this is a 1503 work and is displayed in the London National Gallery. The painting is done in oil where the artist has started to establish his own style.

In 1503, having been influenced not only by Perugino but also by his own innovations, the young Raphael adroitly painted the Maria Conestabile (Picture 5). This is a small-size work, 18cm in diameter,

Pic.5: Contestabile

Pic.5: Contestabile

which was sold for 310,000 francs by his owner, Count Scipione Conestabile della Staffa, who found himself in a difficult financial situation, in 1869. Ever since the piece has belonged to the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg in Russia.

The Coronation of Mary (Retample Oddi) (Picture 6) is an oil painting of 1502-04, measuring 2.67 x 1,63 meters and belongs to the Vatican. As an artistic style it belongs to the Perugino style. Mary and Christ flanked by cherubs appear to be in motion and are rendered very expressively. The classical spirit can be distinguished in the very small painting, 17×17 cm, known as “The Knight’s Dream” (Picture 6), made between 1504 and 1505, which is situated in London. The figures accompanying the sleeping youth are Virtue and Love and are made with both simplicity and clarity. Along the same dimensions and period (1504-05) as the “Knight’s Dream”, the “Three Graces” (Picture 6) are to be found in the Museum of Count in Chantilly. In this case the figures are three-dimensional with classical analogies symbolizing immortality. In the 15 cents of Lesotho we can see the “The Wedding Ceremony of Holy Mary” (1.74×1.21 meters): a work of 1504. This is about an artistic Renaissance masterpiece, with vigorous structure, which is the pride of the Brera Gallery in Milan. This is young Raphael’s distinguished piece of art with meticulous attention to its structure.

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Pic.6: Retample Odd                     The Knight’s Dream                              The three Graces                     Virgin Mary’s Weddings

In the portrait of Elizabeth Gozzanca (Picture 7), 53×38 cm, produced in 1504, we can see the wife of the Count of Urbino, Guidobaldo, an educated and refined woman. The painting belongs to Uficci of Florence. The “Young Holy Mary”, Kaouper is displayed in Washington Museum (Picture 7). With dimensions of 60×40, made in 1505, the work still resounds Perugino along with the innovations of Raphael. The faces are gentle conveying a sense of intimacy to the observer. It was named after the Kaouper family who owned the piece for 130 years. The great Retample Ansidli (2.74×1.52 meters) was produced in 1505 (Picture 7) where one may notice the emotions depicted on the faces along with their three-dimensional version. It is situated in London. Its technique is exceptional. Under its Florence arch there is an interesting landscape in great detail in the background. From St. Lucia we may see the “Mary of the Meadows” (Picture 7) or Belvedere which measures 1.13 x 0.88 cm. It is a 1506 piece of art and is to be found in Vienna. Its composition comprises elements of Leonardo while this piece is an eternal prototype honoring Holy Mary.

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Pic.7  Elizabetta Gontzanca           Young Madonna Kaouper                The Ansidei Retample                      Madonna di Belvedere

Around 1506, he created his self-portrait (47x33cm – Picture 8). This is situated in Ufficci gallery. This great painter reveals his melancholy while in his youth. In his “Madonna of the Great Duke”, 84×56 cm, (Picture 8), situated in Palazzo Pitti in Florence, a piece of 1506, we may distinguish the affectionate relationship between mother and child, as its name also denotes: due to the fact that its former owner, the Duke of Tuscany, Ferdinand III always used to carry the painting with him. “The Lady with the Unicorn” (65×51 cm) dates about the same period (Picture 8). It is part of the Borghese Gallery in Rome, while the unicorn acts as a symbol of purity. In 1506, he also created the “Holy Mary with the Goldfinch” held by two young children. The expressive figures, full of light, witness the influence of Leonardo. The painting belonged to the Nasi family until their house collapsed in 1547 and the crippled painting still survives. Today, it belongs to Ufficci Gallery.

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Pic.8: Self Portrait              Madonna of the Grand Duke             Woman with the Unicorn               Madonna with the Goldfinch

In this Bulgarian stamp we notice the markedly rich bourgeois man, Agnolo Doni (65×45 cm – Picture 9), work of 1506-07, found in Palazzo Pitti. The all-pervasive, intelligent look of Doni, who had the rare opportunity for his name to be recorded in history because of that painting, dominates, while we are not in position to know about the actual ownership of many other surviving works of art of that period. The “Fair Gardener” (1.22 x 0.80 cm – Picture 9) comes from Canada , now part of the Louvre Museum, is a work of 1507: a simple composition, on surface, but with particular attention to the third dimension. The moving “Sepulchral Lamentation” (1.84×1.76cm – Picture 9) by Retample Baglioni was created in 1507. The painting secretly bears the message of the Resurrection and was stolen in 1608 by Schipio Borghrse from Perugia, where it previously belonged. Ever since it has been part of the Borghese Gallery, in Rome. The “Dumb” (Picture 9), work of 1507- 08, belongs to the Museum of Urbino and has been influenced by Leonardo. Her perfectly oval face emerges from the dark background and is staring at the observer. This is considered as a great portrayal achievement by Raphael.

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Pic.9: Aniolo Doni               The Beatiful Gardener            Pieta Borghese or Baglioni                  The Mute

From Hungary we may see the portrait of a man of 1508 (Picture 10). This is in the Budapest Museum and the unknown youth has a lively look while there is a wonderful Tuscany landscape spreading in the background. During the same year (1508), Raphael is called by the Pope, Julius II, in the Vatican and embarks on the renowned frescoes within the Papal palace. In the Vatican block, we can see “The Dispute over the Sacraments” fresco of 1508-09 (Picture 10) with enormous dimensions, as its base measures 7.70 meters. Among the individuals discussing the Truth of Christ real figures have been included. This technique has undoubtedly earned the favor of many an admirer. “The School of Athens” (Picture 10), work of 1509, is one of the most well-known frescoes around the world. It is a masterpiece both in terms of its conception and execution. Among the figures presented one may recognize Sodoma, Brabande, Leonardo, Michelangelo and other famous figures of the time. This is his best creation. In 1510 the “Cardinal’s Portrait” was created (Picture 10), which belongs to the Prado Museum in Madrid. The name of the figure illustrated remains unknown but this unofficial work is full of the social and existential dignity of the person depicted.

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Pic.10: Portrait of a Young Man                          La Disputa                                 The School of Athens                      Cardinal’s Portrait

The creation of the “Mary of the Duke of Alba” or “The Holy Mary of the Dawn” emerging from the morning light in the landscape (Picture 11) goes back to 1511. This is a well-wrought round painting – 95 cm in diameter – that is distinguished by its fluidity in its composition and an almost invisible circular rhythm. It belonged to Hermitage, but in 1930 a great number of masterpieces were secretly sold under the blessings of Stalin. Thus 21 pieces reached the hands of the American tycoon Andrew Mellon who in his turn offered them to Washington Museum. “Madonna Alba” was one of them. It is worth noting that the Russians needed the money in order to buy tractors! The portrait of Tomasso (Fedra) Inghirami (Picture 11) was made in 1511-12 and is situated in Palazzo Pitti. Here Raphael succeeded in incorporating a kind of internal energy in his work along with an ethical force while, at the same time, he was not dealing with a beautiful model: in fact the model suffered from strabismus. Surely, Inghirami being a great intellectual, deserved that. The postcard (Picture 11) presents the portrait of Pope Julius II, Raphael’s patron. The power of his personality can be seen along with some degree of fatigue. This painting (1.08×0.080 meters) enjoyed such a success that the Popes who followed demanded to be depicted in the same manner. The piece belongs to the London National Gallery. On the Gibraltar postage stamp (Picture 11), work of 1511-12, we may see “Madonna Folignio”. The commissioner is shown on his knees in the foreground. The work is renowned for its artistic landscape by Raphael.

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Pic.11: Madonna of the Duke of Alba          Tomasso (Fedra) Inghirami             Pope Julius II                  Madonna of Folignio

The great fresco of Galatia was made in 1512 (2.95×2.25cm – Picture 12) in the villa of Farnesina in Rome. Agostino Chiggi, a very rich banker, was the owner of the place. The sense of movement, beauty and sensuality that are part of this fresco point to the fact that Raphael’s art had no limits regardless of the theme, being it religious or mythical, as in our case. The Holy Mary is depicted as lively and beautiful in the Holy Mary of Saint Sistine of Dresden or, better known, as “Madonna Sistine” of 1513 ( 2.65×1.96 meters – Picture 12). It is almost certain that his lover, Fornarina, posed as a model for the Holy Mary. On the left, there is the face of Julius II replacing that of Saint Sistine. The angels (Picture 12) in the foreground are universally known as they have been used in various different decor including any other conceivable artwork such as tapestries and Christmas tissues. The round picture of Holy Mary of 1513-14 (Picture 12 – 71cm in diameter) with the armchair comes from Lesotho and is to be found in Palazzo Pitti. This a well-known work of art distinguished by its movement, tenderness and power of expression.

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Pic.12: Fresco “Galatia”         Madonna of the Chapel                              Angels of Madonna’s                          Madonna of the Armchair

In 1514, Raphael was appointed as the architect of Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome (Picture 13), as Brabande, who had offered so much to that artistic workshop had died (Picture 13). Baltassare Castiglione (Picture 13 – 0.82×0.67 cm), both an ambassador and an author, became one of the themes of Raphael in 1515. This is part of the Louvre Museum in Paris. Here the artist created an exceptional, psychological portrait. This painting is characterized by its simplicity along with its very expressive face revealing its inner world. The composition is full of serenity, culture and nobility. “La Velata” (Picture 13 – 0.82×0.60 cm), situated in Palazzo Pitti and painted in 1516, is a woman richly dressed and is allegedly the painter’s lover. The arrow that is covering her contributed to the very name of the painting. Raphael rendered her as an individual belonging to high society by stressing her delicate features.

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Pic.13: St. Peter and Bramante                                                     Baltassare Castiglione                             La Velata

In 1516, he also painted Cardinal Bernando Dovicci di Bibiena (Picture 14). He was a powerful man, who had a tendency towards a luxurious way of life including art and the authorship of comedies rather than religion. The new Pope, Leo X and Raphael’s patron was painted along with his nephews in 1518 (Picture 14). The painting belongs to Galleria Ufficci and measures 1.55×1.19 meters. It has a stately appearance with expensive material and objects interspersed within its magnificent figures. All three figures in the painting belong to the Medici family. The “Fornarina” of Palazzo Barberini (Picture 14), work of 1518-1519, shows Raphael’s lover, whom Chiggi had brought with him in his house (Farnesina-Galatia) so that the painter could spend some time with her, in order to help the artist finish his frescoes as there had already been a great delay due to his uncontrollable passion for her. His last work is the oblong “Transfiguration” (Picture 14 – 4.05×0.78 meters). This masterpiece of 1518-1520, which can be found in the Vatican, is full of movement along with warm and bright colors while it conveys the message of Resurrection through the light enveloping Christ. This painting was placed next to his coffin during his funeral, in 1520, at the age of only 38.

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Pic.14: Cardinal Bibiena                        Pope Leon X                             Fornarina                          The Transformation

For more than 500 years, his Madonnas, along with those of Leonardo, have become eternal prototypes of beauty and have exerted a great influence on other artists as they bordered on perfection. He did not get on well with Michelangelo, however, there was always mutual respect in terms of artistic recognition. Almost all Raphael’s works bear the names of their previous owners or their depicted themes. The names do help towards the recognition and differentiation among his Madonnas: Alba Colona Sixtina and so on.

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The Greek stamp dedicated to Aristotle

Postage stamps with Raphael have been issued by many countries around the globe with the exception of, mainly, Arabic ones. Only one postage stamp was dedicated to Raphael, in Greece, in 1978, without bearing his name on it! The stamp is actually dedicated to Aristotle!

The greatness of his name within the artistic pantheon is beyond dispute. He has left us with a wealth of extraordinary pieces, all done within his brief lifespan, escorted by his ingenious ideas that reveal themselves through his creations.

I hope you enjoy this artistic journey through philately. Rafael was one of the greatest artists of all times. The little paper stamps tribune him as much as they can. And they can do it … a lot!

KO for eCharta