Oil painting on panel; Size: 85x60cm; Galleria Nazionale di Arte Arnica, Rome.
The painting is a portrait of Raphael's mistress, whom he also portrayed in La Donna Velata in Palazzo Pitti, Florence, and who can be recognized in other works by the famous artist. The woman has been tentatively identified as Margherita Luti, the daughter of a baker in the Santa Dorotea quarter of Rome called Francesco Senese (fornarina means something like "baker's little girl"). The work became very well-known in the Romantic era, when there was keen interest in the love affair between the great painter and the working-class girl who, according to the pseudo-historical reconstructions of the 19th century, entered the convent of Sant'Apollonia following the death of her lover. It is one of Raphael's last paintings, datable to the year of his death, 1520 or a little earlier. Doubts have been raised about whether the painting is entirely his work and it has been suggested that Raphael's most gifted pupil, Giulio Romano, made a decisive contribution to the work after his master's death. But the recent restoration has shown that the final layers of glaze were never completed, and so it is likely that it was left in its present state by Raphael himself. Originally the background did not consist of a bush of myrtle, a plant sacred to Venus, but of a landscape fading into the distance. The canvas bears Raphael's signature on the bracelet around the Fornarina's left arm.