Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio) (1483-1520)
Portrait of a Young Man (1513/14)
oil on panel, 29.53 x 23.23 in. (75 x 59 cm)
Raphael’s Portrait of a Young Man (1513/14) was purchased by Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski from the Giustiniani collection sometime between 1799-1801, when he was serving as the Russian ambassador to King Charles Emmanuel IV of Sardinia. His work allowed him to travel extensively throughout Europe, and on these travels, he acquired several masterpieces including Leonardo da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine (c.1489–1490), also from the Giustiniani collection. The intended recipient of these works was his mother, Princess Izabela Czartoryska. She had begun a collection of works of art at the family’s residence in Puławy, Poland.
Originally housed in the Temple of the Sibyl, her collection grew large enough that foreign works were displayed in the nearby Gothic House. It was here that Raphael’s Portrait, along with Da Vinci’s Lady, and Rembrandt’s Landscape with the Good Samaritan, the prized and most valuable works of the Czartoryski collection referred to as the Great Three, were displayed. Including the thousands of valuable manuscripts, graphic works, and archival materials, Izabela’s collection totaled some sixteen thousand Polish works and over twenty-two thousand foreign works.
In the next century, Portrait of a Young Man was constantly on the move, either due to political or financial turmoil. Due to the family’s political position, it was stored for safekeeping in a basement and transported several times during the November Uprising, only narrowly avoiding Tsarist forces. It then was taken to the Czartoryski palace in Sieniawa, where it languished in an annex before being shipped to Paris to Prince Adam, who had fled an arrest warrant issued by the Tsar and purchased the Hôtel Lambert as his new residence. Due to financial difficulties, the prince unsuccessfully attempted to sell the Raphael painting while residing in Paris. After his death in 1861, the collection was inherited by the family’s new patriarch and heir, Władysław Czartoryski, who relocated it to the new Princes Czartoryski Museum in Cracow. The Great Three joined the other works in 1882 and resided in the museum for the next three decades.
The twentieth century only brought further chaos to the Czartoryski collection. With the outbreak of World War I, it was deemed responsible for the collection’s most valuable pieces to be lent to the Dresden Gemäldegalerie for safekeeping. After the war, the director of the Gemäldegalerie, Prof. Dr. Hans Posse—who would become Hitler’s special envoy for the Special Commission Linz (Sonderauftrag Linz)—tried unsuccessfully to keep the collection in Germany. The paintings returned to Cracow by the early 1920s.
With World War II looming in 1939, it was again decided to move the collection for safekeeping, this time to the Czartoryski palace in Sieniawa—the Great Three were hidden in the same annex as they had one hundred years earlier. German forces reached the palace on the September 15, 1939, and three days later it was reported that the annex had been looted. The Raphael was not among the stolen works but was instead transported with the remaining portion of the collection from Sieniawa to the palace of Witold Czartoryski in Pełkinie. From there it was seized by the Gestapo and taken to Jarosław and to the Special Delegate for the Securing of Artistic Treasures in the Former Polish Territories, Austrian art historian and SS officer Dr. Kajetan Mühlmann. The paintings were briefly kept there before being moved to the Jagiellonian Library in Krakow.
By November 1939, the Great Three had likely already made their way to Berlin as post-war interrogations revealed that the works were stored in Mühlmann’s Berlin office. Rumors began to circulate that Mühlmann’s office had been destroyed following an Allied air raid and the works stored within lost to fire. However, the paintings escaped destruction once again, having been moved to the Kaiser Friedrich Museum and then to a safety deposit box at Deutsche Bank on Unter den Linden 27.
The almost inexplicable number of times Portrait of a Young Man was moved can only be understood through the complicated and complex dealings of agents for Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring and Adolf Hitler. The former wanted the Great Three for his personal art collection in Carinhall, while the latter coveted them for the planned Führermuseum in Linz, Austria. This battle was fought through intermediaries; Mühlmann acting as agent for Göring, and Posse on the behalf of Hitler. It was Posse’s actions that ultimately prevailed to a certain extent, at least in keeping the works from Göring. He arranged for the paintings to return to Poland to be deposited with the Governor-General of Poland, Dr. Hans Frank, most likely to further keep the Great Three from Göring.
Yet another player who wanted the painting for themselves, Frank had plans to install the Great Three in his various residences. By mid-1943 the three paintings were together again in Poland, but only for a couple of months. By March 1944, the Red Army was closing in. Frank evacuated the collections in Cracow to the palace of Manfred von Richthofen in Sichów, then to the palace of Hans Christoph and Herta von Wietersheim-Kramsta in Morawa. The collection arrived in Morawa on January 20, 1945. When orders came for the General Government officials to evacuate Lower Silesia, Frank left the care of the collection to local occupying authorities, apart from twenty paintings he took with him to Bavaria. These included Lady with an Ermine and Landscape with the Good Samaritan, but not Portrait of a Young Man due to its large size. Four days later, trucks arrived to transport the remaining works to Germany, but according to later testimony, the Raphael painting was never on that transport. Post-war archival sources and testimonies from 1946 indicate that Portrait of a Young Man must have disappeared while stored in Lower Silesia, as it never reached Germany in either of the two transports from Morawa.
Raphael’s Portrait of a Young Man was a top priority for the Monuments Men and Women, and the investigation has been on-going since 1945. Prof. Karol Estreicher, Jr., the official Polish Liaison Officer for Restitution in the American Zone of Occupation, worked tirelessly to find the missing painting, but to no avail. The Czartoryski family also searched for their lost works. Stefan Zamoyski, the husband of Elżbieta Czartoryska, spent nearly two decades interviewing individuals and reviewing archival materials. He eventually agreed to the monetary compensation offered by the German Federal Republic for the painting, but never saw the money.
Portrait of a Young Man has not been seen since 1945 and is widely considered the most important work of art still missing since World War II.