Portrait of Young Woman with Unicorn by Raphael, oil on canvas applied to wood, c.1506
This lovely lady and her unicorn pal have a fun history. She’s been through numerous restorations, many of which are attempts to paint over alterations made to the original, and to cover up the poor quality of the previous restorations. Her restorations are so bad they need restorations.
Get this: in 1760, the subject of the painting was identified as Saint Catherine of Alexandria, as she held her attributed wheel instead of a unicorn, and was attributed to the artist Perugino. But a later restoration of the painting in 1936 revealed the work to be by Raphael, and the removal of the extensive overpainting exposed the wheel to be a unicorn, a medieval symbol of purity.
But wait! In 1959, even later restoration work revealed the unicorn to be a dog, another symbol of chastity and fidelity. The painting was intended to be a wedding gift to an engaged couple.
So to reiterate - a dog was painted over to become a unicorn which later became a St. Catherine’s wheel. Talk about changing tastes over time. As of today, the unicorn is the most well known version of this painting (and the cutest) so it remains in the painting despite Raphael never intending to be part of the work!
Art restoration, everybody.