Research Centre for Museums and Galleries (RCMG)

The Madonna of the pinks

RCMG was commissioned by the National Gallery to carry out a long-term evaluation of the impact of Raphael’s Madonna of the Pinks on the perceptions, feeling and attitudes of young people who, while being unfamiliar with art galleries, had the opportunity for sustained engagement with the painting.  Through a series of case studies, the evaluation investigates the short-term and long-term impact of engagement with the painting for the participants of workshops at the National Gallery in London, the National Museum and Gallery of Wales in Cardiff, and The Bowes Museum at Barnard Castle, County Durham.


In 2004, the National Gallery purchased Raphael’s Madonna of the Pinks with the aid of £11.5m from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). For some, this was a controversial use of HLF funds, and HLF was concerned that the grant should be seen to be put to good use. For the National Gallery, this meant that the Madonna of the Pinks should be seen by more than the visitors to the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, and by more than traditional gallery visitors. A link to the government social inclusion agenda was also desired. In order to respond to these imperatives, a national tour was devised for the painting. Venues included Manchester Art Gallery, the National Museum and Gallery, Cathays Park, Cardiff, The National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh and Bowes Museum, County Durham.

Aims and objectives

RCMG was commissioned to carry out a three-year evaluation of the impact of Madonna of the Pinks on young people, focusing as far as possible on the perceptions, feelings and attitudes of young people who, while being unfamiliar with art galleries, had the opportunity for sustained engagement with the painting. The major research question was:

  • ‘What do young people gain from engagement with paintings, using the Madonna of the Pinks as a specific example?’ 

Key findings

This is an important study because it presents evidence of learning outcomes from different kinds of users in relation to a single painting, from those that are able to respond from a position of having the experience and confidence of using art galleries and those that do not. The research shows that age, ability and previous knowledge of art are not pre-requisites for engaging with paintings like Madonna of the Pinks. The experiences of the young people involved in the workshops were enjoyable, thought-provoking, in many cases enabling self-reflection and considerable skills to be developed. The research also raises many pertinent issues about learning, teaching and the research process itself.


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