It is considered the jewel of the collection: Raphael’s 1508 Esterhazy Madonna, named after the Hungarian prince who sold it to the state in 1872.

Although incomplete it is an extremely valuable painting– because of the greatness of the artist and the rare insights into his compositional skills. According to experts it is a mature composition of an accomplished master, capable of realising his aims completely. Here we can view Raphael’s work in progress, especially when compared with an earlier version, The Madonna of the Meadow, in Vienna’s Museum of Art History.

But in November 1983 Budapest’s small-scale masterpiece took some unexpected detours.
It was among seven Italian masterpieces stolen. Although the lost treasure included another Raphael, a Tintoretto, a Giorgioni, and two Tiepolos, the Esterhazy Madonna was considered the star in that lost constellation.

Three weeks later the ornamental inner mounting of the Madonna’s frame and its stretcher were discovered in a jute bag in the Danube River. After an anonymous tip in January 1984 Interpol recovered the Madonna and five of the paintings in a suitcase, dropped in the garden of a Greek monastery 100 miles west of Athens, Greece. The museum’s curator personally traveled to Athens to retrieve the cache and restore them to their rightful place.

Like this painting my incomplete life has had its share of unexpected detours. Yet in God’s eyes I am still considered ’His workmanship.’ What a strange and fascinating concept—to think that I am valuable (not in my own right) but because of the greatness of the master who created me. It reminds me of the saying, ’Please be patient. God is not finished with me yet!’

From childhood I wanted to know and please God, but as a young adult I went my own way and ignored God. I lived only to please myself and thought I had really accomplished something. I had exciting, well-paid jobs – working first as a court stenographer, then legal secretary to a Senator, and in the early 1970’s landed a job as an undercover agent for the State of Virgina. I was the first woman in the country to hold that position, given police authority and a gun. However, when my oldest brother died suddenly in a car crash I began questioning the meaning of life. What was my life really for? Was there life after death? What shape should my future take?

By reading the Bible I gradually learned that God has plans and a purpose for my life far better than anything I could have envisioned. The Divine Designer will one day make all things new in Christ Jesus, including me and all my flaws. He loves to redeem and restore his creations, returning them to their rightful place. He gives our lives true perspective and puts us back in the frame. For after all, God is in the restoration business.

Budapest, Hungary