Raphael & His Madonnas

High Italian Renaissance artist Raffaello Sanzi da Urbino, better known as Raphael, is usually remembered as someone who created art during the same time as Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. Much of his artworks focus on biblical stories/depictions. Others focused on classical mythology, portraiture, and more. Both these subjects, classical mythology and religion, are characteristic of humanism, a movement in the Renaissance era that emphasized education (particularly in Ancient History: Greek and Roman) and intelligence.

One of subject matters that Raphael painted is of Madonna, which are representations of the Holy Mary.

These five paintings are all similar in subject matter. They show Madonna either looking over or holding the infant Jesus and infant St. John the Baptist. St. John is almost always looking at Jesus except maybe in Madonna della Seggioalla where St. John might be looking Madonna. In some works St. John is even kneeling towards Jesus. This could show that John believes Christ is the Savior. So much so that when he grows up he preaches God’s word about the Messiah, and the Holy Spirit. And this belief guides him through life, later leading him to baptize Christ and becoming a Saint. St. John the Baptist was also a patron of Florence, and Raphael was from Italy and had a Florentine art influence.

In all five of these works Raphael presents a similar style. Mainly, he has a light, delicate style with soft tones and bright colors. This meaning that his figures are not rugid, or muscular, like one might see in Michelangelo’s art. But rather they show details that can cause a sense of admiration and appreciation for natural beauty.

Additionally, these art pieces are filled with symbolism. In three of these works, Madonna is seen wearing a red dress and blue cloak. The red is a foreshadow of the Christ’s blood during his passion, and the blue is representative of the church. This can be showing that with Mary Christ’s passion is connected to the church and the Catholic faith. Plus, in four paintings, St. John holds a mini cross. This could be a foreshadow for the cross being Christ’s death. In some images Jesus even accepts/takes the cross from St. John.

There are some differences in appearance. For instance, all of the backgrounds are presented differently. Four of these works have different landscape backgrounds, while Madonna della Seggiola has a black background. It is said that for his Madonna della Seggiola Raphael was influenced by Titian and Sebastiano del Piombo. He was also influenced by Roman art. In this work, Mary is also wearing a pink dress with a decorative green cloak over. Additionally, Madonna is looking at the viewer through this painting when in all other paintings she is looking at Jesus/St. John. In Alba Madonna Mary is wearing a pink dress, with a blue cloak.

Of course, these aren’t all of Raphael’s Madonna paintings, and this isn’t all the research that has been done on the five works (there’s more!). Even though this subject matter isn’t too difficult, Raphael demonstrates that he put a lot of thought into the way he wants to represents these works with extreme detail and symbolism. It’s absolutely beautiful!


Here are some links based on paintings that can provide more information if anyone’s interested: Alba Madonna, Madonna in the MeadowMadonna of the GoldfinchLa Belle Jardiniere, and Madonna della Seggiola.

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