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The Renaissance Master Raphael and His Painting Sistine Madonna


From the moment "painting" began, we find that it has not existed as an isolated entity: ancient cave paintings may have been props for witchcraft, medieval manuscript illustrations substituted for text to propagate the teachings of Christ, and in any case, the work itself generally had an obvious practical purpose. However, painting differs from words and music primarily because it needs to be appreciated and experienced by the human eyes.

A successful painting always brings enjoyment and unforgettable stimulation to the human eyes. In Italy in the 15th and 16th centuries, the appreciative function of painting was rediscovered from the stylized and diagrammatic images of the Middle Ages, and it became brilliant. One of the most prominent performances was that the depiction of the beautiful Madonna became a popular theme.

Although he painted the magnificent The School of Athens, Raphael was more known for his sweet female figures, which may be more in keeping with his natural elegance. He would often wander the streets to pay attention to the faces that came and went, recording their most beautiful foreheads, eyebrows, eyes, and corners of their mouths.

From the 15th century onwards, Italians became obsessed with how to make themselves look more beautiful, and this was most vividly reflected in the fervent tendency of women of all classes to use all kinds of clothing, as well as wigs, beauty lotions, ointment, powder, perfume and other cosmetics to decorate themselves, making them closer to "perfection".

However, Raphael needed more than superficial things. He wanted to make beautiful things purer, as natural beauty itself is enough to impress the heart. He tried to combine parts of beauty in extreme harmony. This harmony and tranquility obtained through continuous efforts of exploration has a special effect, which makes the viewer's heart become tranquil and indulge in that natural and unadulterated beauty, and introduces our imagination to an ideal world that is beyond the reach of the reality.

The Sistine Madonna

1513/ Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden, Germany

Sistine Madonna, as shown above, is one of Raphael's most outstanding works of the Virgin, and it was originally an altarpiece, a dedication from Pope Julius II to a convent for women in the Sistine Chapel.

Today, the work is in a museum in Germany, and although it has lost its former setting, its own sacred charm is irresistible. The museum staff has placed it in a separate hall, and anyone who enters will be silent. These life-size figures must give them a sense of heaven.

The painting is like a stage, and when the curtain is drawn, the Virgin comes with the Holy Child in her arms and her feet on the clouds. The red color of the dress symbolizes that she is a member of the "Holy Family", and the dark blue color of the cloak means that she is the holiest woman on earth, and these two colors are the representative colors of her.

The Sistine Madonna-detail

The male elder on the left of the curtain, wearing a golden robe, is the founder of the Sistine Chapel, Saint Sixtus, who takes off his papal crown and reverently awaits the arrival of the Blessed Virgin and Child. The young woman on the right is Saint Barbara, a devotee of the Virgin, who respectfully turns around and cups her hands to her chest. Their posture creates the visual impression that the Virgin is entering the church space from heaven. Raphael made appropriate use of the most effective shortened perspective of the era.

The Sistine Madonna-detail

Look how much depth is left between the tips of the Pope's fingers and the Virgin's dress. At the bottom of the painting is a dark balustrade, which is the entrance to the church, the boundary between the virtual and the real, on which the Pope has placed his crown. The two little angels on the balustrade are looking up with wide eyes at the coming of the Virgin. A child's heart leaps out of the painting, and their image has been individually printed many times as a best-selling postcard.

This painting is a perfect balance of beauty and sanctity, adoration and veneration, showing Raphael's characteristic harmony, roundness, elegance and brightness, but also a lingering sadness. The Holy Child is nestled in the arms of his mother, who is not yet aware of his future fate, but is already showing a hint of fear.

The Sistine Madonna-detail

The Virgin's expression was also conflicted, knowing that the child did not only belong to her, and that he had been chosen by God to save the suffering world through the sacrifice of the cross. Although unable to suppress her inner sorrow, she came to deliver her only beloved son to earth. The poet Dante once sang the following hymn to the Queen of Heaven on earth, which is still appropriate here: She walks, listening to the praise that overflows all around her, radiating the gentle light of well-being, as if she were a heavenly spirit, appearing in the earthly soil in disguise.

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