Madonna and Child with Book, c. 1502-03
Raffaello Sanzio also called Raphael
Italian, 1483-1520Oil on panel21-3/4 x 15-3/4 in. (55.2 x 40 cm)Norton Simon Art FoundationM.1972.2.P
This painting by Raphael is probably one of the best known icons of the Italian Renaissance, and brings together several of the artist’s characteristics. Raphael’s work is singularly well known both for its considerable clarity of form as well as the ease with that the composition of his paintings are viewed. The painting’s title is Madonna with Child and Book and was completed in around 1503 for Pope Julius II and was initially located in the Sistine Chapel in Rome.
History of the painting:
Before he arrived in Florence, Raphael had several occasions to compose some devotional icons of the Madonna and Child that were on a smaller scale than this great work. He studied the theme of the Madonna holding a book in several examples that were completed between 1502 to 1504. Amongst these one can identify the Solly Madonna that is found in Berline, the Conestabile Madonna that is currently in St Petersburg and this Madonna and Child in the Norton Simon Museum in California.
We can observe that the Madonna is holding the Child with beautiful tenderness. What is immediately striking is that both figures are reading the book of hours that is coincidentally lying open at the Book of the Nones, this is the ninth hour after dawn in the day of the Church. This is supposedly the hour at that the Virgin Mary conceived the Christ child and it is also the hour when he died on the cross. The painting seems to convey a sense of impending doom at what is to come, but there is also a sense of acceptance on the future with an atmosphere of meditation.
Description of the painting:
The painting is very balanced, and the figures are also serene and natural. The composition includes some very calm colours with the blue and red shades prominent. The geometry of the painting is in the pyramidal shape with the Madonna and the Child appearing in what is termed as an idealized form. A point of particular interest is the deep blue arch where the Madonna’s own silhouette completely encloses the child’s figure and also surrounds the book. A careful examination of the book reveals that it has an inscription that effectively introduces the Ninth Hour of the Canonical Office – this is usually recited on a daily basis by all monastic communities. These Nones are effectively a commemoration of the Crucifixtion of Christ and his death. The expression of the child is also particular in that it is turned towards the sky in almost ecstatic gaze towards heaven. Raphael seems to express a spiritually deep piece that also affords the viewer an opportunity to meditate. One is also impressed with the colouring of the Christ’s flesh that is strikingly real and beautiful.
The background of the painting seems to be set in Florence with the River Po or an idealistic setting adding to the mystic nature of the piece. The Madonna has a beautiful expression on her face that is almost saintly, the care and affection that she is showing towards her child is almost sacred.
The space is also treated in a highly original manner with the Madonna and Child occupying at least three quarters of the painting’s area. There is a three dimensional aspect to the figures that come across as extremely striking and powerful. Raphael was well known for his Madonnas and in this particular painting; one can see why he was in such high demand.
Analysis of the painting:
Raphael was regarded as an astonishing virtuoso, even by his contemporaries of the time. Born in 1452, he was at work long before Michelangelo and Raphael who are considered to be the two other great masters of High Renaissance Art. One of Raphael’s famous work pieces of art during renaissance period was the Madonna of the Carnation. Jesus is reaching out awkwardly for the flower held delicately in Mary's fingers. Like all infants, he looks yet unable to control his movements as he attempts to grasp the symbol of Passion.
The lines in this piece display the birth of a man and how his life will be accepted on earth and in the spirit realm. It symbolizes the nature of man, who embodies the spiritual and the historical significance.
Colors tend to connote harmony as we can see red, blue and yellow colors represent cool, and warm that creates a sense of intense vividness. The choice of pigments not only leaps from the canvas, but captures the attention of the viewer and tells a story with the vivid colors used.
Conversely Raphael didn’t have a lot of space between the mother and the child that shows how the baby is attached to his mother, also by the mother showing the book to the child. The piece also suggests that the mother is teaching the baby how to touch, feel and to use a different form of visual perception. The painting not only brings a sense of security, it also portrays Mary as being nurturing and reassuring.
The value part that linked the two figures is the cruciform petals, Mary holds delicately between her fingers and that Jesus, with grave features, stretches out to grasp. Both the gaze and the arms of the Child are directed towards the flower, a symbol of the Passion, as if He is aware of the drama of his destiny.
The form and texture of Raphael’s art piece smooth, religious and calm. We don’t need to touch the paint to know its surface is hard, smooth, and polished. Texture is a powerful art element because it can quickly evoke memories and emotions. But then, form displayed the feelings of mystery and intrigue the piece arouses. The child’s figure is also quite detailed with the masculine features particularly prominent.
Comparison with Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci
The representation has been differently portrayed as the best known painting on the planet. It is thought to be a representation of the wife of Francesco del Giocondo who was Lisa Gherardini. It is accepted to have been painted between 1503 and 1506 and was obtained by the French Republic – it is forever on showcase at the well-known Louvre Museum in Paris. The painting has an extraordinary outflow of thin magnificence yet is additionally definite in the way that the eyes demonstrate a puncturing sort of straightforwardness and sexiness. There has been theory that the lady was in adoration with Leonardo Da Vinci despite the fact that he was supposedly gay person.
The specialists set the figure in a pyramid plan whilst the light plays around in rather special circumstances with a specific focus all over and hands. She is depicted comparably to the ordinary Madonnas who were depicted at the time and on occasion; one just about errors her as being so. There is likewise an impression of a separation between the subject and the individuals who watch her. She is additionally set in a fanciful scene that was an alternate and strikingly unique characteristic for the time. There is additionally a feeling of enchantment in the outflow of the subject since she is apparently respecting the onlooker to a quiet correspondence. Different craftsmen were likewise extraordinarily affected by this work particularly Raphael in his depiction of Baldassare Castiglione that is additionally found at the Louvre.
Although Raphael was probably influenced by Leonardo da Vinci in his painting of the Madonna and Child, there are several characteristics that strengthen the painting’s attributes. First and foremost there is the three dimensional aspect of the painting that is very unique and original for its time. Secondly, there is an aspect of storytelling since the fact that the book is open on a particular page seems to add to its mystic allure. Thirdly, it is also a meditation piece since the viewer is made to reflect on what the fate for the Christ is – crucifixion on the cross.
Raphael’s painting is a great one and is full of symbolism. It personifies the perfection of the Madonna and the Child and introduces new and innovative techniques such as the reference to the prayer book which is set at the Ninth Hour. The colour scheme that is used is also very effective with the blue and red shades particularly prominent.
Farago, Claire J. (1999). Leonardo's projects, c. 1500–1519. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-0-8153-2935-0. Retrieved 10 October 2010.
Blunt, Anthony, Artistic Theory in Italy, 1450-1660, 1940 (refs to 1985 edn), OUP, ISBN 0-19-881050-4
Gould, Cecil, The Sixteenth Century Italian Schools, National Gallery Catalogues, London 1975, ISBN 0-947645-22-5
Roger Jones and Nicholas Penny, Raphael, Yale, 1983, ISBN 0-300-03061-4
Landau, David in:David Landau & Peter Parshall, The Renaissance Print, Yale, 1996, ISBN 0-300-06883-2