Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Sistine Madonna

Title: The Sistine Madonna
Artist: Raphael
Medium: Oil on canvas
Size: 265 × 196 cm
Date: c. 1514
Location: Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden.

The canvas with the Virgin, Child and Saints Sixtus and Barbara, usually called the Sistine Madonna, is characterized by an imaginary space created by the figures themselves. The figures stand on a bed of clouds, framed by heavy curtains which open to either side. The Madonna appears as if from behind the curtains, confident and yet hesitant, and actually appears to descend from a heavenly space, through the picture plane, out into the real space in which the painting is hung. This is seen by the active focal point being at the Madonna's knee.

The gesture of St. Sixtus and the glance of St. Barbara seem to be directed toward the faithful, whom we imagine beyond the balustrade at the bottom of the painting. The Papal tiara, which rests on top of this balustrade, act as a bridge between the real and pictorial space. The painting was probably intended to decorate the tomb of Pope Julius II since the holy pope Sixtus was the patron saint of the Della Rovere family, and St Barbara and the two winged 'genii' (visible at the bottom of the picture space) symbolize the funeral ceremony. The canvas was located in the convent of St. Sixtus in Piacenza and was later donated by the monks to Augustus III, King of Saxony.

Raphael Sanzio (Italian: Raffaello; 1483 – April 6, 1520) usually known by his first name alone, was an Italian painter and architect of the High Renaissance, celebrated for the perfection and grace of his paintings and drawings. Raphael was enormously productive, running an unusually large workshop, and despite his death at thirty-seven, a large body of his work remains. Many of his works are found in the Apostolic Palace of The Vatican, where the frescoed Raphael Rooms were the central, and the largest, work of his career.

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