Madonna and Child enthroned is an oil and gold on wood painting done by Raphael Sanzio, commonly known as Raphael, at approximately the year 1504-05. The painting was commissioned by a small Franciscan convent of Saint Antonio de Padova in Perugia and was intended to hang above the alter and help nuns in their worship. Alternatively known by the name of Raphaels patrons, the Colonna family, the work has two main sections; the first is the lunette at the top presenting three saints and balanced by the figures depicted in the main panel.
The entire scene gives the overwhelming impression of great joy in the birth of Jesus who is held by his mother on the main panels center. In this painting, Raphael uses colors that are vivid on both hue and tone while Madonna and child are depicted using bold strokes to show their magnificence. The collection of figures, Madonna and Child, plus the saints flanking them form a balanced and symmetrical composition.
Special emphasis is given to the figures in the lunette which is the half circle superimposed over the main panel. The three figures fill the space without crowding it or seeming out of perspective. Additionally, the extensive use of gold decoration on the panels and architectural frames surrounding them which in the renaissance period, served to signify their divinity.
The lighting in the painting comes from the landscape behind the main panel. This serves to draw the audiences eye directly towards the Madonnas figure on the throne. Additionally, the use of black robes rather than the usual blue may also be seen as drawing attention to Madonna and the Saints.
Madonna and the child Christ are the central figures in the painting which is evident from their larger than normal size in paintings of this size. Their clothing and arrangement is also atypical of religious art at the time. The red gown worn by the Madonna symbolizes the passion for Christ while the blue mantle shows her position as the Queen of heaven and the Catholic church.
The central figures are flanked by four other peripheral figures namely St. Paul, St. Catherine of Alexandria, St. Helen, and St. Peter. The saint Peter and Paul were both apostles while Saints Catherine and Helen were both of royal birth. St. Helen is credited with having discovered Jesuss cross while St. Catherine carries the symbol of Christian Martyrs. At the Madonnas feet is a fully clothed John the Baptist which was a rare depiction at the time. All of these peripheral figures serve to emphasize the royalty of Jesus and his mother as the Saints and John the Baptist celebrate his birth.
An additional factor to note about this painting is the extensive use of bold colors such as black and gold. This is especially evident in the depiction of the male saints where Raphael extensively uses gold, red, and black which are indicative of his future style. While the figures all have grave faces, an element from Da Vincis works, the colors may suggest that Raphael is compensating for the relatively conservative nature of the painting with bold colors. The use of bold colors also reminds the viewer of how the interdependence of form and content serve to emphasize the divine imagery present in the painting which was a major concern for the nuns commissioning the painting.
Part II: Renaissance Elements in Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints
In the renaissance period following the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi, artists began putting elements of religion into their art as religion was perceived to be an intense personal experience. This perspective was shared by both secular and religious thinkers who advocated on the importance of personal experience and intuition in seeking both natural and divine knowledge. This view contributed to a view of the world termed as humanism which was an emphasis on putting the human person at the center of things. Therefore, Madonna and Child Enthroned wit saints aims to present a human view of biblical events.
The Madonna with child enthroned also has its place in the historical cultural context of the renaissance. The Madonna on the throne plus the circling saints have a bland boneless, beauty. Baby Jesus in the painting is depicted as elaborately clothed lest his nudity shock the nuns residing in the convent. The renaissance dignity is also visible in the overall design of the painting. The thrones stairs seem of a piece with the horizontal frame below them thus seeming to build upon the architecture of the convent in which it would reside. Rather than occupying side panels as had been the norm in the past, two male saints are depicted entering the central panel as part of one cohesive scene.
The main group of figures also carries much of the force associated with the thrones circular canopy. Raphael plays the circles depths against the pyramid formed by the central figures each contributing to the Madonnas majesty by focusing on the paintings vertical axis. The circle is completed by the male saints followed by the female saints and the thrones canopy. Additionally, the womens head and their respective instruments of martyrdom are in strict parallel formation. This focus on the detail was a renaissance form to create structure and grandeur.
At the time of its commissioning, Raphael was still in the early stages of his career and he relied extensively on works from other famous artists of the era such as Fra Bartolomeo in France and Leonardo da Vinci. The grave male saints are reminiscent of Da Vincis works with their fierce eyes, thickset bodies, and weighty robes. God and his angels above also echo the flamboyant colors utilized in the painting. Another element used to convey significance in the renaissance era is the use of movement which Raphael accomplishes by having the angels flying upward fluidly.
In the Madonna and Child enthroned with Saints, Raphael manages to achieve cohesion through strict adherence to form and geometry to achieve a cohesive scene with intense symbolism while also showing heavy influences from his cultural and social background. The use of bold colors on the robes of the saints and Madonna serves to highlight their royalty status while Marys placement on the throne shows the Catholic belief of her as the Queen of heaven. The painting is predicated on the concept of humanism where biblical events are depicted as having a human church which would serve to make the events depicted resonate with their viewers. Additionally, the architectural depiction with the pillars behinds the saints back and the throne are all reminiscent of the high renaissance period.
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