Raffael - Madonna della Seggiola

by Alexandra Tuschka


Mary, tender and young and beautiful, holds her son Jesus gently and protectively in her arms. On the right, John the Baptist has accompanied both into the picture and looks devoutly over. It is one of Raphael's earlier works and is reminiscent of his major work, the Sistine Madonna, in its pictorial theme and coloring, as well as its sensitive depiction. This scene, however, is inserted into a circular composition, and the scene seems more intimate; almost as if the viewer is intruding into the pictorial space, from which Mary is trying to protect her child. While Mary and John have delicate halos, Raphael painted Jesus with rays reminiscent of the typecasting of Moses. The addition of "Seggiola" comes from the Italian. "The chair", which had a name-giving effect here, is found over-corner in the background. This is not just any chair, but an armchair finished with gilded wood with a back of brocade of purple and gold. The golden knob in front frames the seated and reinforces the internal cohesiveness of the group. 

This painting was a fresco on the wall of a house in Urbino. Raphael himself lost his mother at the tender age of 8. His depictions of the Madonna may express his own longing for these protective arms. Jesus is well-fed here. His arm rests heavily on his mother's - both form a diagonal. Otherwise, the child is arranged on the central axis, his elbow protrudes from the center of the circle and is emphasized by the lighting. The moving little feet testify to a child's urge to move. Madonna is not seen here in the typical Madonna colors (blue and red), but has oriental-looking clothing on. John, on the other hand, is easily recognizable by the attributes cane cross and fur robe. He is seen here in a gesture of full devotion. 


An anecdote should be added: a tradition tells that Raphael painted the picture as payment for a night of drinking in the inn on a barrel. It is more likely, however, that in the spirit of the Tuscan Renaissance, he wanted to demonstrate his skill by choosing a tondo. 


Raphael - Madonna della Seggiola

Oil on canvas, 1513, 71 x 71 cm, Palazzo Pitti in Florence