Raphael - The Sistine Madonna

by Anne Mrosowksi

The "Sistine Madonna" is considered one of the most popular works in the history of art. In 1512, the Sistina was painted by Raphael as an altarpiece for the monastery church in San Sisto. At the request of August III, the work was finally transferred to Dresden in the 18th century and is considered probably the most central work in the Old Picture Gallery of the state capital. Perfectly composed in the sense of the golden section, Mary confronts us as an epiphany, as an incarnate appearance in full human form and size. The state between a floating and a forward striding movement underlines her divine sublimity. Mary wears a simple robe in traditional colors. By wrapping her veil around her child, the close bond between the two is expressed. Her forward direction of gaze draws the viewer into the action. In the left margin of the picture one sees Saint Sixtus, patron saint and eponym of the church in San Sisto. As an attribute Raphael placed the papal crown at his side. With his right hand he points out of the picture to the monks living in San Sisto. Saint Barabara on the right of the picture is also considered a patron saint. Her gesture and introspective gaze symbolize a lively inwardness. Raphael chooses a small-scale color scheme to soften the closed figure. The bringing together of the uplifted Mother Mary with the boy Jesus in the presence of saints is called "sacra conversazione". However, a communication, as this designation suggests, does not have to take place.


In the front background of the picture the worldwide famous and often quoted angels are depicted. By their childlike, human representation they symbolize the threshold to the earthly world and build another bridge to the viewer. The angels were subsequently added to the picture by Raphael, when he realized during the painting process that he was missing a compositional focal point in the lower edge of the picture.


With the Sistine and the juxtaposition of earthly and heavenly elements, Raphael succeeded in creating a sensually comprehensible altarpiece that represented the first step towards a completely new staging of the transfiguration of Christ.


Raphael - The Sistine Madonna

Oil on canvas, 1512/1513, 256 x 196 cm, Old Masters Picture Gallery in Dresden

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