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Raphael´s Sistine Virgin

Updated on August 18, 2011
the sistine madonna by Raphael.
the sistine madonna by Raphael.

The great renaissance master Raphael painted the Sistine Virgin or Madonna between 1513-1514. It was commissioned by the pope Julius II to be a main altar piece in the monastery´s church of San Sisto.

The man and the woman (left and right from the virgin) are two saints of the 3rd century ,Saint Sixtus, (a pope murdered just a year after being appointed) and Saint Barbara, (early Christian and martyr). The monastery´s church of San Sisto in Piacenza(North Italy) was the first home of this wonderful piece for nearly 250 years, until the impoverished monks sold it to August III of Poland and relocated it to Dresden(Germany).

I like the complexity of this painting, it mixes so many details that I feel that my eyes do not know where to focus. The virgin´s look is serious, almost detached of any trace of tenderness and the child´s eyes are wide open as it looking something daunting while showing a resistance smirk. There are many interpretations of this but the most convincing one is that mother and child are seeing the future, Christ´s brutal end on a cross. A crucifixion scene might had been hanging directly opposite to it during that time and that it is towards this , and not towards the congregation (viewers), that Saint Sixtus is pointing his right hand.

The curtains are a peculiar detail together with the cherubs(little angels) in the bottom. Curtains were usually added to complete an empty space and add depth. It has been proved that the two cherubs were added later in the composition, both look somehow fed up with all the holiness above them. It shows a scene of clouds, a background of dark cherubs and a green curtain attached by rings to a pole running across the top of the picture which give the impression of shabbiness. All the details, whether peculiar or not give to this piece of art a mesmerizing effect that will keep it as one of the most beautiful icons of European culture.


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    • LorenAyBe profile image

      LorenAyBe 6 years ago from Belgium

      thanks, every painting has a story behind it and I believe that small texts are easier to remember.

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 6 years ago from Nepal

      This short introduction on Raphael´s Sistine Virgin is very nice. You have given a brief history, good description and interpretation. Thanks for sharing.