The Marriage of the Virgin by Raphael

The Marriage of the Virgin by Raphael

Raphael Artworks

This painting shows the marriage between Mary and Joseph. As Joseph places the ring on Mary's finger, one of the two disappointed competing suitors is shown breaking his staff. Joseph's staff however is flowering, symbolizing the belief that all suitors carried wooden staffs, yet only the chosen groom's would bloom. A temple is seen in the background, created in the style of the architect Bramante. The use of vibrant colors and the emotional expressions of the figures add a graceful demeanor to the painting, which emanates a sense of the divine blessing of the scene rather than a mere happy temporal celebration.

Also known as Lo Sposalizio, The Marriage of the Virgin was commissioned by the Albizzini family for the chapel of St. Joseph in the Franciscan church of San Francesco of the Minorities at Città di Castello. The painting was inspired by a panel painted by Raphael's early teacher Perugino of The Marriage of the Holy Virgin and also, his famous fresco of Christ Delivering the Keys to St Peter's. The painting differs from Perugino's treatment though by its use of a more circular composition rather than a horizontal depiction, which was more commonly used in paintings of this period.

This painting represents a key point in the development of Raphael as a painter fusing the artistic style of his master Perugino with his own emerging confidence. We see him begin to integrate his own style with composition, perspective, and the daring use of bright tonal colors, all of which would define his later works.

Importantly too, this painting shows the confidence Raphael now had of proclaiming himself as a painter as it is one of the earliest of his signed works. It also shows his mastery of techniques that were being introduced during the Renaissance such as three-point perspective as we see the figures diminish in proportion as they recede into the painting, and the pavement, which leads us to the temple.

Oil on panel - Pinacteca di Brera, Milan

Disputation of the Holy Sacrament

This fresco in the Stanza della Segnatura, one of the four Raphael Rooms in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican, is one of four paintings in the room which depict separately: philosophy, poetry, theology, and law. The Disputation of the Holy Sacrament represents theology and shows the occupants of a Catholic Church underneath the span of heaven above their sacred altar. The fresco represents Christianity's victory over Philosophy, which is depicted in The School of Athens, the fresco on the opposite wall.

In heaven we see Christ in the center with the Virgin Mary on his right and John the Baptist on his left. God the Father is shown reigning over heaven above Jesus, with Adam to his left, and Jacob to his right. Moses is seen holding the tablets with the ten commandments, and the Holy Spirit is shown at the feet of Jesus. On either side of the Holy Spirit are the four gospels held by cherubs.

On earth are theologians. The original four Doctors of the Church, a title given to Saint Augustine, Pope Gregory I, Saint Jerome, and Saint Ambrose, named in their halos, are seen debating the Transubstantiation the miraculous conversion of the Eucharistic elements at their consecration into the body and blood of Christ in the earthly form of bread and wine. St Augustine and St Ambrose are seated to the right of the altar and Pope Gregory I and St Jerome to the left. Also present are Pope Julius II, Pope Sixtus IV, Savonarola, and Dante. All together this fresco depicts over 100 figures. In Raphael's rendition The Disputation takes on more than a depiction of the Eucharist. Instead, it becomes a dynamic search by theologians for the truth embodied in the mystery of the Eucharist.

This fresco, painted when Raphael was only 27 years old, represents his first significant commission to redecorate what were to become Pope Julius II's private apartments. Unfortunately, it involved painting over frescos by other important Renaissance painters including Piero della Francesca and Raphael's teacher Perugino. The Stanza della Segnatura was used by Julius II as a library and private office and takes its name from its use later in the sixteenth century as the highest court of the Holy See presided over by the pontiff Segnatura Gratiae et ilustitiae.

Raphael won the commission to paint the four rooms in direct competition with both Michelangelo, who was at the time working on the Sistine Chapel, and Leonardo da Vinci. This is said to have incensed Michelangelo who would later accuse Raphael of plagiarism, spreading rumors that Raphael had stolen into the Sistine Chapel to have a sneak preview of Michelangelo's work. The source of the animosity was however probably no more than that of competition between two extremely talented professionals vying for the favor of the same client.

Fresco - Apostolic Palace, Vatican City, Rome

The School of Athens

This fresco, also in the Stanza della Segnatura, is on the wall opposite the fresco showing The Disputation of the Holy Sacrament.

Although called The School of Athens, the title refers to philosophers from the classical world rather than any particular school of philosophy. The gestures of the philosophers depicted in the fresco have been subject to considerable academic interpretation and debate, however it is not clear how much of their philosophy Raphael would have been familiar with. What is important is the way in which Raphael has gathered all the most famous of the classical philosophers within a marvellous Renaissance building, the architecture of which points to Bramante's designs for the new St Peter's Basilica. Many of the philosophers are recognizable through their iconography, which would have been widely understood at the time and are drawn from busts recovered from archaeological excavations. We see Plato (said to be a portrait of Leonardo painted in homage) and Aristotle in the center carrying their well-known works Timeus and Ethics respectively. Also identifiable are Pythagoras in the foreground, Euclid on the right, Zoroaster holding the heavenly sphere, Ptolemy holding the earthly sphere, and Diogenes on the stairs holding a dish. The scholar leaning over Pythagoras is said to be that of the Arab philosopher Averroes who is credited with bringing the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle to the West.

Legend has it that Raphael poked an artistic dig at his great rival Michelangelo by painting his portrait as the face of the Philosopher Heraclitus, leaning against a block of marble. Heraclitus is often called the weeping philosopher due to the sad nature of his philosophical doctrine, which falls in line with Michelangelo's reputation as a big baby. Also included in the painting is a self-portrait of Raphael wearing a black beret on the right corner of the fresco standing next to fellow-artist and friend Il Sodoma who was one of the artists whose work Raphael was ordered to paint over.

The fresco utilizes many techniques of the Renaissance artists, including the way it invites viewers to enter the space as if they are fully engulfed in the scene in an almost theatrical way. The perspective leads us into the throng of its occupants as if we, too, were engaged in the debate or contemplation. The light from the window in the background of the piece fills the scene, enhancing its three-dimensional solidity. The high vaulted ceiling with a view of the sky gives the feeling that we are entering into the realm of super human thought and activity and increases the sense of awe of being in the company of men so instrumental in shaping our understanding of the world. The coloring is muted to allow no one point of focus. Instead, we see the whole composition as being a world, which exists in a plane of time beyond that which we call our own demonstrating Raphael's great skill in his use of color.

The narrative aspects of the four frescos are perfectly arranged to engage in dialogue with each other and conducive to the intended use of the room as a library.

The School of Athens received both critical and popular attention immediately upon completion and was instrumental in elevating Raphael's public acclaim. This vindicated Pope Julius II's decision to award him the commission, and also laid the foundation for his trust in Raphael in conferring on him the artistic responsibilities that followed.

Fresco - Apostolic Palace, Vatican City

Sistine Madonna

The painting shows the Madonna and child in the centre with St. Sixtus and St. Barbara kneeling on either side of them. St. Barbara was included in the painting as her relics were worshiped in the church. St. Sixtus intercedes on the viewer's behalf, which is indicated by the right hand pointing down to us as he gazes up towards the Madonna. The two cherubs at the bottom of the painting look up at them without the reverence of the saints, or the solemnity of the Virgin, or the innocence of the baby Jesus. On the bottom left of the painting is the papal crown of Pope Sixtus.

Pope Julius II commissioned this work as an altarpiece for the Benedictine Monastery of San Sisto, Piacenza. It was in homage to his uncle Pope Sixtus IV (who was canonized and is now known as St. Sixtus) who built the Sistine Chapel, and after whom the chapel is named.

The painting continues Raphael's incorporation of Renaissance elements with his own style in this devotional work. He used a pyramidal compositional structure that was common at the time. The curtains, which appear to be drawn back to reveal the heavenly scene, help create a harmony between the painting and the altar for which it was created. The illusionary space in which the heavenly figures are placed enhances the celestial significance of the invocation of the blessings, meant to arouse awe when viewed by a congregation below. Raphael's masterly use of color enhances the endearing warmth in the expression of benevolence of the virgin and piety of the saints, and the swirling drapery of St. Sixtus allows the viewer's eye to move around the ethereal stillness of the figures placed on the cushion of clouds. The only earthly contact alluded to in the picture comes from the inclusion of the Pope's crown and the balcony on which the cherubs are resting.

The piece is important for myriad reasons. It was the last of the Madonnas painted by Raphael but also carries an interesting lineage and influence in Germany. After its acquisition by Augustus III, King of Poland, for 110,000 francs, the then highest ever price paid for a painting, it was brought to Dresden. Art historians Hans Belting and Helen Atkins have called this painting "supreme among the world's paintings," with the ability to arouse a state of religious ecstasy so seminal that upon the opening of the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden in 1855, it was accorded a room of its own. After the war, the painting was taken to the Soviet Union, and remained there until 1955 when, following the death of Stalin, it was returned to Dresden.

Its influence continues to this day. The Belarussian artists Mikhail Savitsky and Mai Dansig based their iconic works The Partisan Madonna of Minsk (1978), and And the Saved World Remembers (1985) on this painting. The cherubs, too, have garnered a special place in contemporary visual imagery. The musicologist and author Gustav Kobbé said of them, "no cherub or group of cherubs are so famous," and they have gone on to appear on clothing, bed linen, handbags, stamps, Christmas cards, and jewelery to name but a few impressions they have made on the public imagination.

It is fitting to close with Giorgio Vasari who said of the Sistine Madonna, it is "a truly rare and extraordinary work."

Oil on Canvas - Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden

Triumph of Galatea

This fresco depicts the story of Galatea, daughter of the sea god Nereus, who had fallen in love with Acis, a shepherd. The story goes that Polyphemus, the Cyclops and son of Poseidon, loved Galatea, and when he caught her and her beloved Acis in embrace, he killed him in a jealous rage. In the center, we see Galatea riding the seas on a conch-shell chariot drawn by two dolphins, trying to flee. Mythical sea creatures, nymps, and flying putti surround the heroine in this dramatic escape.

The Triumph of Galatea was painted to decorate the Villa Farnesina for Raphael's banker and friend Agostino Chigi. It is the only painting from Greek mythology ever painted by the artist. It was inspired by the poem "Stanza per la Giostra," by Angelo Poliziano, which is also thought to have been the inspiration for Botticelli's The Birth of Venus (1483-1485). The verse describes how, despite the love song sung by Polyphemus, Galatea spurns his love, sailing away with her company of sea nymphs. Although neither his poetic series nor the intended frescos to decorate the villa were completed, we are lucky to have within this work a marvelous example of Raphael's technical artistic ability as well as imaginative interpretation.

The piece breathes with an emotional intensity that is testament to Raphael's ability to conjure ideals of grandeur so majestically. The figures in the composition all interact with each other to form a cohesive whole. Each gesture is met with a reciprocal gesture, guiding our gaze to the central beauty of Galatea's face, which the artist professed came directly from his imagination rather than a model. A frenzied fluidity of movement is achieved through Galatea's billowing robe, the plunging dolphins, and the supreme musculature of the other figures, illustrating perfect machinations of the body.

It's easy to see Michelangelo's influence in the muscular forms or Leonardo's harking back to Roman classical frescos with the bright coloring. Yet, there is no doubt that this painting is a supreme example that embodies all Raphael had learned resulting in a magnificent elegy to the dreamlike nature of beauty.

Fresco - Villa Farnesina, Rome

Woman with a veil (La Donna Velata)

Perhaps no other work by Raphael can be said to epitomize his passion for presenting beauty in all its idealism as this one, a portrait of his beloved Margherita Luti. Of note is the pearl in her hair, a reference to her name, which means pearl. The painting was borne of the artist's adoration rather than a work that was commissioned. In it, Margherita's facial features are reminiscent of the face in many of his Madonnas and present a quality of loveliness bestowed by the male gaze. The clear smoothness of her skin, the alluring almond shape of her eyes, and the perfectly modeled face in a pose of the divine, otherwise considered unattainable, make this piece an unforgettable testament to love. In fact, the art historian Oskar Fischel called it "a love-prompted improvisation."

The piece lays evidence of Raphael's consummate understanding of Leonardo da Vinci's sfumato technique of creating a smoky blurred fusion of colors. He also adopted Leonardo's innovation of painting half-length portraits, which allowed Raphael to focus on his skill at painting the lustrously shimmering fabric of his subject's dress. The art critic Julia Addison saw an amorphic sexuality in the looseness with which it is depicted the way others refer to the voluptuous sexuality of Georgia O'Keeffe's flower paintings.

The painting remains important to Raphael's overall oeuvre. Although a portrait of extraordinary beauty, La Donna Velata is unique in that it is of a real person, not merely a represented objectification of beauty. By painting a portrait imbued with such personal history, Raphael not only gives us a consummate homage to beauty and his legendary love of women, but also a reflection of his adoration of the sitter which makes him so personable.

Oil on Canvas - Palatine Gallery, Palazzo Pitti, Florence

Baldassare Castiglione

Raphael's portrait of his close friend Baldassare Castiglione is rife with intimacy and emotionality in its depiction of a cultured man. His gaze is powerful yet humble, in homage to the kind of power gained without affectation or arrogance. He appears to be a man confident in his intellect, and thus a man devoted to the highest ideals of humanism, which was the most influential philosophy of the time. The brown background adds to the solemnity of the painting as it mutes the colors of the doublet trimmed with fur and black ribbon. In the quiet space of his presence, lurks the human vulnerability of the sitter.

The painting was made in celebration of Baldassare's appointment as Ambassador to Pope Leo X by Guidobaldo da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino. Castiglione was a diplomat and author of The Book of the Courtier, a text which discussed manners and court etiquette, and which became an important cultural influence in the 16 th century. It was also regarded as the antithesis to the cynical pragmatism of power expressed by Niccolò Machiavelli in his book The Prince, published in 1513, which considered dishonesty and immorality necessary evils in politics. The Book of the Courtier, on the other hand, considered the responsibility of power guided by humanistic virtue. With its excellent vulnerability, Raphael's portrait epitomized the restrained elegance of the courtier, which Baldassare proposed as necessary in his book. Baldassare was so impressed by the painting he referred to it in a poem he wrote to his wife in which he praised the uncanny likeness and the human presence it emits.

The composition showing the sitter in three-quarter profile gazing out at the viewer, contained within the pyramidal design much favored in the Renaissance was reminiscent of Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, which Raphael is said to have seen before Leonardo da Vinci left for France.

The painting is one of the most famous portraits of the High Renaissance and has enjoyed extensive popularity over the years. Its influence can be seen in the work of other prominent artists, including Titian with his Portrait of a Man (1520), the self-portraits of Rembrandt, and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres' Portrait of Monsieur Bertin (1832). Rubens and Matisse also copied the painting and Paul Cézanne exclaimed about it, "How well balanced the patches in the unity of the whole."

Oil on Canvas - Louvre, Paris

La Fornarina

One of the most well-known of Raphael's paintings which was not commissioned, La Fornarina is a sister portrait to La Donna Velata and depicts Margherita Luti, the artist's great love. The painting shows a seated half-length nude looking out at the viewer in an undone dress, concealing the lower part of her body. While her left-hand rests on her lap, her right hand touches her breast. A veil, while a symbol of modesty, fails to conceal her sensuously presented upper torso. The dark landscape in the background enhances the tonal modeling quality of the painting, and richness of the turban she wears. With her flawless skin and radiant face she looks straight past us, smiling to someone on our right, and, knowing her relationship with Raphael, we have no hesitation in imagining her looking at her lover as he painted her.

Raphael signed this painting on the band on her arm, perhaps alluding to his possession of her. After a recent restoration it appears the girl was originally wearing a wedding ring. Because the wedding ring was painted out, speculation rose that Raphael had secretly married Margherita. But due to their different social classes, and the fact that he was already engaged to Maria Bibbiena, the pair had to enjoy their union in private.

The work shows Leonardo's influence on Raphael, seen in the way gesture is used to convey meaning. It is also representative of the artist's mission to depict only the highest ideals of beauty. As Gustave Flaubert noted in his Dictionary of Received Ideas, "Fornarina: She was a beautiful woman," of which there is little doubt.

Many artists have been inspired by the love story including Giuseppe Sogni Henri-Joseph Martlet, Nicaise de Keyser, Francesco Gandolfi, and Fancesco Valaperta, all of whom titled their paintings Raphael and La Fornarina. The most famous artist who drew upon this work was Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres with his La Fornarina (1814). In it, Margherita is resting on Raphael's knee, with Raphael looking adoringly at his own painting of La Fornarina. Picasso, too, was entranced by Raphael's secret passion and in 1968 created his famous 357 series of 25 erotic etchings. More recently, Cindy Sherman modeled herself as La Fornarina in her work Untitled Number 205 (1989).

Oil on Wood - Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome

The Transfiguration

This painting combines two biblical narratives. The title refers to the story of Christ referred to in the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, in which he took three of his disciples up a mountain to show his true form, an act validated by the voice of God. The second tale is that of the Miracle of the Possessed Boy, which relates an encounter after the Transfiguration when Jesus and his disciples descended the mountain only to encounter a man who begged Christ to heal his devil-possessed son. The presentation of these two stories is visually accomplished by the contrast between above and below.

Christ is shown in the upper half with the prophets Moses on the right and Elijah on the left, both illuminated by the emanating divine light. Peter, James, and John cower below them on the mountaintop, overwhelmed as they shield their eyes from the radiance. On the left of the top half of the painting are said to be two saints, Felicissimus and Agapitus, who were martyred with Pope Sixtus II in 258, on the feast day commemorating the Transfiguration.

In the lower half of the painting we see earthly turmoil as the crowd awaits the miracle Christ is about to perform to rid the boy of demons, which has also been interpreted as an epileptic fit. The boy's father leads him toward the apostles on the left, who are unable to help him. One points to Christ, another at the child, while the one on the bottom right holds out his hand as if asking the viewer to be privy to the scene.

This was the last painting Raphael worked on. It was one of two paintings commissioned by Cardinal Guilio de' Medici, who later became Pope Clement VII, for Narbonne Cathedral in France. Raphael's was for an altarpiece. The other The Raising of Lazarus (1519), was based on a drawing by Michelangelo that would eventually be completed by his friend Sebastiano del Piombo. The commission rekindled the competition between the two artists. Raphael had still not completed his work by the time of his death although the main part of the work is by his own hand. His pupil Giulio Romano and his assistant Gianfrancesco Penni would later complete it.

It reflects the culmination of Rachael's artistic achievement in his short life and began to receive public and critical acclaim following Raphael's death. The painting was hung in Raphael's studio while he was lying in state and was carried at the head of his funeral procession followed by a large crowd of mourners who accompanied the procession.

Instead of finding home with the Cathedral at Narbonne, it was placed above Raphael's tomb in the Pantheon, where it remained for three years before being donated to the Church of San Pietro Montorio. It was then confiscated by Napoleon in 1798 and went on public display in the Louvre, becoming the centerpiece in the Grand Galerie, which hosted 20 other paintings by Raphael. The importance of the painting while in France is demonstrated by the fact that it was included in a drawing by the artist Benjamin Zix who recorded the wedding procession of Napoleon and Marie Louise in 1810. While in the Louvre, many painters visited it for inspiration including the English Joseph Farington, John Hoppner, and JMW Turner, the Swiss artist Henry Fuseli, and the American artist Benjamin West for whom it was one of the greatest paintings in the world. Following Napoleon's defeat in 1815, it was returned to Rome.

Described by Giorgio Vasari as Raphael's "most beautiful and divine work," this painting has been a source of constant education and inspiration to artists. Turner used it as reference in a lecture on composition, and Caravaggio for its use of chiaroscuro (the effect of contrasted light and shadow), a technique Caravaggio went on to master.

Often alluded to as an important example of Mannerism, a style of European art that emerged at the time of Raphael's death and lasted until the end of the 16 th century, the dramatic artistic tension in the lower half of the painting also echoes the Baroque style that replaced Mannerism.

The Marriage of the Virgin

The first work that was signed by Raphael is The Marriage of the Virgin. The young painter from Urbino who at the time is only twenty years old, takes inspiration from the work with the same name of his master Il Perugino.

There are several analogies between the two paintings: they are both realized with oil on board, which at the top is in the form of an arch. In the foreground the two artists put the characters. In the middle there are bride, bridegroom and the priest.

From the side of the maid the painters collocate the ladies, from the one of the bridegroom, the men. On the background a temple arising on a staircase dominates the scene. But while Perugino paints his temple with eight sides and with a pronao on every two sides which is a symbol of continuity between the ancient times and Christianity, Raphael decides himself for a temple with sixteen sides, a form closer to the circular one, and consequently more harmonic.

Restoring Raphael’s Marriage of the Virgin

1. The upper part of the painting after restoration note the signature above the arch in front of the temple door.
Raphael painted this altarpiece, signed Raphael Urbinas XDIIII (fig. 1) and unquestionably one of the Pinacoteca di Brera’s most celebated paintings, for the Franciscan church in Città di Castello. The picture left Umbria for good when the citizens surrendered it to the “liberating” army of General Giuseppe Lechi, a native of Brescia. Acquired by Eugène de Beauharnais in the early 19th century, it was assigned to the Pinacoteca by vice-regal decree.
Painting technique

The painting, which measures 173.5 x 120.7 cm., is made up of seven horizontal broadleaf planks now held in place by three cross-pieces and twenty-three butterfly dowels coated with lead white and varnish (fig. 2). The planks were primed with plaster and glue sizing, on which the artist traced the drawing from a now lost preparatory cartoon. If we observe the painting under infrared light (fig. 3), we will notice a meticulous preparatory drawing transferred from a cartoon, dotted in every detail in black ink with a paintbrush, and from direct engraving for the architectural parts.

2. The back of the painting, on the left.
3. Reflectography note the drawing traced from the cartoon and the direct engraving of the paved floor. (on the right).

Raphael applied a light, warm colour ground over the drawing using lead white, lead and tin yellow and powdered glass to reduce the sizing’s absorbency and thus facilitate the application of oil paint in thin layers. Raphael’s technique was extremely sophisticated: the painter proceeded by applying one thin layer of colour on top of another in painting his figures’ flesh areas, while he used broad, textured brushstrokes to define the drapery and the architecture, with gold and silver embroidery adorning the figures’ garments (fig. 4).

Earlier restorations and overall state of conservation

The altarpiece has been restored on several different occasions in the past. The first, probably dating back to the 18th century, is only known from a description supplied by Giuseppe Molteni, the painter and restorer who repaired the support and cleaned the picture in a fairly balanced operation in 1858. After a visitor took a hammer to the picture a hundred years later, Maurio Pelliccioli once again intervened to putty and repaint the areas damaged by this act of vandalism (fig. 5).
A hundred and fifty years after Molteni’s restoration, the Marriage was once again so badly affected by the ageing of the layers of material applied to it that the time had come for a new restoration, which was conducted by the Pinacoteca’s own restorers (fig. 6).

Above on the left, fig. 4, detail of the painting note the sophisticated painting technique below, fig. 5, photograph from 1958 showing the act of vandalism.
On the right, fig. 6, photograph of the painting in its frame prior to restoration.


he painting was restored from January 2008 to March 2009 to coincide with the Pinacoteca di Brera’s bicentennary celebrations.
Restoration was preceded by a meticulous diagnostic exploration campaign to identify the materials used to produce the original masterpiece and those used in earlier restorations. The campaign was conducted in conjunction with a number of leading research institutes (fig. 7).
The aim of the operation was to recover the harmonious palette of the original altarpiece, which had been lost through the stratification of various layers of varnish and patinas that had deteriorated over time, and to monitor any flaws in the paint’s adherence to the sized surface.
The deteriorated restoration materials were removed both gradually and selectively, taking into consideration the deterioration of certain pigments with the intention of maintaining an overall balance among the picture’s various tonal shades (fig. 8).

Above on the left, fig. 7, detail of the Virgin in visible light, reflectography, false colour infrared and ultraviolet fluorescence below, fig. 8 detail during cleaning, highlighting two levels in the removal of the deteriorated material from earlier restoration work.
On the right, fig. 9 the painting in its frame, back on the wall after restoration.

After cleaning, the paint film appeared to be in a good state of conservation overall. The most visible lacunae were those caused by the act of vandalism in 1958. Repainting, using a recognisable dotting technique and reversible watercolours and varnish, was strictly confined to lacunae and abrasions. The final varnish made it possible to appreciate the picture again in its full glory.
The altarpiece was then returned to its Neo-classical frame, which was also specially restored for the occasion (fig.

The Marriage of the Virgin by Raphael - History

Raphael painted his Marriage of the Virgin in 1504 as an altarpiece, dedicated to the Virgin Mary. While it’s function was to enhance the atmosphere of a chapel, the painting is also notable because of its distinctive portrayal of The Madonna. Raphael chose to portray Mary, in this painting, not as a goddess to be worshipped, but rather as a woman to be admired. Indeed, it is her gentleness and subtlety that Raphael chooses to emphasize. She is smiling, but ever so slightly. She is modest, looking downward, rather than up at anyone. She is beautiful, but she has no pride. It is her quietness that Raphael seems to celebrate (Louden, 1968).

In The Marriage, Raphael does not depict the Madonna as simply a mother. She is also a woman admired by many. We see evidence of this in the way Raphael sets up his scene. While the temple is at the center of The Marriage, the people are the real focus of the painting. In front of the temple, a Rabbi guides Joseph in the act of placing a ring on a Mary’s finger. The three are surrounded by both men (on the right) and women (on the left). The men all carry rods. The groom’s rod bears a blossom, while the rods of the other men are barren. The other men, save perhaps one, are frowning. Some are breaking their rods. This, according to legend, is because the men are frustrated suitors – admirers of Mary, but not chosen to wed her.

The Marriage was a very significant piece in its time. According to Tom Henry, The Marriage was first acquired by the Albizzini family, who had acquired a chapel in CittA di Castello. Albizzini dedicated the temple to St. Joseph. Henry relates that at the time of the dedication, another chapel dedicated to St. Joseph had acquired a ring that was said to be the ring Joseph had used to wed Mary. He indicates that there was a “cult of Joseph” which he believes Albizzini wished to be a part of. It was for this reason that he acquired Raphael’s painting. The painting, then, most likely helped fuel a belief in relics and specifically in those of the cult of S. Joseph. (Henry, 2002).

The painting is also striking now. Nothing in the bible mentions anything about unhappy suitors at Mary and Joseph’s wedding. One wonders, then, where Raphael and those who painted similar scenes before him came up with the idea. The contrast between Joseph’s staff and the staffs of the other men is also intriguing. There is no mention of such an occurrence in the bible. One blossoming staff is, however, mentioned. It is the staff of Aaron, which blossomed when God chose the tribe of Levi as his priesthood (Numbers 17:8). Grant Allen notes that legend says that Joseph’s staff blossomed because he too was “the chosen one.” (Allen, 1901)

The fact that Raphael chose to paint ideas from Christian legend, rather than simply biblical messages says something about the liberty those in authority took with biblical interpretation. The painting, therefore, gives its modern day viewer not only a visual representation of biblical stories, but also of the religious legends that occupied the minds of those alive in the 1500s. Yet, the most fascinating facet of the painting is the way in which Raphael portrays The Madonna. In other paintings, she is made to look slightly heavy and matronly. She often holds a child while she sits down.

In this painting, she holds no child, she is thin and she stands upright. What might be strange to a modern audience is that a woman dressed so modestly, with nothing more than her neck, head and hands uncovered, would be so appealing to so many suitors. It does not resonate well with the modern view of the attractive woman, yet, during Raphael’s time it did not seem unbelievable.

Raphael’s The Marriage of the Virgin is an intriguing work, both in terms of its historical significance and in terms of modern understanding. It is a piece of legend, beauty and inspiration that has fascinated viewers for over five-hundred years.

5.29: Marriage of the Virgin

Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker provide a description, historical perspective, and analysis of Raphael&rsquos Marriage of the Virgin.

The link to this video is provided at the bottom of this page.

Raphael, Marriage of the Virgin, 1504, oil on panel, 174 × 121 cm / 69 in × 48 inches (Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan)

This canvas was commissioned from Raphael when the artists was 21 years old. It was created for the chapel of Saint Joseph in the church of San Francesco, Città di Castello in northern Umbria and paid for by the Albizzini family. In 1798, the painting was taken by the Napoleonic officer Lechi, who promptly sold it in Milan. The painting was then given to a hospital there in 1804. It has been at the Brera since 1806. See below for a brief video on the photographic documentation during the most recent conservation of the painting:


  • Raphael's prodigiousness in painting - despite his relatively short life - was a result of his training that began when he was just a mere child. From a childhood spent in his painter father's workshop to his adult life running one of the largest workshops of its kind, he garnered a reputation as one of the most productive artists of his time.
  • The serene and harmonious qualities of Raphael's paintings were regarded as some of the highest models of the humanist impetus of the time, which sought to explore man's importance in the world through artwork that emphasized supreme beauty.
  • Raphael not only mastered the signature techniques of High Renaissance art such as sfumato, perspective, precise anatomical correctness, and authentic emotionality and expression, he also incorporated an individual style noted for its clarity, rich color, effortless composition, and grandeur that was distinctly his own.
  • Although largely known for his paintings, many of which can still be seen in the Vatican Palace where the frescoed Raphael Rooms were the largest work of his career, he was also an architect, printmaker, and expert draftsman. In other words, a true "Renaissance man."
  • The artist was known, in contrast to one of his biggest rivals Michelangelo, as a man of conviviality, universally popular, and congenial, and a great lover of the ladies. His social ease and amicable personality allowed him acceptance and career opportunities at an advantage over other peers of the time.

The Marriage of the Virgin Raphael (1504)

The Marriage of the Virgin is a painting from Raphael, made in 1504. It shows the marriage of the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph. The painting its on an oil on panel, and is an example of Raphael’s increasing maturity and confidence as an artist. It is an art piece created for a church at Citta di Castello. The colors here are vibrant, and the faces of his characters are specific and full of calm. Raphael’s Marriage of the Virgin is now located in the Pinacoteca di Brera, an art gallery in Milan, Italy.

In this painting, Raphael shows off his mastery of perspective. The front and back doors of this temple are open, and through it, the viewer can see a bit of the hazy, sfumato painted background of hills and sky. The temple sits on a cascade of steps that lead down to a plaza with walkways that are picked out in a reddish stone. People in Renaissance garb gather in small groups, seemingly oblivious to the rather momentous marriage that’s happening in the foreground. In the foreground, a richly attired high priest clasps the hand of both Mary and Joseph as Joseph prepares to place the ring on Mary’s finger. Behind her stand a group of soft-eye women, her kinswomen perhaps, whose attire is only a little less sumptuous than the priest’s.

This art piece is connected with the theme of realism, firstly because it is really realistically done. The perspective is the dominant feature from all of them… Still, depth and symmetric are present.. This painting is a painting from what happened in everyday life base in the 1500s… Also, the emotions on people’s face bring one such feature connected to realism. The bunch of colors brings more life to the painting, making it appeal more realistic to people’s eyes… Also, the theme of realism connects to the painting because in the past, and still in some societies today that was the way marriages used to happen.

I picked this painting, first because it is really well painted… The variety of colors and their faces make me feel calm. When I see the details of the picture, I make my own story in my head, and I imagine is it happening in front of my eyes because of the theme of the realism in it.

The Marriage of the Virgin by Raphael - History

This post continues my Story Structure series.

Here are three similar paintings:

Christ Delivering the Keys of the Kingdom to Saint Peter
by Pietro di Cristoforo Vannucci (1445?-1523), called Perugino

The Marriage of the Virgin
by Pietro di Cristoforo Vannucci (1445?-1523), called Perugino

Marriage of the Virgin (Spozalizio)
by Raphael

Perugino painted Christ Delivering the Key of the Kingdom to Saint Peter, the event on which the Papacy had, from the beginning, based its claim to infallible and total authority over the Church. Christ hands the keys to Saint Peter, standing at the center of solemn choruses of saints and citizens, who occupy the apron of a great stage space that marches into the distance to a point of convergence in the doorway of a central-plan temple. (The intervening space is stepped off by the parallel lines of the pavement.) Figures in the middle distance complement the near group, emphasizing its density and order by their scattered arrangement. At the corners of the great piazza, triumphal arches resembling the Arch of Constantine mark the base angles of a compositional triangle having its apex in the central building. Christ and Peter are placed on the central axis, which runs through the temple’s doorway, within which is the vanishing point of the perspective. Thus, the composition interlocks both two-dimensional and three-dimensional space, and the central actors are integrated carefully with the axial center. This spatial science provides a means for organizing the action systematically. Perugino, in this single picture, incorporates the learning of generations. His coolly rational, orderly style and the uncluttered clarity of his compositions left a lasting impression on his best known student, Raphael.

Commentary on Raphael from Gardner’s Art Through the Ages

While still a child, Raphael was apprenticed to Perugino, who had been trained in Verrocchio’s shop with Leonardo. We have seen in Perugino’s Christ Delivering the Keys of the Kingdom to Saint Peter that the most significant formal quality of his work is the harmony of its spatial composition. While Raphael was still in the studio of Perugino, the latter painted a panel of The Marriage of the Virgin, which, in its composition, very closely resembles the central portion of his [Christ Delivering the Key of the Kingdom to Saint Peter]. Perugino’s panel, now in the Museum of Caen, probably served as the model for Raphael’s Marriage of the Virgin. Although scarcely twenty-one, Raphael was able to recognize and to remedy some of the weaknesses of his master’s composition. By relaxing the formality of Perugino’s foreground figure screen and disposing his actors in great depth, the young artist not only provides them with greater freedom of action but also bridges the gap between them and the building in the background more successfully. The result is a painting that, although it resembles its model very closely, is nevertheless more fluid and better unified.

Three such similar paintings, and yet Gardner’s picks out differences that cause a difference in feeling to the viewer. (If only there were screenwriting books that were as perceptive and yet as focused, concrete, and practical as many art history books, or film studies books, are.)

I see these differences and, at one level, I can’t help but agree with Gardner’s about the superiority of the Raphael. Seeing Raphael’s structure, though, is hard to disentangle from seeing his marvelous “production values.”

In another way, the weakness I do find in Gardner’s is the historian’s Hollywood-esque tendency to add interest to the story by equating “later” with “better.”

Gardner’s makes a point, for a hundred pages or so, of showing how the Renaissance painters from Giotto to Leonardo made advances by developing a scientifically realistic 3D space and a set of techniques for unifying their picture structure within it. Then, a few hundred pages later, they start a new sequence of a hundred or so pages in which they make a point of showing how 19th and 20th Century painters from Manet to Kandinsky make advances by progressively destroying the spatial achievements of the Renaissance.

I wonder if this aspect of Gardner’s discussion isn’t merely an empty statement of the tautology: “Raphael’s painting is superior because it’s more Raphael-like.”

I love Perugino’s painting. When I look at it, it’s hard for me to see what “better” could mean — or why one would set out from something already great in search of more.

I wonder if the differences are not due to the differences in personality and outlook between Perugino and Raphael, as human beings — rather than to some evolutionary imperative that made our species create Raphael in order to “improve” ourselves.

My general question is “What are the elements of structure”

These three paintings (unlike the Giotto and the Taddeo, earlier) even have 𔄛-act structure” — foreground, middle ground, background. Of course, I’m joking about this, because, viewing it, you aren’t supposed to progress uni-directionally from front to back like in a screenplay — and, certainly, the payoff is not in the back, but in the front. (Also, unlike screenwriters, Perugino and Raphael seem unconcerned about their 𔄚nd act problems” — they were content to leave their middle ground wide open and unpopulated.)

But, what structure do they have, besides f.g., m.g., b.g.?

The structure of the Raphael is that the characters in the foreground group are united in their precise, common alertness to the identical moment: the instant in which the ring goes on the finger, an event that is reinforced for the audience and for the characters by the sound of the stick snapping.

I can’t deny that the Raphael has these things that the two Peruginos don’t, but — respectfully — I wouldn’t be so quick to conclude that the Raphael is therefore necessarily “better.”

Let me argue for Perugino.

Raphael’s official in the center moves to see it clearly to bear witness to “the moment.” He represents the moment — but Perugino’s official, in his thoughtful semi-distraction, represents a different component: eternity.

Raphael’s Virgin focuses on the ring. Perugino’s has her eyes modestly cast down. Is she — can she be — any less alert to the ring sliding onto her finger? Does not this combination of feelings show depth in her emotions and suggest even more?

Perigino’s foreground characters are visibly, rhythmically split into separate groups. Does this diffuse their impact — as the Raphael would suggest — or does it reinforce our search in the main characters for the complex reality?

I think this differentiation — this organization — is part of the structure of Perugino’s two paintings.

Does Raphael’s incredibly brilliant unity of effect translate to finally more impact for us than Perugino’s? Or less? Or is it just “a different story?”

Self Portrait
by Pietro di Cristoforo Vannucci (1445?-1523),
called Perugino

Note: I might mention that Franz Liszt wrote a piano piece in homage to Raphael’s painting: Années de pèlerinage, deuxième année, S 161 “Italie”: no 1, Sposalizio.

Can we make any sense out of the relation between the music and the painting?

Watch the video: Raphael, Marriage of the Virgin, 1504