Euro Art/Arch. 1400-1800
Raphael’s Madonna of the Meadow depicts the Virgin Mary with Jesus Christ the child and John the Baptist. Mary is the largest figure, anchoring the foreground in stable triangular form. The deep hues of her blue cloak and red dress emphasize the triangle, and force the baby Christ and John the Baptist further into the foreground. The baseline of the triangle is created by Mary’s cloak; John marks the left corner, Jesus is at the center, and Mary’s foot (highlighted to compensate for its small size) marks the right corner. Raphael contrasts earthy tones and deeper shades in the middle and foreground against the pale, bluish background to create a square. The combination square and triangle, both Renaissance symbols of the perfection of Nature, provide stasis and unity. Each shape draws the viewer’s eye: The triangle directs attention to Mary’s face, the square (from Mary’s chest to the bottom of the painting) directs the viewer to the figures of Jesus and John. Raphael creates depth in the middle ground by showing small trees. In the background, he uses atmospheric perspective to create depth: the pale shades, blue tint, and smudged lines of the hills and village across the lake. Each figure casts a shadow on the ground, and shadowing between Mary and Jesus creates space between them to create volume.
Raphael uses contrapposto and imbalance to create a sense of motion, and intertwines the figures through gesture and expression. Mary’s right side is highlighted to emphasize the tilt of her body, and her right leg fully crosses her body, stretching across the width of the painting. She is connected to Jesus and John through expression and gesture: her downcast eyes observe the two children, while her hands gently grasp Jesus. Jesus steps towards John, with his foot angled outward so that he also appears to be moving closer to the viewer. His back foot is lifting off the ground, tipping him off balance so that he leans on his mother’s arm for balance. John and Jesus look at each other, and are connected by their common gesture of grasping a cross. John kneels with his right leg and arm lower than his left leg and arm, tilting him toward the viewer. The position of each figure creates a sense of liveliness. Raphael conveys Mary’s motherly role, and the sense of inevitability of Christ’s sacrifice through Mary’s expression and position, and through Christ’s reaching out to accept the cross. In conclusion, Raphael captures human emotion and movement while also sticking to Renaissance values of geometric shape and symmetry.