Objects as History – Madonna and Child enthroned with Saints:

Madonna and Child enthroned with Saints by Raphael:


This painting was created by Raphael (Raphaello Sanzio) in ca. 1504. For this he used oil and Gold on wood as the medium. The overall dimensions of this painting are 5.57 ft x 5.57 ft. The dimensions of the painted surface are 5.56 ft x 5.48 ft.


Originally, Raphael painted this in 1504 or 1505,for the small Franciscan convent of Sant’ Antonio in Perugia. This painting was created for the chiesa iterna or the inner part of the church which was reserved for the nuns. These were the nuns who supposedly insisted on elaborately clothing Christ Child. This altarpiece was one of the two principal panels of the altarpiece. Raphael’s masterpiece hung on the center of the wall of a simple choir and was lit up with the help of a few windows on the right wall of the church. Interestingly, the direction of the source of light in the painting is the same as the actual source of light.

Raphael has depicted Virgin Mary and Christ Child in the main panel, enthroned on an elaborate throne with a Baldacchino. A Baldacchino is a ceremonial canopy, made out of metal, stone or fabric, over an altar, throne or doorway. Christ Child is seen seated on Virgin Mary’s lap and he blesses the young Saint John the Baptist. Saint John the Baptist stands at the base of the throne. The names of the four Saints who gather around the throne are St. Paul, St. Catherine, St. Paul and an unrecognized female Saint (who may be Saint Barbara, Saint Helen or Saint Lucy)

There is an extensive landscape at the back with a detailed building with a tower on the right corner. Because this tower is so carefully painted, it may be symbolic of Saint Barbara’s imprisonment. She was locked away for her belief in Christianity in opposition to her father.

In the lunette above, there is blessing God holding a globe, surrounded by two heads of seraphims or angelic beings associated with light and purity.

Raphael began this work when he was in Perugia. And most of his work is inspired by the works of Perugino. Perugino’s influence can be seen in the painting, especially in the lunette.

In 1678 the Cologna family acquired the painting. [1]  Hence, it is sometimes referred to as the Cologna Altarpiece. In 1916, it was purchased by New York based financer, J. P. Morgan. It is considered one of Raphael’s last works to have landed in private hands.[2]


Christianity did not require images of naked divinities. A change in attitudes, led to harsh criticism of nude athletics and public bathing. Christianity emphasized on chastity and celibacy, due to this reason as well there were no depictions of nakedness. Because of these views on nakedness and naked depictions, there was very little motive to study nude and unclothed figures. In earlier depictions of Christ Child, the baby is undressed in his mothers arms with his sex prominently exposed. This was meant to express the theological status of Christ as God. However, in these paintings, Christ Child is depicted in a very conservative manner, elaborately robed to represent his lifelike humanity. Also, since this altarpiece was being made especially for the part of the Church which was reserve for the conservative nuns, Raphael was requested to elaborately dress Christ Child. [3]


The Madonna and Child are depicted larger than in other traditional paintings. The way that they are clothed and their arrangement is atypical. The Madonna is seen wearing a red gown. This symbolizes her passion for Christ. Her blue mantle represents the fact that she is the Queen of Heaven. Her throne also represents the same as well as the majesty of the Catholic Church. Jesus is seen wearing white and violet. White is the festive color of purity and holiness and violet is the solemn color symbolizing repentance for the Lenten and Advent seasons. Saint Peter and Saint Paul were both apostles. While the supposed Saint Helen and Saint Catherine were both saints of royal birth. Saint Catherine carries the symbol of Christian martyrs and Saint Helen discovered the actual cross on which Jesus was crucified. Although the figures in the painting look serene and calm, Raphael has used bold, striking colors to compensate for the conservative nature of the painting.[4]




The most striking feature  of the painting is the delicacy with which Raphael has depicted the relationship between Madonna and Christ Child and given just as much importance to the relationship between Christ Child and John the Baptist. Also what is appealing is the Raphael’s depiction of light. It automatically draws the viewer’s attention to the main panel.

The architecture of the frames of both, the lunette as well as the main panel are derived from the architecture in Renaissance and is used a lot in architecture and in painting.[5


[1]  “Madonna and Child enthroned with Saints”, metmuseum.org, October 25, 2016, http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/437372.

[2] “Madonna and Child enthroned with Saints”, totallyhistory.com, October 25, 2016, http://totallyhistory.com/madonna-and-child-enthroned-with-saints/.

[3] Jean Sorabella, “The Nude in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, January 2008, Accessed November 4, 2016, http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/numr/hd_numr.htm.

[4] Emile Heskey, “How to Describe “Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints”” Ehow.com, , accessed November 4, 2016, http://googleweblight.com/?lite_url=http://www.ehow.com/how_7831948_describe-madonna-child-enthroned-saints.html&ei=xRd0HOiZ&lc=en-IN&s=1&m=921&host=www.google.co.in&ts=1477975853&sig=AF9Nednq_SoeK3AKMJRn4ofYjbUCGAZw8g.

[5] “Madonna and Child enthroned with Saints”, collegetermpapers.com, October 25, 2016, https://www.collegetermpapers.com/viewpaper/1304246881.html.



  1. “Madonna and Child enthroned with Saints”. collegetermpapers.com. October 25, 2016. https://www.collegetermpapers.com/viewpaper/1304246881.html.


  1. Heskey, Emile. “How to Descibe “Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints”” Ehow.com.http://googleweblight.com/?lite_url=http://www.ehow.com/how_7831948_describe-madonna-child-enthroned-saints.html&ei=xRd0HOiZ&lc=en-IN&s=1&m=921&host=www.google.co.in&ts=1477975853&sig=AF9Nednq_SoeK3AKMJRn4ofYjbUCGAZw8g.


  1. “Madonna and Child enthroned with Saints”, metmuseum.org, October 25, 2016, http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/437372 .


  1. Sorabella, Jean. “The Nude in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. January 2008. Accessed November 4,2016. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/numr/hd_numr.htm.


  1. “Madonna and Child enthroned with Saints”. totallyhistory.com. October 25, 2016. http://totallyhistory.com/madonna-and-child-enthroned-with-saints/.






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