This research paper – by analyzing three Renaissance period’s paintings of Durer, Da Vinci, and Raphael – illustrates that Madonna, rather than social or religious themes, is offered the central place in these works. The first painting we are going to discuss is the Seven Sorrows of the Virgin by Albrecht Durer (1496-1497). This work gives a useful review of earlier German depictions of the assumption of the Virgin and Durer’s own previous heaven-and-earth compositions of visionary material, suggesting that the supposed Italian influence on Durer has been overestimated (Landau and Parshall 1994). Seven Sorrows of the Virgin discusses the most dramatic episodes of Madonna’s life, which brought her the most sorrow and grief.
In this painting, seven episodes from the life of Christ are delicately painted in grisaille in ornamental frames directed into the figure of Christ’s mother along the blades of seven swords. In complete contrast to the starkness of the traditional way Madonna was painted before, the border is filled not with the naturalistic flowers so fashionable in Flemish manuscripts of that time but with splendid jewelry, the gold, enamel, and gemstones of the individual ornaments painted so realistically that they appear detached from the surface of the page (Landau and Parshall 1994). Seven Sorrows of the Virgin concentrates solely on Madonna and is designed to show her great deeds and her divine path in life. In the seven scenes pictured, she is always by the Christ’s side. In other words, Madonna is portrayed as the woman suffering together with Jesus as he went through all of his hardships on earth. Virgin is the one holding little Jesus, she is the one witnessing teachers of law falsely accusing Him, and she is the one standing at Jesus’ feet when he was tormented and crucified.
Another painting, which also makes Madonna the central figure, is The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne by Da Vinci (1510). There is something mysterious in the way in which Leonardo evoked the Virgin’s head out of marks and smears. And beyond that, Leonardo has filled her with an expression of love and meditation. She is looking at the child and is feeling something powerful about what she observes. Her smile is very gentle. My sense is that those who look at her for very long will inertly reproduce her look on their own faces.
We are aware what Madonna is looking at because the head is a preparatory study for one of Leonardo’s most unexplained paintings (Landau and Parshall 1994). Madonna is sitting on Saint Anne’s knee, and the Child, grasping a lamb, takes a look back over his shoulder at the Virgin from between her knees. Saint Anne observes the Virgin looking at the Child; the Virgin embraces the Child as the Child plays with the lamb. The scene is presented in an unusual rocky landscape. The display of the figures is like a supernatural knot. In The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne, the figures are congealed together in a bulge of lines and washes. Madonna, but not Saint Anne or Child, is made the central figure of the painting. Da Vinci shows that both the Child and Saint Anne observe the greatness and the holy face of the Virgin. She is very relaxed and there is something heavenly in her beauty.
The last painting where Madonna is also given the central place in the setting is The Holy Family or Madonna with the Beardless Joseph by Raphael (1506). This painting was created by Raphael in Florence and it is considered to be one of the early works of the artist. The painting is also called Madonna with the Beardless Joseph because Raphael decided to picture Saint Joseph without a beard, which was a bold decision for the artist of that time. Every line is calculated to suit the form of the panel, and the surface to be covered. Madonna carefully holds the Child who firmly embraces her. St Joseph bows his head in owe and admiration of Madonna and her child. The, system of coloring is illustrated by the Madonna’s red gown with bright sleeves, changing from a violet tinge in the shadows to yellow in the lights, and the purple tunic and lemon-colored cloak of St. Joseph. Raphael makes Madonna’s cloth very bright and attractive in order to stress the viewers’ attention on her as the central figure of this work. Even though the harmony suffers from injury produced by retouching, the main purpose (that of drawing one’s attention to the Virgin) of the artist is achieved – we all look at Madonna with admiration and wonder.
Da Vinci, Leonardo. (1510). The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne. Retrieved from: http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/vinci/sketch/st-anne.jpg, September 15 2006.
Durer, Albrecht. (1496-1497). The Seven Sorrows of the Virgin. Retrieved from: http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/durer/7sorrows.jpg, September 15 2006.
Landau, David and Peter W. Parshall. (1994). The Renaissance Print 1470-1550, New Haven: Yale University Press.
Raffaello, Sanzio (Raphael). 1506). The Holy Family (Madonna with the Beardless Joseph). Retrieved from: http://www.hermitagemuseum.org/html_En/03/hm3_3_1g.html, September 15 2006.