The importance of the “Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints” stems from the fact that it is the only altarpiece by Renaissance artist Raphael in the United States. The painting is housed in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, to which it was given by J.P. Morgan, who bought it from the queen of Sweden. The painting is rare in that it depicts the infant Jesus clothed, rather than naked, suggesting that Raphael was in some way censored by the nuns of the convent where it was displayed.
Describe the central figures in the painting. The Madonna and child are larger than is traditional in paintings of this type, and the clothing and arrangement is atypical. The Madonna wears a red gown, symbolizing the passion of the Christ. Her blue mantle represents the fact that she is Queen of Heaven, and her throne further represents this, as well as the majesty of the Catholic Church.
Talk about the four peripheral figures, St. Paul, St. Peter, St. Helen and St. Catherine of Alexandria. St. Peter and St. Paul were both apostles, and St. Helen and St. Catherine were both saints of royal birth. St. Helen discovered the true cross on which Jesus was crucified, and St. Catherine carries the symbol of Christian martyrs. John the Baptist is also pictured as an infant, and also fully clothed, rare for the time.
Talk of the provenance of the painting. The painting was made in the early part of the 16th century, or late 15th, with the Metropolitan Museum of Art giving its date as circa 1504. This was the period of the high Renaissance. The fact that the painting was hung in a part of the church reserved for the nuns dictated the conservative style of the painting, most notably the clothed Jesus.
Describe the colors that Raphael used in his painting. Although some of the color has faded over time, the boldness of the colors, particularly in the painting of the male saints, is indicative of Raphael’s future style. Although the figures are serene in composition, the striking colors suggest that Raphael is compensating for the conservative nature of the painting with bold coloring.