Dictionary of Art and Artists


that Changed the World


  Lascaux Caves Manesse illuminated Massys Callot Friedrich Picasso
  Tutankhamen's tomb Lorenzetti Grunewald Rembrandt Constable Matisse
  Europa and Minotaur Karlstein Castle Baldung Claude Lorrain Delacroix Marc
  Banquet Tomb Limbourg brothers Altdorfer Velazquez Turner Kandinsky
  Pompeii Van Eyck Cranach Vermeer Ingres Monet
  Birth of Christianity Della Francesca Holbein Rigaud Manet Chirico
  Hagia Sophia Uccello Titian Watteau Burne-Jones Modigliani
  Book of Kells Mantegna Bruegel Canaletto Seurat Chagall
  St Benedict Botticelli Vicentino Boucher Van Gogh Kahlo
  Bayeux Tapestry Anonymous Arcimboldo Fragonard Toulouse-Lautrec Dali
  Donizo manuscript Durer El Greco Gainsborough Munch Ernst
  Liber Scivias Bosch Theodore de Bry John Trumbull Cezanne Hopper
  Carmina Burana Da Vinci Caravaggio David Gauguin Bacon
  Falcon Book Michelangelo Rubens Gros Degas Warhol
  Giotto Raphael Brouwer Goya Klimt  

From Lascaux to Warhol

Supreme art is a traditional statement of certain heroic and religious truth,
passed on from age to age, modified by individual genius,
but never abandoned.

William Butler Yeats




Queen of Angels and Men

The Sistine Madonna and Dostoyevsky



Angels bend to you in solemn ceremony and Saints pray where your foot steps: glorious Queen of Heaven! To you the lyre of the spheres resounds, which God has strung. Your spirit gazes, divine to see, through the veil of your unfading, blooming figure; you bear a child of sublime omnipotence, victor over death and liberator of the world.

August Wilhelm von Schlegel, Sonnet to the Sistine Madonna, с 1840



Raphael, The Sistine Madonna (detail), Gemaldegalerie, Dresden


Visiting Dresden, the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821—1881) could hardly tear himself away from The Sistine Madonna. He kept returning to the Gemaldegalerie where it hung to spend hours in front of it. Vasari, the Founding Father of art history, said of the artist: "How generous and benevolent Heaven may on occasion show itself to be by showering one man with the infinite riches of its treasures, all the grace and rare gifts otherwise distributed over a long period of time among many individuals, can be clearly seen in the beauty and grace of Raphael." Dostoyevsky may have had similar feelings about the painting and the artist. On his last day in Dresden, he pulled up a chair in front of the painting so that he might be closer to the Madonna's face: "What beauty, innocence and sadness in that heavenly countenance, what humility and suffering in those eyes. Among the ancient Greeks the powers of the divine were expressed in the marvellous Venus de Milo; the Italians, however, brought forth the true Mother of God — the Sistine Madonna." The author of Crime and Punishment (1866) went so far as to claim that, compared to this masterpiece, other representations of the Virgin resemble bakers' wives or other pedestrian, petty-bourgeois women.

A major Italian artist by 1500, Raphael was commissioned at the age of thirty-nine to work on the design of the new St Peter's in Rome. The young architect had already painted The Sistine Madonna for the high altar of San Sisto in Piacenza, where the relics of Pope Sixtus 11 (martyred in 258) had been kept since the ninth century. The Sistine Madonna hung in the church until 1755, when it came into the possession of the Prince Elector, Frederick Augustus II of Saxony. Before Dostoyevsky, German writers, such as August Wilhelm von Schlegel, Heinrich von Kleist and Franz Grillparzer, had been enthralled by the painting. The Sistine Madonna continues to enjoy wide acclaim to this day. In recent times, advertising and commerce have discovered the irresistible appeal of the two bored, mischievous angels on the lower edge of the picture plane. They appear on cups and napkins, letter paper and lampshades. Putti like these are a type of angel, which made their first appearance during the Renaissance. Deriving from the Italian word for "child" or "infant boy", the putto, with his chubby, sensual cheerfulness, is in the tradition of Eros or Cupid, the god of love. In ancient writings and representations, Eros was portrayed as a half-naked boy with wings, while his figure ranged from slim to plump. The child-like appearance of Italian putti is an expression of their innocence. In connection with the Virgin, they represent the immaculate purity of the Queen of angels and men.


The Sistine Madonna
Oil on canvas, 265 x 196 cm
Gemaldegalerie, Dresden


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