Madonna in Renaissance Art

The movement of religion is Renaissance and applies to most of the art work being created during this time period. Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel depicting God giving Adam the spark of life is one in which the core of religion is epitomized in art. There is the revelation of power in the gathering the ephemeral being and the mundane human, and in the color palate being manipulated in the painting the subtle tones and the attention to chiaroscuro is what gives the painting a very Renaissance feel.

The following essay will examine the part of the Madonna in Renaissance art through analysis of certain famous paintings during this time period. Juxtaposed with this thesis is da Vinci’s, Madonna of the Rocks, which emphasizes the high Renaissance in its fluid movement with the body’s movements emphasized with the background shows the sophistication of da Vinci in use of color and his famous sfumato (which is an effect on the painting giving the background a ‘smoky’ type of feel).

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The background is trapped in a whorish swirl of ambiguous shapes, but the foreground delivers to the viewer the type of brilliant colors expectant of this Renaissance master. Here, the bodies are not flaccid in quality as in Michelangelo’s work, but very vibrant in their actions, and strong. The angles of the body direct the viewer’s attention to the action while the pointing arms and hands direct the viewer’s attention from Mary to the children, to Christ. This movement allows the viewer to go from that pivotal point on canvas to the faces of the children.

The comparison between these two works of art resemble the expression of emotion which has not been done so fully, nor so intently in these two time periods of the Renaissance (including Mannerism) and the high Renaissance (with Titian). With the Renaissance attention to body angles and emotion, this period offers a bit more attention to space and color as is seen with da Vinci’s chiaroscuro effects in Madonna of the Rocks. The emphasis on this painting by da Vinci is about the contrast of light and dark. The viewer is exposed to a very young John the Baptist and Christ the child who resembles the cherubs used in Renaissance art.

The form of the body is full of baby fat and the skin, while having the tonal qualities of Baroque pieces still harbors the darker contours of perhaps the future of the young man (John’s beheading). The shapes used are reminiscent of the Renaissance in the body’s muscular tone, yet relaxed stature and the use of space of the classical Greek contrapposto, in the line curving from the lifted arms – from Mary’s to John’s to Christ- the supporting arm, the line of the back, to the bend of the knee in the foreground.

Another rather interesting depiction of Madonna in the Renaissance was during the early Renaissance by an artist named Fra Filippo Lippi who was a monk. Lippi’s painting Madonna Enthroned depicts a rather humanistic version of Mary, with muted colors and caressing a rather cherub-esque Christ child. The background is not heaven, which was unique during the time of the painting, and the Christ child is not crowned, also a unique feature during this time frame: Thus, Lippi was be considered a progressive Renaissance artist since the art world has just gotten past the Gothic era.

Lippi’s portryal of the Madonna illustrates a domestic scene between mother and child, thus, the human qualities of Mary are highlighted instead of the Divinity which had flourished in so many previous artistic era’s paintings. Lippi was influenced in this painting by the Northern painters as can be seen in the Christ child’s distorted face, its flatness, and distorted arms and hands (this can be seen in works by Eych Arnofini). The perspective of the entire painting is off, as is the case with the Northern painters’ works.

Also, the viewer is able to distinguish the movement of the figures in the painting by the way in which the drapery lies. The details of the garments are in striking contrast to the background colors: the darker colors in the foreground of the painting make them seem larger than the actual frame of the work since the background colours are ‘lighter’. Thus, the compare and contrast of this work is in the color palate. Raphael also pictured Christ in a rather cherub type fashion as is evident in his La Belle Jardiniere.

Raphael did many Madonna paintings but this painting was one in which the symmetry, and the spectacle of color truly embraced the theme of Madonna. This painting pictures Madonna as very graceful, dignified (as can be witnessed in the tilt of her head as she looks down at Christ), calm, sweet, pure, and very young. This painting would be considered an idealized version of Mary as the perfect woman. The type of beauty which Raphael depicts Madonna as is Pagaen in nature and almost childlike.

The children are not ‘little adults’, as many other painters typically depict the Christ child or John the Baptist, but rather they are soft, realistic even in the attention that Raphael gave to the details of the children, their heads tilted from John looking at Christ and Christ looking up at the Madonna. Through the development of art, the fascination of the female body has been a main motif. It is Venus, Roman Goddess of love who has intrigued the artist, and held their attention for well over a few centuries.

She has been not only Venus, but also Aphrodite (the Greek Goddess of Love), she has been Mary, mother of Christ in the Renaissance period. The image of the Madonna is one of grace, as can witnessed in the above paintings. This image has been persistent through each artistic age. In these paintings, Madonna has always been comforting Christ by either holding him or by lifting him up to her, this shows the compassion which the artists identified with and the way in which they wanted their viewer to identify with the Madonna as well; caring, loving, a source of comfort.