Art History 202 homework #1
Compare and contrast of Virgin of the rocks by Da Vinci and Madonna in the meadow by Raphael
Raphael’s Madonna of the Meadow (1505 – 1506) depicts the Virgin Mary with Jesus Christ the child and John the Baptist. Da Vinci’s Virgin of the rocks (1483) depicts Virgin Mary and Child Jesus with the infant John the Baptist and an angel. There are two versions of Leonardo’s Virgin of the Rocks (the version in the Louvre was painted first). These two paintings of Da Vinci’s are a good place to start to define the qualities of the new style of the High Renaissance.
In Madonna of the meadow Raphael has used aerial perspective to show how the landscape is far away from us, the viewer. The landscape in the background is filled with graceful curves. There is no pain, struggle, or even Leonardo’s mysterious tones shown in his painting. The only uneasy sign is the Christ Child grasping the cross of St. John, which is likely a means of foretelling the future Passion of Christ. Raphael used the bright and lively colors used in his work. There is a huge contrast between the red and the dark blue in Madonna’s garment. Those two colors are also the boldest and brightest in the entire painting, drawing even more attention to Madonna, who is already the largest figure and the figure on top of the pyramid.
He painted Madonna in a well-lit landscape and imbued her with grace, dignity, and beauty. Raphael uses contrapposto and imbalance to create a sense of motion, and intertwines the figures through gesture and expression. Mary’s right side is highlighted to emphasize the tilt of her body, and her right leg fully crosses her body, stretching across the width of the painting. She is connected to Jesus and John through expression and gesture: her downcast eyes observe the two children, while her hands gently grasp Jesus. Jesus steps towards John, with his foot angled outward so that he also appears to be moving closer to the viewers.
The painting shows the three figures, the Virgin, Christ and St. John the Baptist in a peaceful embrace against the backdrop of a beautiful landscape. In addition to being the cousin of Christ, St. John the Baptist was the patron of Florence, thus his presence in this Florentine setting is quite proper. John is illustrated to be kneeling before Christ, seen as both a blessing and a foreshadowing of the future between the two. In conclusion, Raphael captures human emotion and movement while also sticking to Renaissance values of geometric shape and symmetry Da Vinci’s virgin of the rocks was done on a wooden panel which was meant to be placed within a larger sculpted altarpiece for the chapel. Oil paints were used for the pigments.
In the painting Da Vinci organized the three figures of Madonna, Christ Child, and John the Baptist in a pyramidal composition, with Madonna at the top of the pyramid. An angel is also part of the group of figures. Da Vinci’s use of chiaroscuro is evident in this painting as the group of figures seem to emerge through the shades of light and shade from the half-lit cavernous landscape with waterfalls. The figures are united through their gestures of praying, pointing, and blessing. The angel on the right of the composition looks outward, bringing the viewer into the painting. John the Baptist prays to Christ Child, who in turn blesses him.
Madonna, with one hand on Christ Child and the other hovering over John the Baptist, connects the two figures and forms the pyramid. On the left side in the distance, the forms become less distinct as they get lost in a haze of foggy atmosphere, which illustrates the implementation of aerial perspective. The very smooth transition between colors and between light and dark that Leonardo used in this painting is sfumato. It is not only visible in the landscape, but also in the figures, who are cast in light which smoothly turns into areas of dark shade. The figure on the left is St. John, and the figure seated on the right is Christ. The Virgin Mary, the Christ Child, the infant John the Baptist and an angel arranged into a triangular composition within the painting and set against a background of rocks, and a distant landscape of mountains and water.
In the paintings the Virgin Mary makes the apex of the pyramidal figure group, stretching one hand to include John the Baptist and raising the other above the head of the Christ Child in a blessing. John the Baptist kneels, gazing towards the Christ Child with his hands together in an attitude of prayer. The Christ Child sits towards the front of the painting, supported by the angel, and raising his right hand in a sign of approval towards the kneeling John.