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“Sistine Madonna” by Raphael

"Sistine Madonna" by Raphael

“Sistine Madonna” by Raphael

“Sistine Madonna” by Raphael depicts the Madonna, holding the Christ Child and flanked by Saint Sixtus and Saint Barbara. The group stands on clouds before dozens of obscured putti, while two distinctive winged putti rest on their elbows at the bottom of the composition.

The winged angels beneath Mary at the very bottom of the picture are famous in their own right. Their image has been highly marketed and has been used in postcards, wrapping paper, and many consumer items.

The angels of this type are known as putti and are commonly conflated with and erroneously referred to as cherubim. The image of these putti has inspired legends of their own.

According to legend, when Raphael was painting the Madonna, the children of his model would come in to watch. Struck by watching the children’s posture and faces, he added them to the painting as he watched them.

Another story claims that Raphael was inspired by the children he encountered on the street when he saw them looking wistfully into a baker’s shop window.

The painting was commissioned in 1512 by Pope Julius II in honor of his uncle, Pope Sixtus IV, as an altarpiece for the basilica church of the Benedictine Monastery of San Sisto in Piacenza. The commission required that the painting depict both Saints Sixtus and Barbara. 

The painting was sold, and it moved to Dresden in 1754, where it had a significant influence on the German and Russian art scene.

The “Sistine Madonna” was rescued from destruction during the bombing of Dresden in World War II. The painting was stored, with other works of art, in a tunnel, and when the Red Army found them, they took them.

In 1955, after the death of Joseph Stalin, the Soviets decided to return the art to Germany,

“for the purpose of strengthening and furthering the progress of the friendship between the Soviet and German peoples.”

The painting was one of the last Madonnas painted by Raphael. 

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"Sistine Madonna" by Raphael

Winged angels in the Sistine Madonna by Raphael


A putto is a figure in a work of art depicted as a chubby male child, usually naked and winged.

Putti are a classical motif found primarily on child sarcophagi of the 2nd century, where they are depicted fighting, dancing, and playing.

The putto disappeared during the Middle Ages and was revived, in Florence in the 1420s by Donatello, although there are some earlier manifestations.

Donatello gave putto a distinct character by infusing the form with Christian meanings and using it in new contexts such as musician angels. 

Most Renaissance putti are essentially decorative in both religious and secular works, without usually taking any actual part in the events depicted.

In Baroque art, the putto came to represent the omnipresence of God. A putto representing a cupid is also called an amorino.


A cherub is one of the unearthly beings who directly attend to God in Abrahamic religions. The numerous depictions of cherubim assign to them many different roles, such as protecting the entrance of the Garden of Eden.

In the Book of Ezekiel and at least some Christian icons, the cherub is depicted as having two pairs of wings, and four faces. Their legs were straight, the soles of their feet like the hooves of a bull, gleaming like polished brass.

Later tradition ascribes to them a variety of physical appearances. In Western Christianity, cherubim have become associated with the putto, which is derived from images of Cupid, resulting in depictions of cherubim as small, plump, winged boys.


Raphael was an Italian painter and architect of the High Renaissance. His work is admired for its clarity, ease of composition, and visual achievement of the Neoplatonic ideal of human grandeur.

Together with Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, he forms the traditional trinity of great masters of that period.

Raphael was enormously productive, running a large workshop, and, despite his death at 37, he left a large body of work. Many of his works are found in the Vatican Palace.

The frescoed Raphael Rooms are central and the most significant works of his career. The best-known work is The School of Athens.

He was hugely influential in his lifetime, although after his death, the influence of his great rival Michelangelo was more widespread. By the 19th century, Raphael’s more serene and harmonious qualities were again regarded as the highest models.

Raphael’s career falls into three phases, his early years in Umbria, then four years (1504–1508) absorbing Florence’s artistic traditions, followed by his successful twelve years in Rome, working for two Popes and their associates.

Sistine Madonna

Sistine Madonna

  • Title:                Sistine Madonna
  • Also:                Madonna di San Sisto
  • Artist:              Raphael
  • Created:          1514
  • Medium:         Oil on panel
  • Periods:           High Renaissance
  • Dimensions:    Height: 265 cm (104.3 in); Width: 196 cm (77.1 in)
  • Category:        Christian Themes
  • Museum:        Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden

“Sistine Madonna” by Raphael


Sistine Madonna by Raphael

Virtual Tour of the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister

Raphael, The mystery of the Sistine Madonna


“Tears come from the heart and not from the brain.”
– Leonardo da Vinci


Photo Credit 1) Raphael [Public domain], via Wikimedia Comm

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