Raphael's 'Transfiguration'

Raphael's 'Transfiguration'

by a student of Raphael, the Italian High Renaissance master

The painting, formerly hung at the diocese Bishopstead in the dining room, had been in storage when the Trustees offered the opportunity for a church in the diocese to acquire the painting. The dimensions are 78 1/2" X 54" X 3 1/2". St. Paul's received the painting from the diocese in May of 2018.

‘The Transfiguration’ is the last painting by the Italian High Renaissance master Raphael. Commissioned by Cardinal Giulio de Medici, the later Pope Clement VII (1523-1534) and conceived as an altarpiece for the Narbonne Cathedral in France, Raphael worked on it until his death in 1520. The original now hangs in the Pinacoteca Vaticana in Vatican City.

Moses and Elijah appear before the transfigured Christ with Peter, James and John looking on. The two figures kneeling on the left are Justus and Pastor who were the patron saints of Medici’s archbishopric and the cathedral for which the painting was intended.

The upper portion of the painting includes, from left to right, James, Peter and John, traditionally symbols of faith, hope and love, hence the symbolic colors of blue-yellow, green and red for their robes.

In the lower portion of the painting, Raphael depicts the Apostles attempting to free a possessed boy of his demonic possession.  They are unable to cure the sick child until the arrival of the recently transfigured Christ, who performs a miracle.  The youth is no longer prostate from his seizure but is standing on his feet, and his mouth is open, which signifies the departure of the demonic spirit.

The figure in the blue robe on the bottom left is probably Matthew.  He consults a book but cannot find the solution to cure the young man.  The young disciple in the yellow robe is Philip.  To Philip’s right, in the red robe, is Andrew. The man behind Andrew, pointing to the sick boy, is Judas Thaddeus, and the older man to his left is Simon.  The man on the far left is probably Judas Iscariot.  The man behind the boy holding him is his father who is in the green robe. He looks at the disciples while pointing at the young man.

The kneeling woman in the lower foreground is set apart from either group; the disciples or the boy’s family. She kneels forming a compositional bridge between the two groups in a serpent’s pose in which her shoulders and hips move in opposition.

Simply stated, the painting can be interpreted as a contrast between the saving power and purity of Christ in the top half of the painting,  with the flaws of Man, symbolised by the state of confusion in the bottom half of the painting.