During the Italian Renaissance Raphael was one of the most influential artists. He painted many brilliant pieces, mastering the use of depth, perspective, and the use of shadow and light. Throughout his life, Raphael used the Madonna as a reoccurring subject in his work. One example of this subject is the Madonna of the Candelabra. This dark shadowy portrayal exemplifies the pure and humanistic ideals of the Madonna that made Raphael’s versions so well known and loved throughout the ages. The timeless beauty and grace that he captured and the realistic qualities of his work are unparalleled.
The Madonna of the Candelabra is oil on panel, a medium common to the time. It was completed between 1513 and 1514, and stands 25 3/16 by 25 7/8 inches. The Madonna of the Candelabra is a part of the permanent collection of the Walters Art Museum located in Baltimore, Maryland. When purchased by collector Henry Walters in the early 1900’s it was the first Raphael Madonna to be incorporated into an American collection(www.thewalters.org). This painting was originally in the Borghese Collection in Rome, and changed hands numerously before it reached its present location. The way that Raphael positioned the Christ Child and Mary suggests that she was looking towards the infant John the Baptist that originally occupied the lower right of the painting. This conclusion comes from an earlier documentation of the original work. Although recognized as authentic, the exact compilation of artists that contributed to this work has been scrutinized.
Throughout his portrayals of the Madonna, Raphael seems to strive to create a lifelike image that would actually personify the Virgin to the viewer, rather than to put her out of reach by describing her as an object and not a human being. Most of his Madonnas are a result of earlier pen sketches that he used as studies of the human form and position for his later paintings. He seemed to go over the areas that he believed needed further work with darker strokes of the pen. He always strived for the perfect rendition of a naturalistic pose. His next quandary was the landscapes that would determine the location, be it a field or as in the case of the Madonna of the Candelabra, a shadowy curtained area. He was said to have had his apprentices pose so that he could capture just the right position that Mary would assume in the painting as related to the landscape(Pope-Hennessy 180).
While Raphael was influenced by other artists of the time, such as Michelangelo and Leonardo, he remained unique in his individual style. Raphael began to use the previous renditions of the Madonna as an influence. The symbolism of the Madonna is that of beauty and grace while incorporating a sense of pureness associated with her. The use of the candles in this particular Madonna show the light of Christ that is being brought into the world by Mary. She is giving birth to the light of the world, according to the Christian faith. The halos around her head and the head of Christ add to the feeling of holiness that the painting was intended to imply. The other figures appear to be angels overlooking the mother and child, as if guardians from heaven sent to watch over them like a shepherd watches over his sheep. There is no reason that this painting was named the Madonna of the Candelabra other than the fact of the presence of the glowing candles in the background. Raphael didn’t tend to name his work, but rather they picked up their names over the years to differentiate them from the other Madonnas that he completed.
While Raphael painted many Madonnas all with slightly different schematics, the Madonna of the Candelabra is very similar to others painted during that time. When compared to the Madonna of the Fish the similarities become clear. Both of these versions of the Madonna and child include other characters in the work, be it the Archangel and the young Tobias in the Madonna of the Fish, or the two angel-like characters in the Madonna of the Candelabra. The expressions on each of the supporting characters plays the roles of adoration, respect and nervousness to approaching the throne of the Virgin. Also in both works, and most other Madonnas, the Virgin does not look directly at the infant. Her gaze is either cast downward, in the case of the Madonnas of the Candelabra and the Fish. Stylistically, however, the Madonna of the Fish is much more in depth including greater detail than what can be seen in the cropped version. This is largely due to the way that the Madonna of the Candelabra has been made into a circle deleting perhaps another character, probably John the Baptist, as earlier noted.
Although Raphael lived a relatively short life, he completed some of the most beloved paintings that have withstood the ultimate test of time. The way that he gave the viewer an intimate look into the person called “The Madonna” was like no other. He gives her a quality of life and realness that no other artist has been able to capture since that time.