The Sistine Madonna is an 265 cm × 196 cm large oil painting by Raphael (1483-520) that is currently in the museum of Dresden.
The painting was commissioned in 1512 by Pope Julius II and was one of the last Madonnas painted by Raphael. The painting moved to Dresden from 1754. After World War II, it was relocated to Moscow for a decade before being returned to Germany.
It is one of the world most well known paintings, together with for example Da Vinci's Last Supper and Mona Lisa.
Lecture coverage and references
1923-10-06-GA229 describes the Sistine Madonna as a Christmas imagination
Now imagine how this could be portrayed. First we have the Moon-Earth element, spread out below the Earth's surface. Then, going out into the great spaces, we find a raying forth from man into the cosmos, and this could be shown as a heavenly Earth-star radiance, sent out by the Earth into the cosmos. The head of Mary is like a radiant star, which means that her whole countenance and bearing must give expression to this star-radiant quality [see BBD].
If then we turn to the breast, we come to the breathing process; to the Sun-element, the child, forming itself out of the clouds in the atmosphere, shot through by the rays of the Sun.
Further down we come to the Moon-like, salt-forming forces, given outward expression by bringing the limbs into dynamic relation with the Earth and letting them arise out of the salt and the Moon-elements in the Earth. Here we have the Earth in so far as it is inwardly transfigured by the Moon.
All this would really have to be shown through a kind of rainbow colouring. For if we were to look from the cosmos towards the Earth, through the shining of the stars, it would be as though the Earth were wishing to shine inwardly, beneath its surface, in rainbow colours. On the Earth we have something related to the Earth-forces, to gravity and to the formation of the limbs, which can be expressed only through the garment which follows the Earth-forces in its folds. So we should have the garment down below, in relation to the Earth-forces. Then we should have to portray, a little higher up, that which gives expression to the Earth-Moon element. We could even picture the Moon, if we wished to symbolise; but the Moon-element is clearly expressed in the configuration of the Earth.
Higher up still, we must bring in that which comes forth from the Moon-element. We see how the clouds are permeated with many human heads, pressing downwards; one of them is condensed into the Sun resting on Mary's arm: the Jesus-child. And all this must be completed, in an upward direction, through the star-radiance expressed in the countenance of Mary.
If we understand the depths of winter, how it shows us the connection of the cosmos with man, with man who takes up the birth-forces in the Earth, the only possible way of presenting the woman is in this form: formed out of the clouds, endowed with the forces of the Earth: with the Moon-forces below, with the Sun-forces in the middle, and above, towards the head, with the forces of the stars. The picture of Mary with the little Jesus-child arises out of the cosmos itself.
.. everything we feel at Christmas-time flows together into the picture of Mary and the child — that picture which hovered so often before painters in earlier times, especially in the first Christian centuries, and of which the last echoes have been preserved in Raphael's Sistine Madonna.
The Sistine Madonna was born out of the great instinctive knowledge of nature and the spirit which prevailed in ancient times. For it is a picture of the Imagination which must in fact come to a man who transposes his inner vision into the secrets of Christmas in such a way that they become for him a living picture.
.. out of all that we can feel at Christmas time, arises the picture of Mary the mother, the folds of her robe following the forces of the Earth, while in the region of the breast — even these details are apparent in the painting — her garment has to be inwardly rounded, taking on the quicksilver form, so that here one has a feeling of inward enclosure. Here the Sun-forces can find entry, and the innocent Jesus-child, who must be thought of as having yet received no earthly nourishment, is the Sun-activity resting on Mary's arm, with the radiance of the stars above. That is how we have to represent the head and eyes of Mary, as though a light were shining out from within them towards men. And the Jesus-child in Mary's arm must appear as though emerging from the rounded cloud-shapes, tender and lovable, inwardly sheltered; and then the garment, subject to earthly gravity, expressing what the force of earthly gravity can become [see BBD].
References and further reading