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.
- .. "a picture of the human soul born of the spiritual universe, and springing from this soul the highest that a human being can bring forth: Man's own spiritual birth, what within him is a new begetting of cosmic creative activity" (1909-04-29-GA057)
- Christmas imagination: "the woman 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. .. in the picture of Mary the mother, the folds of her robe following the forces of the Earth, while in the region of the breast her garment 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. .. 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 as though emerging from the rounded cloud-shapes, tender and lovable, inwardly sheltered; and the garment, subject to earthly gravity, expressing what the force of earthly gravity can become.." (1923-10-06-GA229)
Madonna as universal symbol
- India: the goddess with Krishna at her breast, Egypt: Isis with the child Horus,
- Michelangelo's Pieta, Rafael's Madonnas
Lecture coverage and references
Now let us try to turn what has been said into a physical picture. Let us ask ourselves:
Do we not possess a physical picture of what has been described, where the spiritual world is represented by cloud formations out of which the spiritual is born in the form of angels' heads portraying the human soul? Have we not in the Virgin's figure in Raphael's Sistine Madonna a picture born out of the divine spiritual world?
Let us go on to ask:
What becomes of a man whose soul has been cleansed and purified, who has ascended to higher knowledge and has unfolded in his soul those spiritual images that give life within him to the divine, living and weaving through the world? This human being who gives birth in man to the higher man, to a man who represents a little world in the great world, who out of his purified soul brings forth the true higher man — what is he?
He cannot be otherwise described than by the word clairvoyant. If we try to make a picture of the soul that gives birth to the higher man out of himself, out of the spiritual universe, we need only call to mind the picture of the Sistine Madonna, the Madonna with the wonderful Child in her arms.
Thus in the Sistine Madonna we have a picture of the human soul born of the spiritual universe, and springing from this soul the highest that a human being can bring forth — Man's own spiritual birth, what within him is a new begetting of cosmic creative activity.
quote B about the Madonna as a universal symbol of all ages and cultures
All that surrounds us in the world has sprung from the spirit we seek in the soul. Thus the soul has sprung from the divine Father-spirit living and weaving throughout the universe, bearing the Son of wisdom Who is like unto this Father-spirit, of Whom He is a repetition.
We understand now the way in which Goethe approached this problem in all its mystical significance when he tried to gather the whole content of Faust together in the “Chorus Mysticus”, where he speaks of the human soul as the 'eternal feminine' that draws us onward to the universal spirit of the world.
This was Goethe's attitude to his Madonna problem at the very end of Faust. From the figure which the portrayal of the Madonna has assumed, even today it is hardly possible to recognize fully what is here expressed as in a picture which is nevertheless founded on profound truth.
If, however, we trace this Madonna problem back to its origin, we shall realize that in very truth the mightiest human problem, though closely veiled, confronts us in the figure of the Madonna.
These Madonnas are, it is true, greatly changed from the simple figure of the catacombs in the first Christian centuries, where we find Madonnas with the Child groping for the mother's breast. From this first simple figure, having little to do with art, it is a long way to the fifteenth century, to Michaelangelo and Raphael, where after many transformations the Child and the Madonna have become in the modern sense much more in accordance with art — in accordance with the art of painting. It is, however, as if these supreme artists proceeded from no very full knowledge but a definite feeling of the deeper truth of the Madonna problem. Very beautiful experiences arise in us when we stand before the so-called Pieta of Michaelangelo in St. Peter's in Rome, where the Madonna is sitting with the corpse across her knees — thus the Madonna is at the age when Christ had already passed through death but is portrayed with all the beauty of youth. In Michaelangelo's day it was a much discussed question why at her age he had given the Madonna this youthful beauty. When asked about it he replied how it was well known that virgins long preserve the freshness of youth — and this is no mere belief but spiritually derived knowledge. Thus why should he not be right in representing the Mother of God at this age still with all the freshness of youth? It is a remarkable conception here expressed by Michaelangelo! Although it is not openly expressed by Raphael, nevertheless we feel it to be there in his pictures.
We can, however, understand this conception only by going far back into the times when what meets us in the Madonnas as unconscious art was still outwardly living. We might go very far back, and actually we should find the Madonna problem all over the world. We might go to old India and there find the Goddess with the Krishna child at her breast; in a Chinese cult we might find similar pictures.
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