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Food For Your Soul

"Madonna della Seggiola (Madonna of the Chair)

seggiola

This oil-on-panel painting by the Italian renaissance artist Raphael dates from c. 1513-14. It depicts Mary embracing the child Jesus, while the young John the Baptist devoutly watches. Painted during his Roman period, the warm colors seem to suggest the influence of Titian and Sebastiano del Piombo. 

Previous works by Raphael show holy and heavenly figures far from the painting and usually showcasing their superiority over other beings. In this painting, however, the audience is to look at the close-up image of the Virgin as though she were a very ordinary woman caring for young children. In the form of a “tondo” (a circular painting), the artist preserves and emphasizes the curve with his genial adaptation of the figures to the outline of the painting. And yet, the composition is in no way forced, but on the other hand the figures in following the curve become more closely entwined together. This grouping, this closing around the fulcrum of the tondo, coincides with the center of affection, the Christ child, the spiritual center of the picture. The color, in spite of its vividness, has a fusion and warmth which Raphael attains with genial and personal mastery.

Although Raphael painted this picture in Rome, it soon passed into the Medici collections. It was already there by 1589 and has been in the Pitti Palace since the 18th century. It was carried off to Paris by the Napoleonic troops in 1799 and brought back to Florence in 1815.

Jean August Ingres (1780-1867), a French neoclassical painter, greatly admired Raphael and paid tribute to him by including this painting in many of his works, such as in the background of Henry IV playing with his children, on the table in front of the subject in his Portrait of monsieur Rivière, and worked into the carpet in Napoleon I on his Imperial Throne.

Maria Montessori (1870-1952), Italian doctor and pioneer in pedagogy, wrote that it was her last wish that the Madonna della seggiola hang in each Children’s House (Montessori School) as a symbol of “humanity [St. John] rendering homage to maternity [Madonna].”

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