(b. 1483, Urbino, d. 1520, Roma)

Madonna of Belvedere (Madonna del Prato)

Oil on wood, 113 x 88 cm
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

The Madonna of the Meadow is the first of a series of full-length figure compositions that portray the apocryphal encounter between the Child Jesus and the boy Baptist. The boy Baptist is supposed to have recognized and worshipped Christ as the Redeemer even in their childhood. Raphael makes this clear by letting Christ take the cross from John.

Michelangelo's influence on Raphael is evident in this composition. The pyramidal structure of the figure group recalls Leonardo (whose cartoon for the St Anne was shown in 1506 in the Church of Santissima Annunziata). But Raphael exerts his own balancing capacity on the Leonardesque volumetric conception, infusing it with the idyllic serenity which characterizes his paintings from this period. The work as a whole is structurally harmonic, from the figure group (dominated by the affectionate figure of the Virgin Mary who supports the Child and glances tenderly at the young St John) to the sweeping landscape (made luminous by the mirror-like lake which stretches from one side of the panel to the other). The twisting figures of the two children clearly reflect Michelangelo's figurative research.