Renaissance Revolution episode 1: the new series on Renaissance painting, written and presented by Matthew Collings, begins with an artistic investigation into one of the most radiant and beautiful images in all of art history, The Madonna of the Meadow, painted in 1505 by Raphael.
Renaissance art has become part of the 21st-century heritage industry but when Raphael was alive, it was a startling new form of visual expression, and Raphael’s vibrant ‘realism’ was striking and fresh. It became the model for western art for the next 400 years, right up until the birth of Modernism.
Renaissance Revolution episode 1 – Raphael – The Madonna of the Meadow
As much as it was a cultural ‘rebirth’, the Renaissance was also a revolution in ideas about reality. Matthew Collings sets out to remind us of how radical Renaissance paintings were when they were made, as well as opening our eyes to what is still truly great about them. In this programme he deconstructs The Madonna of the Meadow with the help of the very latest high-resolution digital technology, which allows him to explore the inner secrets of Raphael’s painterly effects with a clarity and at a level of detail never before seen on television.
As Matthew says, it is a journey ‘to the other side of an illusion’, revealing how Raphael created the alluring images that were so appealing to his wealthy Renaissance clients – including the Pope – and which entranced artists for centuries after his death. Matthew explains the secret to Raphael’s vibrant colour harmonies, which the artist grasped intuitively, long before the advent of colour ‘theory’; and Raphael also knew how to exploit colour effects to create the impression of extraordinary depth in his paintings.
The Madonna of the Meadow
The Madonna del Prato (Madonna of the Meadow), formally Madonna with the Christ Child and Saint John the Baptist, is a 1506 painting by Raphael, now held in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. It is also known as the Madonna del Belvedere after its long residence in the imperial collection in the Vienna Belvedere.
The figures of the Virgin Mary, the infant Jesus, and an infant John the Baptist are shown in a calm grassy meadow, linked by looks. Mary is wearing a gold-bordered blue mantle set against a red dress, extending her right leg along a diagonal. The blue symbolizes the church and the red Christ’s death, with the Madonna touching hands with Jesus the uniting of Mother Church with Christ’s sacrifice. Her eyes fixed on Christ, her head turned to the left and slightly inclined, and her hands steady him as he leans forward unsteadily to touch the miniature cross held by John. The poppy refers to Christ’s passion, death and resurrection.