Raphael Renaissance Spotlight

Christ Falling on the Way to Calvary – Raphael

Figure 1 Christ Falling on the Way to Calvary 1514-1516 CE – Raphael

Raphael Sanzio (1483-1520 CE) was an Italian artist who was active during the period of the High Renaissance, a period in art where the ideals of humanism and realism flourished.  Raphael was one of three masters (the others being Leonardo Da Vinci (1452-1519) and Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564)) who produced work that broke ground with depth, posture and human form. 

The painting was commissioned by Sicilian monastery Santa Maria dello Spasimo. The monastery was never completed due to lack of resources. This was caused by the rising Ottoman Empire; the aforementioned resources being needed for Palermo’s fortifications against possible attack. It is said that the ship transporting the painting sank. The artwork however was safely contained in a casing that allowed it to float into the port of Genoa. (Hodge, 2017) It is currently located in the Museo del Prado in Madrid, Spain.

Created between 1514 and 1516 CE, the painting depicts a scene where Christ has stumbled under the overpowering weight of the cross. Mary is shown to be reaching towards him while she herself is being consoled by a group of women. This is the main focus of the narrative of the imagery. The powerful emotions that appear between mother and son bestow a tender and sorrowful mood. This is further intensified by the implied lines between their gaze and the mother’s hands towards the hand of her son.

Figure 2 The implied lines between mother and son

The figures of the painting begin on the upper right-hand side and appear to flow, like a torrent of water from the distance, diagonally through the image to the bottom left. The official on horseback who appears in the upper left of the image, then leads our gaze to the daunting scene of Calvary. It is this small part of the scene that causes such dismay in our emotions as the fate of Christ moves to its inevitable conclusion.

The painting uses elements that were typical of the High Renaissance period. The depth and perspectives were more adventurous and accurate, the three-dimensional space contrasting with the flatness of the Byzantine and Medieval art that came before. There was more attention given to the technical approach to the human form. Raphael depicted the subjects in various contrasting poses that showed an educated eye when it came to human anatomy. This can best be seen in the depict ion of Simon of Cyrene, where his muscular arms are bearing the weight of the cross in an attempt to aid Christ during his ordeal. 

Figure 3 The portrayal of the arms of Simon show a technical knowledge of human anatomy

This is a painting that was produced at a time that interests me greatly. It was a time of innovation and growth. Artists were striving towards perfection and attempting to capture beauty of form and human emotion. They were becoming famous and well known for their work, attracting the attention of important nobles and those high up in society. Raphael and Michelangelo in particular, were commissioned by the Pope himself (Pope Julius II and Pope Leo X) to produce work for the Vatican. Michelangelo was instructed to paint the ceiling of the Sistine chapel whilst Raphael was commissioned to paint what was to become the Popes library (known as the Raphael Rooms). These works are indeed very famous to this day, and will continue to be in the future.

Works Cited

Hodge, S. (2017). The Short Story of Art. London: Laurence King Publishing Ltd.