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The Virgin and The Child with Saint John the Baptist

This is one of the most famous paintings by an Italian High Renaissance painter Raphael who studied under Leonardo da Vinci. The painting shows Virgin Mary, young Jesus (on the left) and young John the Baptist (on the right). Here we have a Pyramid composition (it's actually often associated with the High Renaissance). The Virgin Mary is not in a religious environment - we don't see a throne or columns of beautiful buildings, she's just sitting on a rock in a field with beautiful landscape with perspective. Does the landscape remind you of anything? What about the backdrop for the Mona Lisa?  To remind you, Raphael studied under Leonardo da Vinci who painted the Mona Lisa. Christi s standing on his mother's foot - a sign of dependence on her, at the same time, he is reaching for a book in her hand which symbolizes him growing up. In the book, his crucifixion is foretold. His mother looks at him lovingly, holding him with his right hand, as though asking if he is ready for all that is to come while, simultaneously, with her left hand, she is almost trying not to let him get the book, she is unsure. While all this drama is unfolding, saint john the baptist is kneeling in prayer next to them, looking at Jesus Christ. Hey, look, EVERYONE is looking at Jesus in this painting. 

The Virgin Mary has a very faint halo. The halo is disappearing during the High Renaissance because the divinity of it's subjects was started to be highlighted by their ideal beauty more than by external signs. Raphael combined superhuman beauty with human tenderness in this painting and that's why this Madonna became a standart for painters for many centuries. 

In french "La Belle Jardiniere" means "The fair Gardener" - there is no real point in the title, it was just nicknamed like this to distinguish it from other Raphael paintings in the Louvre. Raphael put his name and the date of the painting in the cloth of the Virgin Mary.

Raphael, together with Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci form the great triangle of the top artists of the High Renaissance Italy. Like a proper ideal Renaissance man (master of many fields) he not only painted, but was also a printmaker and an architect. He died at a young age of 37, after a night of excessive sex with his favorite mistress.. after that he caught fever, he did not tell the doctors why he was sick, so they gave him the wrong medicine and  he died 15 days later. During those 15 days he took care of all his affairs, wrote his will (leaving enough money to take care of his mistress). His funeral was grand, attended by many people and he was buried in the Pantheon. 

His favorite mistress Margherita Lutti:

 Even though he died early, he left a large number of works due to his productivity - he had the largest workshop of all painters at the time, consisting of over 50 people. He was orphaned at the age of 11 and lived his his priest uncle from then. He led a fairly nomadic life, working in many workshops in northern Italy, though he spent most of the time in Florence, in 1508 he moved to Rome and spend all his remaining days there working for the two popes. He made a good living and lived in a palace. He never married, but was engaged once and he had many mistresses. A reason why he never married may have been because he secretly wanted to become Cardinal.

Raphael's tomb: