The Madonna della Seggiola by Raphael Sanzio, the painter of ‘happiness’

madonna della seggiola raphael

Raphael, the ‘easiness’ painter

Making that a difficult thing seem simple implies that there is even a more difficult job behind it.

I must admit that for a long time Raphael appeared to me as a banal artist, interpreter of an ‘easiness’ and an immediacy that showed nothing profound or intimately felt. Everything about Raphael’s art seemed to halt on the surface. Then I realised that this happened to me because it was my vision of the artist that was actually superficial, certainly due to the lack of knowledge I had of this genius of art.

Now, thanks to the many publications and the focus that the exhibition of the Scuderie del Quirinale has dedicated to him (I’m still hoping I can see the show before it’s June), I get a vision of Sanzio that is completely new: now I realise that his ‘easiness in painting’ is actually the successful synthesis of multiple and varied artistic experiences, as well as of many men and many women the Urbino’s painter met on his way.

The Madonna of the Galleria Palatina in Florence

Look at this Madonna: who would think that behind that loving – but also wink – expression of a woman with her baby there are ideas that Raphael ‘stole’ from Leonardo’s inventions and from there down to Ambrogio Lorenzetti and Duccio, which in turn referred to a theme that even had Byzantine roots and which was called glykophilousa ( a term that finds a translation that is close to our concept of “tenderness”)?

Raphael reinterprets that subject of Greek tradition in a daily vision, making such an ancient icon usable for popular devotion that was coeval to him.

The Madonna della Seggiola, Raphael Sanzio, 1513-14, Galleria Palatina, Florence

The Madonna images in the Italian houses

How many Madonna della Seggiola by Raphael have decorated the headboards of Italian houses (those of our grandparents)? Well, Italian. Thinking back to Raphael’s itinerant activity in a spirit devoid of any easy nationalist sentiment – which, as we Italians know, really wastes in these days – it could be stated objectively that, after Giotto, Raphael is the ‘Italian’ painter for excellence. As far as he has travelled, from Urbino – where he takes his first steps in his father’s workshop – to Perugia, Siena, Florence and finally Rome, Raphael is a pilgrim: he ‘touches’ and leaves his mark in many of the Italian cities of that time, even gaining international fame that has never failed since the sixteenth century. Like a god of the arts, he will end in the house of the gods: the eternal city.

Exactly 500 years ago, on April 6, 1520, Raphael died in Rome. He died young. Perhaps even too young, considering his inexhaustible creative energy which was the “promise of happiness” (with these words Stendhal defined the concept of “beauty”).

With his untimely death, Raphael, the Seggiola Madonna‘s author and the ‘painter of promised happiness’ and “promised paradise” (cit. by Achille Bonito Oliva) made the whole art world fall into despair. Unfortunately, “only the good die young” as the Queen sang.
In the case of Raphael it could be said that on April 6, 1520, in Rome “a god died young” ⟣