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Raphael, Marriage of the Virgin, 1504

Video transcript

we're in the Brera in milan and we're looking at an important early Raphael Raphael is in his early 20s when he paints this and the subject is the marriage of the Virgin and it's taken from a book called the golden legend now this is a medieval book that basically tries to fill in all the missing stories in the Bible I mean if you think about as deeply religious Christian culture they look to the Bible to understand the sacred story but there are so many omissions there are so many things that are missing that people created the glue to tie the stories together and that's what's collected in the book we know today as the golden legend so this story is about the marriage of the Virgin Mary to st. Joseph and that story says that there were a number of people that wanted to marry Mary she had many suitors and each of these suitors had a rod and that she would be married to the one whose rod flowered miraculously flower it needless to say and so they went to the temple and the man whose rod flowered was Joseph and we can see that in this painting Joseph who's got that wonderful yellow drape over his shoulder and around his waist is putting a ring tenderly on the Virgin Mary's finger and he holds in his left hand a rod that indeed has leaves at its end and there are other suitors behind him you can see have rods without flowers on the end and one suitor in the front is annoyed was decided to break the rod on his knee this wonderful human narrative quality here this is not just the sacred event but it really is enacting it before us as a kind of performance and so right in the center we have a priest marrying Mary and Joseph and the painting is so symmetrical in so many ways with that temple behind and have this rationally constructed perspective space and that priest is in the middle between Mary and Joseph it tips his head a little bit so it's just off-center in fact there's a little bit of the chaos of the crowd that people are moving this way in that the people are focusing here and there this painting is often compared to an early Renaissance painting by Raphael teacher perigee note the giving of the keys to Saint Peter and you can begin to see here in this early work by Raphael indications of what we understand now is the high Renaissance style as opposed to a kind of stiffness of the 15th century of the early Renaissance Raphael gives us figures who seem to move very easily and elegantly so make no mistake this is a painting that is still clearly indebted to Peron Gino but I think you're absolutely right Raphael is beginning to step out of his master shadow he signed the painting and if you look very closely at the front of the temple you can see it says Raphael or binos Raphael from Urbino and there is a beautiful sense of elegance especially in the Virgin Mary she's painted so tenderly and she stands in a lovely contrapposto tilts her head down there's that typical Raphael sweetness so whereas the early Renaissance so often was trying to reveal the truths of what we see of the world that we live in here there's an attempt to perfect to create a kind of balanced harmonious representation of an ideal heavenly place ideal beauty perfection harmony our qualities we associate with the high Renaissance and we see that in the background of this painting if we follow the linear perspective system and we track the orthogonals created by those paving stones behind the frieze of figures in the front we see a centrally planned temple in the background a form that was considered ideal by the architects and the artists of the high Renaissance we can think of Vermont a for example and his Tempietto it's a spectacular building and I love the way that the linear perspective leads our eye back there past the frieze of figures in the foreground and then our eyes are allowed to move around that arcade that's occupied by those smaller figures but then my eye goes back to the doorway and then through the building to the doorway on its far side and to the sky that's revealed beyond even that and there is that diminishment of the scale of the one doorway and then the farther doorway giving us a real sense of the completeness of this space there's a real love of creating an illusion of space and the way that the sizes of the figures shift as we move further back into space we have this real harmony here that I think is very typical of the high Renaissance between the architecture and the figures where one in Nobles another where one is as ideal and perfect as the other it's this high Renaissance moment although the very beginnings and of course we're looking with hindsight as to what will happen you