The Swing and the Sistine Madonna are both masterpieces of their era, long lasting in both technical success and celebration of their chosen subjects. Raphael and Fragonard approach their sources with deliberate composition through color, texture, lines and shapes, creating images of powerful resonance. The Sistine Madonna tells the story of great abandonment and celebration of lavish sensuality, while the Sistine Madonna explores the religious underpinnings of the Christian church. However, despite their disparate styles and meanings, they are infused with a circular similarity in both objects, construction, and import.
M. Putscher, in conversation about the work of F.T. Vischer in 1858, notably exclaimed, "What means this period made use of to draw Raphel closer to itself, even by force!"
Conversation about this all-important painting, particularly its artistic dissection, grew with the course of art history, developing from description to explanation. While it remained in its original location until 1754, it was enjoyed with the quiet appreciation of the Piacenza.
While Vasari mentioned it, its role in the world of art was still not prevalent. Its most notable praise came with its transitory arrival to the Dresden Gallery Collection, where viewing was not only more readily experienced but more easily accepted.
While Leonardo delved into the Madonna of the Goldfinch (Uffizi) and the Madonna of the Meadow (Vienna), abandoning dark mystery for seemingly innocent play and tussle with refined compositional scheme, Raphael was experimenting with the Donni portraits, Baldassara Castiglione (c. 1515, Paris, Louvre), and A Cardinal (c. 1511, Madrid). In influence, Donatello joined Leonardo in Raphel's "sweet style," the tender gracefulness for which he is most known and of which the Vatican frescoes even in the early years made evident. Giovanni Bellini joined ranks, setting the stage for Raphael's masterpiece with an ethos of transcendent proximity, placing the heads of the Virgin and the Child more close than ever before. After a thousand and a half years, the mother and child were approachable, figures readily grasped in their holy figuration by the earliest painter successful in breaching the mortal and celestial divide; Raphael produced the Sistine Madonna.
Made famous by the tourist souvenir shops and art mongers internationally, the fruitful simplicity of Raphael's color, tone, placement, composition, and structure brought to life the holiest of holy with anchoring accessibility. Like his predecessors, Raphael brought his Madonna down to earth, making her relationship with the Child fantastically human. The work was neither empyrean nor pedantic; the structure of each figure, clear detailing restraint, and color bring emotion to the painting that idealizes them without the supra-human powers of Leonardo, but with a touch of human fallibility and sweetness even unique to the holy cherub on the bottom right. With this celebration of humanity, godly triumph, and careful brush, The Sistine Madonna (c. 1515, Dresden), builds on the early Florentine examples with exponential strength.
Michelangelo wrote in1542 that 'all that Raphael knew in his art, he had from me'.
The Sistine Madonna makes this corollary self-evident; the circular Taddei Madonna (bas-relief, c. 1504, London, Royal Academy), which he sketched, began Raphael's understanding, incorporation, and mastery of circular composition. There, the Child flows through this same fluency, throwing himself into the protective arms of his mother while at the same time staring with inquisitive content at the gold finch held by his cousin; the cycle was later ironed out in The Orleans Madonna (1506, Chantilly, Musee Conde), where the young Christ grasps the virgin's dress, her right hand upon his left foot. The bodily circle embodied there was later further cultivated with background.
The stability of The Sistine Madonna comes from a muddled, busy background that falls silent to the circles provided by the figures and curtains. The Bridgewater Madonna (1507, Edinburgh, National Gallery of Scotland, Sutherland Loan) balances the Christ's body as the Child turns his head over shoulder toward the Virgin-mother. The graceful sweep of the draperies balances and calms her stiffened neck with the same aplomb that it does in The Sistine Madonna. The curtains sweep the heavenly exterior of the painting with swathing embrace, a velvet source of motif both unique and new and equally steeped in history.
Not until the nineteenth century did the curtain garner much critical debate in the world of art history.
While some observe its previous critical neglect as a sign of observers' inability to explain the continuous circle and motif, it is obviously an extension of antiquated Christian iconography; it makes logical sense that this, to early scholars still existent in an early Christian church, was self-evident. Additionally, other possibilities exist; perhaps it was the transition to the Neoclassical from the late Baroque that kept concern limited, but the earliest traditions were directly postured to fit the concepts of the Neoclassical aesthetic.
At that point, it was logically assumed that representations were based on a natural reality; the curtain, therefore, was still just a window curtain; this early connection highlights the connection Raphael succeeded in making the holy seem quotidian; in explanation even, the art could be represented through both complex terminology and rigorous debate as well as basic understandings.
The return of the Romantics to Raphaelean early works prompted a new interpretation of the sweeping curtains as a link to Catholic ritual.
The curtains serve a multi-faceted place in the painting, occupying both philological and historical considerations in the painting and the larger realm of pictoral art. Many interpretations of the curtain during the classical period extend to setting the stage of this fundamental moment in not only art work but also Christianity, the meeting of secular and the divine in the most holy and human of manners, giving it a new meaning as a theatrical prop.
In an almost embracing l'art pour l'art approach, the explanations of the curtain as this dramatic swath lasted well into the symbolic interpretations of late.
The curtain, in a bow to more reality, also serves the purpose of window curtain, as archeologist H. Brunn proposed in 1891.
In its transferable representation, it had large-appeal to an audience, a sort of equalizer of the masses. Its deep tones suggest the rich velvets of royalty, and with symbolic color it draws upon the Christian underpinnings referred to earlier. However, despite its richness, it also has a faded antiquity of an old house, largesse, and popular use understandable in many houses. Its lines fold with the thickness of the fabric, softly curving into depths and arching forward as though untouched by an outside breeze, supporting Grimme's later associations to a "death-veil."
Extension from the "death veil" to one of heavenly attribution is not far; taking the figure of Mary and the Child to be the central image of the painting, the premise of the situation can only be illuminated by the curtains. These lines recognize a painted curtain with two symmetrical halves opened outward, a frequent past in Raphaelean art. Historically increasing veneration of the Virgin increased cortina motif in Marian iconography, adding a new translation in revaltio, something between a temple curtain and the holy flesh.
In many ways, this connection is passively patristic, supplying the Old Testament curtain, holy stage, papal claims, and Trinity presence without offensively belittling the popular virgin.
Beneath the dark shields of the curtains and the narrative, faced background illuminating the figures, sit two other carefully drawn creatures in the clouds, one looking directly up at his elders, and the other, with discontent, staring at his companion to the upper right with no apparent glee at the holy couple. These winged boys of early Greco-Roman art come familiarity with the rites of Pompeii, but their inclusion in the Old Testament came with curious inquisition.
Previously, their appearance was most notably in the veil of the Tabernacle in embroidery, but here they have left the celestial heavens, sitting directly below the holy pair. As such, their winged interruption represents the continuation of the cyclical theme where Raphael originated. Stemming from the traditional heavens, they leave the green curtains and, with matching tipped wings, bring their color, clarity, and curiosity to round the southern exposure.
Born in the small city of Grasse, Jean-Honore Fragonard also preferred the roundness of cycle in his paintings, but with much less blatant representation than Raphael. In The Swing, an inversion of light and chiaroscuro play with the woman's extended leg, ropes of the swing, and wayward tree branch through flushed light to bring a similar comparison of cycle in a completely secular full embrace. Fragonard frequently abandoned the religious in favor of the divinely passionate play, choosing much of his early life to reinvigorate his canvases in the styles of the early Rococo and lighthearted, erotic pictures.
More so than Raphael, but with much of the same reliance, Fragonard was deeply dependent upon history and artistic precedent and standard in his paintings, particularly as they related to the world at large. His cheerful depiction swam his frivolous pen through mythology, gallantry, landscape, and portraiture. However, with changing times, he…