His Last Great Work -Raphael

 Among the paintings of the Gallery of the Vatican is the Transfiguration, the last painting of Raphael. (1483 – 1520)

An almost divine power seemed to have inspired him as he portrayed the history of human suffering, and of the soul’s bright faith of a beautiful home above. Perhaps, as he toiled on, the portals of that home were open to his vision, and the voices of the blessed were stealing around him.

Hence the heavenly radiance which beams from the face, and lingers around the figure of our Holy Saviour. As Raphael eagerly painted and triumphantly gazed upon the realization of his wondrous conception, death snatched him away at the early age of thirty-seven.

Often had I read those touching lines of Rogers, wherein he describes the mournful scene when the dead body was placed beneath that last great painting, whose colors were yet moist from the artist’s brush. All Rome loved him, and Rome poured forth her noblest people to gaze upon the angelic face. The glory around the head of Christ seemed reflected upon the lifeless form. All wept.

“And when all beheld him where he lay, how changed from yesterday—him in that hour cut off, and at his head his last great work;
When, entering in, they looked.
Now on the dead, then on that masterpiece —
Now on his face, lifeless and colorless.
Then on those forms divine that lived and breathed. And would live on for ages—all were moved.
And sighs burst forth and loudest lamentations.” -Samuel Rogers

The intention of the painter is to produce a work, in which the calamities of life should lead the afflicted to look to Heaven for comfort and relief. In the upper part of the composition is Mount Tabor; the three apostles are lying on the ground, unable to bear the supernatural light proceeding from the divinity of Christ, who is floating in the air, accompanied by Moses and Elijah, as a personification of the power of the Lord and the source of Christian consolation.

Below is a representation of the sufferings of humanity: on one side are nine apostles; on the other a crowd of people are bringing to them a boy possessed of a devil. His limbs are fearfully convulsed, and every countenance wears an expression of terror. Two of the apostles point upwards to indicate the only Power by whom he can be cured.

“In the fury of the possessed, in the steady faith of the father, in the affliction of a beautiful and interesting female, and the compassion evinced by the apostles, he has depicted the most pathetic story he ever conceived.” (Luigi Lanzi, Italian art historian -1732-1810)

And yet even all this does not excite our admiration so much as the primary subject on the Mount. There the figures of the two prophets and the three disciples are truly admirable; but still more admirable is that of the Saviour, in which we seem to behold that effulgence of eternal glory, that spiritual lightness, that air of divinity, which will one day bless the eyes of the elect. In the head of the Saviour, on which he lavished all his powers of majesty and beauty, we see at once the last perfection of art and the last work of Raphael.

The Ave Maria
A Journal devoted to the Honor of the Blessed Virgin
1883

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