I wonder if Raphael’s Madonnas may bring about a therapeutic effect. I am not talking about religious sympathy that some will undoubtedly experience; it’s the pure psychological influence of calm and nervous relaxation that comes to mind. As mentioned in this Wikipedia article, art is known to provoke extremely powerful emotional responses. Could it be that Raphael transferred by his work the whole notion of art it as a catalyst of intense, even shocking psychic experiences to the contrary realm of soothing comfort? Had he found a new communication channel, which works on mental frequencies below the average, as to counter the hyper sensational waves that oscillate above? In the light of general recognition and admiration of the artist’s achievements, as well as the personal opinion of yours truly, these questions arise only as rhetorical, and the answer would surely be affirmative.
As fitting to therapeutic art, this painting portrays a miniature idyll. Unconditional and idealized motherly love is probably the most appropriate theme for healing purposes: something we all need, miss and hopefully experienced. The scene immediately moves the beholder back in time, where we were held just as tenderly and carefully. But these memories are the most difficult to reconstruct, and Raphael’s version may serve as a substitute, a universal image that fills in the blanks. The painting (the artist) works both as a time machine and as the setting to where it transports all those who use it — a director and an actor — a feat of which only few, as for instance the history of cinema shows, were ever capable (only Clint Eastwood comes to mind, though this is a conceptual comparison). It is fascinating to observe how Raphael reproduced this achievement, even after taking up larger, both in size and tackled themes commissions.
But lets talk more closely about this Madonna. Classic pyramidal composition welcomes the viewer; the two heads inclined in different directions provide just the necessary variety — and feed the interest by the slight dissonance they produce. The hand supporting the baby’s buttocks is probably Raphael’s invention, which he repeated several time later. This could be the most disarming gesture I have ever witnessed in painting. It’s interesting to see that despite the privacy of the scene, the woman indeed presents her child, which responds to the viewer in a characteristic grumpy demeanor, clutching the mother’s shoulder for safety. Colors are timid and restrained, just as the her expression, which nevertheless exudes quiet confidence. Once again, the piece conveys a particular religious meaning of wholehearted acceptance — but I would go for the universal, equally powerful effect.