The Sistine Madonna

Franck Fernández – translator, interpreter, philologist

Franck Fernández – translator, interpreter, philologist

When, after learning from photographs and reproductions of a work admired from the earliest youth and after years, the opportunity presents itself to present it and contemplate and admire it in person, in all its splendor, life-size and with the colors given by the artist, it is a revelation and a great joy to the heart. I have had the opportunity to know most of the great museums in the world and most of the great works of painting … but something was missing and finally it was given … I was able to meet, already in the fall of my life, whom I admired so much from my early youth: the Sistine Madonna, the work of the Italian painter Rafael.

The Sistine Madonna was painted between the years 1513 and 1514 and was one of the last works painted by the artist. The painting is not small, it measures more than 2 and a half meters high by almost 2 meters wide and is an oil on canvas. It is located since 1754 in which Gëmaldegalerie Alten Meister in the Saxon city of Dresden, Germany. Many consider it to be the most important masterpiece that houses this famous museum.

It was Pope Julius II who asked Rafael Sanzio for this work in order to decorate his tomb. Rafael is one of the great exponents of the Italian Renaissance, that moment that brought humanity and its reason for being back to man through art, giving human beings the position they have held in the Universe ever since. Along with Leonado da Vinci and Miguel Ángel, he is considered one of the three greatest Italian artists of his time.

The painting represents the Holy Virgin holding her Son with her two arms, Saint Sixtus on her right and Saint Barbara on her left, behind which the castle that represents her is barely outlined. The composition of the painting is extremely simple, as is its decoration. Green curtains open to expose the beautiful Virgin in her red and blue dress and a yellow veil, as if whipped by the wind, giving the idea that the Virgin comes down with her Son to approach us. The characters float on clouds that serve as a base and, in the lower frame of the work, as if it were a ledge or window, we find the papal tiara of San Sixto and two beautiful little angels who, in fact, are the most acquaintances of this magnificent painting, reproduced endlessly. These little angels, as if reclining and with charming faces, disciplinedly observe the scene of the Virgin with her Son. Saint Sixtus contemplates the Virgin and with his right hand shows her to the public as asking her to bless him. Santa Barbara, also directing his face to the public, presents an air of meditation and recollection. The Virgin’s expression navigates between the spiritual and the earthly and she gives us a direct look, as if wanting to protect and embrace her. Again the little angels, with their beautiful wings, like obedient children waiting for something.

The painting of the Sistine Madonna was in the convent of San Sixto in the Italian city of Piacenza until the monks sold it in 1754 to Prince Augustus III of Saxony, who bought it for the high sum of 25,000 Roman shields. Since this date it has had its space at the Gëmaldegalerie. Dresden was the capital of the Kingdom of Saxony, which joined the Second German Empire in 1871. Leipzig was the commercial capital of this kingdom.

But some men, with their hatreds and ambitions, break the noblest projects of men in good faith. This led Germany to be the promoter of the Second World War and, in the face of the imminent bombardment, as in all the other museums in the belligerent countries, they quickly hid their works of art, as not only material but spiritual wealth of their peoples . To put the Gëmaldegalerie works in a safe place, the works were packed and taken to caves where they were later found by the Soviet troops and, like the rest of the works of art they found, they were sent by special transport to Moscow as tribute of war.

The works of the Gëmaldegalerie, like all the others, landed at the Pushkin Museum where they were repertoryd and preserved, but not shown to the public. In 1955, after Stalin’s death, the new government of the Soviet Union considered it appropriate to return the integrity of the works to their original museums and, as a sign of solidarity between the Soviet and Democratic German peoples, the picture that concerns us today it was returned to the new GDR along with many other works looted by the Soviets. Do not think that all the works were returned as in a rapture of generosity, the jewels of Helen of Troy to this day remain in the Treasure Chamber of the Hermitage of Saint Petersburg and, in the place where they should be in the Alte Nationalgalerie of Berlin, there is a sign that explains to visitors that this is the place that corresponds to the Jewels of Helen of Troy, illegally retained in the Hermitage, that are in international litigation that not only involves Germany and Russia, but to other countries and that I see difficult to resolve someday.

The beautiful Sistine Madonna of Raphael with her Son in her arms, Saint Sixtus and Saint Barbara at her sides and the two beautiful little angels at her feet are the delight of visitors to this museum and this beautiful city of Dresden.

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