Art Rivalry-Da Vinci Michelangelo Raphael

When I was of an impressionable age I read The Agony and the Ecstasy, a biographical novel  on Michelangelo by the American author Irving Stone. No doubt I was fascinated. A few years ago we visited the Vatican and took guided walking tours of the Colosseum, the Vatican and other sights in Rome. The girl who guided us through the Vatican told us fascinating stories of the rivalry between Michelangelo and Raphael who were contemporaries. I continue to be fascinated by these stories and the great works of art of these artists and the older Leonardo da Vinci from whom they learnt and created their own style.

Recently in London, I visited the National Gallery at Trafalgar Square. It houses one of the greatest collection of paintings in the world, so its website said. Not being an artist and not really sure that I can comprehend or appreciate art for art sake, I decided to check what I should focus on during a short visit of a couple of hours. I was thrilled to find that there was a unique collection on paintings of my favourite artist Michelangelo and his rivals.

The National Gallery, London
In 1501 Leonardo da Vinci publicly exhibited a sketch called a ‘cartoon’ of the Virgin Mother and Child with Saint Anne. The young Michelangelo is said to have seen it and was very impressed with the mobile figures. He adapted it for his marble sculpture Taddei Tonda, which to my good fortune was exhibited in the National Gallery on that day. 

da Vinci’s ‘Cartoon’ of the Virgin and Child with Saint Anne 
Michelangelo’s Taddei Tondo
There are very few depictions of the mother of the Virgin, Saint Anne and I was again spellbound by the thought of seeing a painting, no matter a sketch of her. The Virgin mother is seated on the lap of her mother Saint Anne and the Child is seated on the Virgin’s lap. The Child is seen blessing John the Baptist, supposedly his cousin.

Michelangelo’s Sculpture does not depict Saint Anne. It shows the Child on the Virgin mother’s lap and St. John the Baptist on the left (with his baptismal bowl, used in art to identify him) offering a bird, supposedly the golden finch to the child Christ. The gold finch is said to have removed a thorn from his crown when he was carrying the cross.

Leonardo da Vinci’s Virgin on the Rocks was another original masterpiece displayed in Room 20 in the Gallery. This painting depicts a similar theme and was commissioned for the chapel of Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception in Milan. The painting shows infant Jesus with the Virgin Mother, blessing St John the Baptist. The Virgin connects the two by holding her hand over her son and the other hand on St. John’s shoulder. The illusion of three dimensional space created by da Vinci was ground breaking at that time and inspired Raphael.

da Vinci’s Virgin on the Rocks
Raphael created The Madonna of the Pinks supposedly based on Leonardo da Vinci’s Benois Madonna in St. Petersburg. The mother and Child are depicted in a playful mood, with the Child’s attention on the carnations (pinks) between them. The play of lights, the veil passing over the Virgin’s ear and her finely braided hair make for a delightful masterpiece to gaze at.

Raphael’s The Madonna of the Pinks

Michelangelo and Raphael were fierce rivals competing for commissions from Popes and courts. It is said that during their lifetime Raphael was more famous and gained many more commissions. He also led a flamboyant lifestyle and was much more popular among the nobility and a favourite of Pope Leo X. Michelangelo was a difficult personality, a devout catholic and lived like a monk.  Later however, Michelangelo’s genius shone through and there is nothing that can compare to his paintings in the Sistine Chapel! We were truly fascinated and spell bound by the Sistine Chapel! 

I definitely enjoyed the couple of hours I spent gazing at these works of art of an era gone-by and imagining the genius of these three rival artists! Even through my non-artist eyes these paintings and many more on various Biblical themes are mesmerizing! 

4 thoughts on “Art Rivalry-Da Vinci Michelangelo Raphael

  1. Thanks for the visual treat Jeemol. I used to think I don't have the mind that can appreciate art other than geometric ones (Escher) until I saw Picasso's gallery in Paris and was floored by the surrealism. It took a reading of Van Gogh's biography after which his paintings now speak to me in a very powerful language. The factoid I like about Michael Angelo is that he wasprobably an Atheist and hid anatomical sketches in the Sistine chapel to protest against the Church's opposition to science


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