Most of the images in my new book, the Way of Beauty are reproduced in black and white. For any readers who wish to see them in colour, the publisher, Angelico Press has posted all of them on the book webpage, here (scroll down past the reviews and you’ll see them). I plan to do a series of postings highlighting these paintings, indicating their importance in the book and also offering a little more about the artists and the history of the painting itself.
The first featured is the Alba Madonna by Raphael. I used this painting in the book to illustrate the idea that the geometric shape can be used to enhance the beauty. In this case it is the idea of unity which is communicated through the circular shape. As I explain in the book we know that Raphael was aware of the idea of number symbolism and of traditional harmony and proportion and that he used it in his paintings. He incorporated these elements into his designs not because he wanted to build in a secret code, but rather because he felt that they were intrinsic to the subject portrayed and so would enhance the beauty of the painting, perceived intuitively, and its power to communicate the truth.
This particular painting shows Our Lady with the young Jesus and John the Baptist. Raphael’s work characterizes the High Renaissance style of the early 16th century and it’s style is drawn, consciously, from that of ancient Greek and Roman statues and art – the facial features of Our Lady for example, bear a striking resemblance to a classical Venus. This painting reflects another departure from what was the norm in Christian sacred art for centuries, and that is to place the figures in a landscape that is painted so as to create the illusion of space. The gothic and iconographic styles for example would generally have had a flat background in order to communicate the heavenly dimension that is outside time and space. He paints in oil paint because this is a medium that has special properties (in contrast to egg tempera or mosaic) that helps the artist create the illusion of space .
Raphael uses perspective very skillfully – the objects in the distance are smaller than the objects in the foreground. He also uses colour perspective. The more distant the object is, the bluer it gets. (Read More)