Virtual Museum: Cherubs in the “Sistine Madonna”



Virtual Museum #4

Cherubs in the “Sistine Madonna”
Oil on panel, 1512
by Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino)
Italian, 1483-1520
Alte Meister Gallerie, Dresden, Germany.

Did you ever wonder who painted these angelic cherubs that we see so often adorning giftware, advertisements and home décor? Well, you may be surprised to learn that the creator of this popular motif is not a present-day artist but instead, a Renaissance painter. The winged darlings are only a small part of a much larger painting known as the Sistine Madonna.

The winged angels beneath Mary are famous in their own right. As early as 1913 Gustav Kobbé declared that “no cherub or group of cherubs is so famous as the two that lean on the altar top indicated at the very bottom of the picture.”Heavily marketed, they have been featured in stamps, postcards, T-shirts, and wrapping paper. These cherubim have inspired legends of their own. According to a 1912 article in Fra Magazine, when Raphael was painting the Madonna the children of his model would come in to watch. Struck by their posture as they did, the story goes, he added them to the painting exactly as he saw them. Another story, recounted in 1912’s St. Nicholas Magazine, says that Raphael rather was inspired by two children he encountered on the street when he saw them “looking wistfully into the window of a baker’s shop.” (wikipedia).

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