Raphael’s Madonna and Child with the Book from 1502-3 has all of the aspects of the High Renaissance style, being marked by balance, the proportion of forms, and idealized expression.
The pyramid shape of the Virgin Mary’s arms and head encloses the Christ child and signifies protection and nurture. This, however, is complicated by the central book that proclaims the Nones or ninth hour of the Canonical Offices, which is the Crucifixion. Therefore the child cannot be diverted from his painful destiny as the Savior of humanity.
Mary looks to him as the Lamb of God with a calm serenity typical of Raphael’s Madonnas. The child looks heavenward with a sense of responsibility that is muted by Raphael’s classical decorum. Thus, the Virgin Mother looks to her duty, as Christ looks to his.
The background of Madonna and Child with the Book is that of a Renaissance Italian countryside while the mother and child occupy the vast majority of the picture space. Combined, these two elements signify both the enormity of the Christian legacy and its continued relevance for everyday life in the painter’s time.
Raphael’s Madonna and Child with the Book can be found in the Norton Simon Museum in Los Angeles.