The theme of this comparative analysis is the Virgin Mary and the Child. The first object of the analysis is The Adoration of the Magi (1475-1480), the altarpiece by Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch (ca. 1450 – 1516), and the second is Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints (ca. 1504), the altarpiece by Italian painter Raffaello Santi, better knows as Raphael (1483 – 1520). The dimensions of the first are 28 inch high and 22 1/4 inch wide (71.1 x 56.5 cm). The main panel of Raphael’s work is 67 7/8 inch high and 67 7/8 inch wide (172.4 x 172.4 cm) with 66 3/4 x 66 1/2 in. (169.5 x 168.9 cm) of painted surface. Additionally, the part of the work is the lunette, 29 1/2 inch high and 70 7/8 inch wide overall with painted surface of 25 1/2 inch high and 67 1/2 inch wide (64.8 x 171.5 cm). Both works’ medium is oil and gold on wood. Both of them present the Virgin Mary with the Son, but Bosch’s subject is Mary with newborn Jesus surrounded by the Magi, whereas Raphael’s subject is Madonna with infant Jesus surrounded by saints.
Both works come close to the Age of the Renaissance. Although the work of Bosch was created earlier than the one by Raphael, it does not refer to the Renaissance yet because the Northern Renaissance started much later than the Italian Renaissance to which Raphael belonged. At the end of the fifteenth century the influence of the previous traditions was rather strong. Altarpieces were widely spread in Europe at that time. It was the time when the values of the past were reconsidered, and religious themes were among them. The Renaissance is known for its central ideal of humanism which resulted in the notion of subjective perception. Several factors profoundly altered the Netherlandish painting, and the artistic ideals of the Italian Renaissance. However, Borsch’s style differs much from that of his contemporaries and he is remarked for his “unusual stylistic originality and an intensely personalized symbolism.” He worked separately from the progressive trends and was more faithful to decorative exuberance of the late Gothic, particularly revealed in nervous linearism. Meanwhile, Raphael can be called a typical representative of the Italian Renaissance with the stress made on personal intuition and search of harmony between natural and divine knowledge.
The two works differ in composition exceedingly. While the space of Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints is almost completely filled with the elements of subject and all of them are correlated with each other harmoniously, The Adoration of the Magi provides the opposite impression. The left side is not balanced with the right side which is overloaded with action. Actually, all the action is concentrated in the lower part of the work due to which the focus is altered. Raphael puts the entire message into the foreground, whereas Bosch distributes it throughout the three-dimensional space which makes up a tunnel-like perspective. Although there is background in Raphael’s work too, it does not play any significant role except aesthetical one. In Bosch’s work, in turn, there are more than two distances provided with much deeper focus.
In both artworks Madonna and Jesus are central humane figures and all the action is revolving around them. Bosch portrays the Virgin sitting on a yellow wrap with a naked baby on her knees. Her husband Joseph is depicted on the left side, under the cow; his role seems to be nominal. At the same time, all the Magi (the wise men from the East named Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar) are in the right side presenting their luxurious gifts. In the middle plane the two peasants are peeping at them with curiosity through a window in the wall. There are also some figures at the background expanding the frames of action. The angels are completing composition from above. In the Raphael’s altarpiece, meanwhile, the figures of Madonna and infant child are moved out forward and united into one element with infant John the Baptist. Around them are the apostles St. Peter and St. Paul together with St. Helen and St. Catherine of Alexandria on the periphery. Two saints are on the left side and two saints are on the rights side, so the composition is balanced and symmetric. It is remarkable that both infants are clothed which is not typical for that time. In the lunette God surrounded by angels is blessing the world. Together with infant Jesus they make up a bound construction: while Jesus blesses John the Baptist, God in the lunette blesses all the people. This interaction makes the lunette and the main panel mutually dependent.
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Further, the color scheme is much richer in Raphael’s artwork than in Bosch’s one. Madonna is wearing a red gown symbolizing the passion of the Christ. The saints’ clothes are green, yellow, blue and red. God is clothed in red gown too; His angels are wearing bright clothes as well. The paints look soft and semitransparent, while Bosch’s technique is revealed in plainer variety of colors. The yellow color is prevailing. It also deals with the depiction of gold which symbolizes Christ’s status of a king and to indicate the luxury of the Magi’s gifts. At large, both altarpieces are full of daylight and life asseveration.
As for the point of view, the two painters definitely had different ends in mind. The carefully planned emptiness of the space in Bosch’s Adoration of the Magi provides proper perspective of a tunnel view into the landscape. It is not typical for Bosch whose passion was detail and plenty of objects, but here the design was probably to create the effect of boundless Universe in which the scene is set. In Raphael’s Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints the perspective is much more restricted, but the throne with the Virgin is shown from a certain distance to underline her majesty.
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The surface of the painting also contributes to the impression of perfectness in case of Raphael and the impression of mystery in case of Bosch. Oil on wood is the medium for both, but the style is different. Hardly any strokes can be distinguished in Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints, whereas in The Adoration of the Magi the strokes are broad and loose, the quality of the paint is somewhat paste-like. What is more, the ongoing process of creative work can be traced. In the upper left turret window, for example, the angel was overpainted and substituted by a dove; besides, the completed brick wall on the left was later overpainted with leaning in the window. The building up of thin layers of paint and overlying glazes is demonstrated through visible underdrawing, yet fairly minimal in brush.
All in all, the two altarpieces, both belonging to the same historical and cultural period, differ essentially in technique, composition and general effect. Raphael’s Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints is obviously called to inspire and provoke positive emotion, as it provides peace and comfort. Bosch’s Adoration of the Magi, in turn, seems to appeal to reason to a more extent than to emotion. There are many symbols for one to decode and each time the sight comes in touch with the painting a new detail is noticed.
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