Sistine Madonna’s look: Raphael’s painting and me


“…if we are to accomplish our task and rediscover, among other things, the religious source of art and the art of healing, we must be ready to meet it.”

Rudolf Steiner, True and False Paths of Spiritual Investigation

Sistine Madonna beyond the frame

If you entered more than one Waldorf kindergarten classroom, you probably noticed certain similarities, even if these classes are in different countries. The pink walls, the wooden toys and furniture, the nurturing environment and a picture of a famous painting of Saint Mary with his son, Jesus. Madonna di San Sisto or Sistine Madonna was painted by the Italian artist Raphael Sanzio in 1513. This image, according to Steiner, of the human being spiritual birth and has healing proprieties for those who meditate on and contemplate it. 

Sistine Madonna by Raphael Sanzio
Sistine Madonna, by Raphael Sanzio (1513)

This representation of divinities comes from ancient Egypt, where Isis portrayed with her son Horus was a usual religious art piece. Rudolf Steiner and Dr. Felix Peipers developed a sequence of Madonna’s images used in therapeutic sections by helping the elevation of the etheric body.

The archetype of motherhood seen in that inspiring piece of art that goes beyond religious spheres is the essence of it. Jesus’ mother holding him as if she was at the same time protecting him in her arms and allowing the boy to see the world that surrounds him. Isn’t it what we all as mothers and caregivers intend to?

An older man, Saint Sixtus, showing the future on the left, and a young lady, Saint Barbara, showing the past on the right, representing the Ahrimanic and Luciferic forces are also on the artwork. Furthermore, the Christ to be on the centre as if the recently-born being is the balance between these forces. Moreover, the infant on his mother’s arm is a clear illustration of the mother’s importance on the choices of the son. Clouds as their ground and faces surrounding the background tell that our birth is encircled by the angelical presence and spiritual support. Two cherubs on the bottom, watching the scene relaxed and calm, almost childish bored. To me, they seem to say: “our actions are not necessary, so we will just sit and observe.”

The look I found on my version

I love this image and, a few years ago, I made a rereading of this piece, only with mother and child. As soon I started to pay deep attention to the facial expressions of the mother, I could see much more than I realized before about this motherhood imagery.

Juliana Trol Trujillo version of Sistine Madonna, by Raphael Sanzio
My version of Raphael´s Madonna.

I saw sad eyes. Maybe not knowing which way to go or what she should know was expressed in her distant view of the world. At the same time, her stand up posture, holding her son with care and firmness, shows what most every mother passes through. We must stay strong and keep going even when we don’t know what to do concerning our children. But also about ourselves.

So, because I am a mother, the first thing that I now see in the painting is her eyes. And in her eyes, I see the reflex of my feelings as a mother, as responsible for giving my children spiritual protection and direction until they can do it by themselves. And every time I look at her, it is like the burden of motherhood is lightened of my shoulders. As if we shared the sadness and the difficulties of being responsible for another life besides my own.

Indeed, there is a lot to be inspired by this masterpiece. However, I discovered that finding our meanings on it can have a more intense healing power than just meditating on its universal archetypical significance. Try to find yourself on that image and share your experience with us in the comments below or take your questions to our Forum.

Some references

I found some interesting articles about Raphael´s painting in the anthroposophical perspective that worths the visit:

Thoughts and Experiences: a Waldorf kindergarten teacher explains the piece and tells the reasons he does not have it in his classroom anymore. It´s a great article to rethink our choices in light of our culture and representativity. Another text which brings more questions on the presence of the painting in the classroom, but also some Steiner thoughts about incarnation is the Reflection of Sistine Madonna.

Two of Steiner´s lectures about the theme: Iris and Madonna and The Mission of Raphael in the Light of Spiritual Science.

The book Healing Madonnas by Christopher Bamford can be a great reading if you are looking to know more about the healing therapy with Madonnas´ images.

Love and Gratitude,

Juliana Troll Trujillo

IWalComm creator


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