Raffaello Sanzio, known as Raphael (Urbino, Italy 1483 – Rome, Italy 1520), Madonna of the chair, 1513-14, oil on panel, 71 cm x 71 cm, Florence, Italy, Palatine Gallery
The size of the panel makes us think of a painting intended for private devotion. The type of chair on which the Virgin was painted (it is a "chamber chair", which was widespread in the papal court during the Renaissance) and the fact that the painting appeared in the Medici Palace in Florence a few decades after its execution lead us to suppose that it was commissioned to Raphael by Pope Leo X, of the Medici family (he was the second son of Lorenzo the Magnificent), to make a gift perhaps to his nephew Lorenzo, lord of Florence since 1516.
We know for sure that the Medici really loved this painting, which always remained in their collections and, during the eighteenth century, was placed in the bedroom of the Grand Duke.
The painting is completely occupied by the three figures represented in it, even if it is actually Mary and little Jesus who are the protagonists of the panel, for Saint John the Baptist is in prayer on one side, staring at them.
Mary is holding her son. She is not sitting on a throne but on a chair that was used in noble and exclusive environments. Yet, if we look carefully at her position, we notice her left leg slightly raised, almost as if it were a backrest for Jesus, comfortably seated on her right leg. Apparently, she is rocking him, as it is suggested by the circular rhythm created by the child's head, slightly tilted, and back, slightly curved.
Our attention is also drawn by the sweetness of the Mother's gaze, because it is directed to each of us who look at the painting. Mary is presented in a moment of great intimacy and family sweetness, as evidenced by her reclining head, gently touching the forehead of her child. She is showing herself to us in an almost protective attitude towards the son, as is evident from her motherly arms enveloping the body of Jesus with love.
While the attitude and pose seem to suggest a popular and simple environment, there are other details that lead us to think that we are facing some “special” characters. Just look at the golden fringes on the back of the chair, or the beautiful fabric the Virgin's shawl is made of, or the embroidered cuff of her sleeve.
After all, we who admire this beautiful painting are asked to have the same attitude as the little John the Baptist: he is on one side, but very close to Jesus; he is in a prayerful attitude and looks ecstatic, like us, the little Child and Mary his mother.
Mother of sweetness and tenderness, trustful as a child
I contemplate you with the eyes of my body, with the eyes of my faith,
because they're the ones who allow me to reach you.
Mother of sweetness and tenderness, you hold your son with love:
so bring love to me too, for I am one of your children;
mother of sweetness and tenderness, you show the world your son:
you also ask me to show him to others.
Mother of sweetness and tenderness, I want to reach with my prayer
all those who take the time to contemplate you.
O tender mother, may your motherly protection pervade us,
may your tender gestures help us to show tenderness
to everyone we meet on our path.