Monday, April 6 marks the 500th anniversary of the death of master artist of the High Renaissance Raphael, celebrated in his own day as a genius, for his countless, beautiful Madonnas, for the Disputa and School of Athens, and for his final painting, The Transfiguration, which towered over the bed in which he died in Rome in 1520. It was Good Friday, and, coincidentally, his 37th birthday.
When he was 21 Raphael began a series of small panels that were influenced by a popular medieval text known as The Golden Legend. Here the plague is rendered as a dragon come for its annual human sacrifice. Raphael painted the triumphant scene of Michael the dragon-slayer overcoming the beast, to restore a sense of order and trust in the future that was difficult to find during the rampant illness.
In Raphael’s final image of The Transfiguration it’s possible to find a hidden architectural composition that is informed by the highest of the Seven Liberal Arts ~ Astronomy. One clue is in the fold of the Christ’s garment, which seems to point toward the only person in the painting that’s actually looking at the Christ, just as the three stars in the belt of Orion point down and left to our brightest star Sirius. Sirius was known in ancient Egypt as the resting place of the soul of Isis, she who must restore the body of Osiris.
Transfiguration is described as a momentary divine radiance and can be found in reference to stories of Moses, the Buddha, and the Virgin Mary. But with the Christ, it was not the final step in becoming, it was the beginning of a process that would only be fulfilled by the mystery of Resurrection, celebrated every year at Easter, and which in 1520, occurred just three days after Raphael died.