Raphael Sanzio’s painting of “The Disputation of the Holy Sacrament” is regarded as a supreme work from the High Renaissance era that is considered classical art. This fresco demonstrates more than just a Trinitarian piece of artwork; it depicts the Church being present in heaven and on earth. Though this fresco was painted nearly five hundred years ago the meaning behind “The Disputation of the Holy Sacrament” has initiated discussion on the Trinity, the Eucharist, and the cross which are still analyzed through the church today.Raphael Sanzio, or better known now as Raphael, was born in 1483 and later went on to become a famous Italian painter. Today he is repeatedly compared to friend and rival at the time, Michelangelo. Raphael’s life was divided into three phases that correspond with his work of that time. The first phase is from 1504-1508 when he worked in Florence. Phase two was when he worked twelve years in Rome and phase three is when he worked for two different Popes in Vatican City. After phase one Raphael moved to Rome because he was invited by the new Pope Julius II to do some commissioned work. Raphael received this commission because Raphael’s distant relative was an architect involved with the building of St. Peter’s. (Raphael - The Complete Works)Raphael was immediately commissioned to paint frescoes in the Pope’s private library located at Vatican Palace, which was the most important commission he had received to date. Before Pope Julius II, his predecessor, Alexander VI, had employed many painters who were just starting to paint the various rooms in the Vatican, such as Michelangelo who was painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Since Michelangelo was in the process of doing this work, Raphael was influenced by Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel and secretly looked numerous times at the ceiling before it was finished. Later, after Raphael’s death, Michelangelo accused Raphael of plagiarism but though there are similarities there is no proof of this. Raphael’s greatest works at the Vatican City are in the Stanza della Segnatura, the Room of the Signatura, or what is now referred to as the “Raphael Room.” (Raphael - The Complete Works)Even though Raphael’s original commissioner Pope Julius II died, the next successor Medici Pope Leo X, continued to use him until Raphael’s death in 1520.
The painting by Raphael, “The Disputation of the Holy Sacrament” played a crucial part in Catholic Church history. This painting is a part of a few stanzas,or rooms, which were being constructed by Pope Nicholas I and were partially decorated by other artists like Piero della Francesca, Andrea del Casagno, and Benedetto Bonfigli. This was until Pope Julius II wanted the frescoes throughout the Vatican in 1508 to be continued. The group of artists that were suggested to him included Perugino, Sodoma, Bramantino, Baldassare Peruzzi, Lorenzo Lotto, Giovanni Ruysch and Michele del Becca. (Rugghianti) The reason this room, where “The Disputation of the Holy Sacrament” is found, was resumed for the reason that Pope Julius did not like looking at his predecessors at every moment so he rejected the suggestions and accepted the artist Raphael, who at the time was the most prominent Florentine painter.
“The Disputation of the Holy Sacrament” was the first scene painted as a fresco by Raphael. The Stanza della Segnatura, is one of four themes covered in the frescoes: Justice, Theology, Philosophy, and Poetry. (Murray) “The Disputation of the Holy Sacrament” is above the entrance doors to the room of Theology. Sometimes this fresco is referred to as “The Dispute of the Blessed Sacrament” while some argue that it should be called “The Triumph of the Church.” (Sanzio) The painting has a curved architecture which creates an ideal arch of triumph, while bringing the attention of the viewer’s eyes towards heaven. While in the direct line of looking upward, the Eucharist, the Holy Spirit, Jesus and God are in a line. Because of this painting’s meaning, some say this painting led to an excitement of revolution through the church (Rugghianti). This fresco is placed on the opposite wall of Raphael’s famous “School of Athens” that was frescoed around the same time.
The Trinity is visibly present in the painting of “The Disputation of the Holy Sacrament.” God the Father is standing above Jesus, who is seated on the royal throne showing the holes in his hands from the cross, while below him is The Holy Spirit. Jesus is in-between Mary, his mother, and John the Baptist, his cousin and forerunner. The Trinity, plus Mary and John, form an axis creating the cross. At the sides of the Trinity is the Triumphal Church which is represented with patriarchs and prophets from the Old Testament, while alternating with martyrs and apostles in the great cloud of witnesses. Some of these people are St. Peter, St. John, St. Paul, Adam, Moses, and David. Surrounding the altar, which contains the Holy Sacrament that is embodying Christ, is the Militant Church, the church on earth that is fighting Satan. (Sanzio) Other prominent religious leaders, called the four fathers of the Latin Church, are seated on the thrones around the altar. These are St. Gregory the Great, St. Jerome, St. Ambrose, and St. Augustine. (Sanzio) The main concept Raphael is trying to convey in the fresco is that the Church embodies not only people on earth but also the people in heaven.
This painting represents “Christian victory over the transformation of the multiple philosophical tendencies shown by the “‘School of Athens.’” Instead of being in a vaulted temple like “The School of Athens” this painting uses bodies to make up the church’s architecture.(Disputation) The Eucharist when consecrated becomes the body of Christ. The Eucharist can be defined as “A sacrament and the central act of worship in many Christian churches, which was instituted at the Last Supper and in which bread and wine are consumed in remembrance of Jesus’ death.” (Eucharist) This can also be called communion. The painting shows the Trinity and the Eucharist together with the people both in heaven and on earth, jointly make up the church. This is because the church is a group of that people whom believe in those essential elements.
The Eucharist and cross both are depicted in “The Disputation of the Holy Sacrament” and are of importance to the Church. Pope Benedict XIV, in 1754 a few centuries after “The Disputation of the Holy Sacrament,” ordered that the Eucharist be displayed on all church altars. This symbol has now become prominent in the church, along with the cross. Crosses are not only in paintings but are now also in churches, carried in processionals, worn around the necks of believers, and used in popular culture to demonstrate religion. (Bell) The sign of the cross is a fundamental Christian gesture. The most common cross gesture is the large cross made from the forehead to the breastbone from shoulder to shoulder. This is usually performed with the fingertips on the right hand or with the thumb and first two fingers symbolizing the Trinity, while the other two fingers symbolize Jesus and the Holy Spirit. (Clarke) There has been some thought that people are idealizing the cross. Claudius, a bishop from the ninth century, said that “Christ ordered [his disciples] to bear the cross, not to adore it. On the other hand others think that if the cross is to be glorified so should other items like the crown of thorns. (Clarke) All in all the Eucharist in “The Disputation of the Holy Sacrament” and the cross are both elements that have risen in importance throughout the church.
Having being a Christian for over a decade, I am familiar with the Trinity. As I walk in my faith and surround myself with Christian role models I have started to understand the idea of the Trinity being three in one. After coming to Rome and being assigned the project of the Trinity, my initial thoughts were that finding depictions of the Trinity was going to be easy. Soon I realized it was not as simple as I expected. But then I learned that the Trinity could be represented with just a hand gesture. For the digital art gallery I found most of the depictions of the Trinity in artworks, specifically paintings. After viewing numerous paintings I became drawn to paintings that were not those which depicted the standard Virgin Mary holding Baby Jesus doing the Trinity sign. This is why I picked to explore more about Raphael’s “The Disputations of The Holy Sacrament.” At first glance I did not comprehend the whole scene’s importance other than it was a significant piece of artwork that was across from “The School of Athens.” By doing research and studying the painting more I have learned about how imperative every aspect is to the meaning of a religious painting.
Raphael, though only living for thirty seven years, painted “The Disputation of the Holy Sacrament” which is still discussed today. Though sometimes this fresco is overlooked, because it is in the same room as the of “The School of Athens”, “The Disputation of the Holy Sacrament” demonstrates the meaning of a church being believers both living and dead while showing important elements of a church. Even though Michelangelo claimed Raphael plagiarized his ideas, Raphael’s Trinitarian painting of “The Disputation of The Holy Sacrament” still shows the purpose of a church through the Eucharist, and the cross.
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