A Study On Beauty Through Raphael

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By Carolyn Shields

Robert Barron is convinced that beauty is what opens the door to the Catholic world, particularly in today's world. Our world loves argument, so showcasing the Church in light of truth is sometimes seen as an invitation to debate. And anyway, since when have you fallen in love with someone for playing things by the book, when was the last sorority you joined because you were crazy about its rules and guidelines, or when have you preferred to read the encyclopedia over stargazing with a bottle of wine?

Beauty is important. Robert Barron writes, "The encounter with something beautiful, something so obviously transcendent and powerful, often leads people to wonder how such a thing is possible, what might have fostered it or inspired it, and from there an openness to the divine and to religious thought is often born."

And boy do we have a treasury of beauty in the Church, from monastic chants whose echoes have rippled across centuries, to literatures that come about as close to capturing heaven as it can be, to works of art in every shape and form.

Perhaps one of the greatest examples we have is from the artist Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, or Raphael, for short. He lived in the late 1400s though he died when he was just thirty-seven, leaving behind him a legacy that would stand witness to the beauty and splendor of the Catholic Church throughout the remaining millennium. His great rival, Michelangelo, was always at his heels, trying to outdo him, but both men have served to exemplify the beauty that can be drawn out of the Church for the sake of the Church.

One of Raphael's most famous works, and one that properly showcases his genius, is the Room of Heliodorus in the Vatican. Originally intended for private audiences, this room is all about portraying God's unending protection of His Church through political moments throughout history.

For the awe dropping moments to begin, look at how Raphael made the ceiling frescos look like canvases hooked onto the wall:

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Look at how he also fake painted caryatids (a type of statue) into the base:

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Look at how these figures seem to be lifelike, 3D, whatever you want to call it!

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Beauty like this can be totally overwhelming, just like the eye of the storm, the perfect sunset after the perfect day, and the kind of love that's so intense it hurts. But what's beautiful is that our Lord is one of intimacy as well. One of detail. Small moments of beauty are not overlooked by His eyes. Brush strokes, broken syllables, and half written songs are all treasured just as much as the frescos and masterpieces of the ancients. The beauty that you offer this world might not look like the above, but it's on par with it. It's not ever about what we produce but rather the beauty that's already written in our hearts.

Want more of the history of what all of these frescos mean? Check out this awesome six minute video from the Vatican here. Or you can learn more at the Vatican Museum website here.