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Raphael Madonna Crèche
; Estimated Value: $150 — The "Sistine Madonna" inspires a fold-out nativity...
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Inspired by Raphael's "Sistine Madonna," the Virgin and Child are surrounded by angels in this large (10 x 12.5 x 4.75 inches) vintage German fold-out nativity.

The Sistine Madonna, oil on canvas, circa 1512-14, by Raphael; Gemaldegalerie (Old Masters Picture Gallery), Dresden.
The Sistine Madonna

This celebrated work took its name not from the Sistine Chapel but the monastery of San Sisto in Piacenza, Northern Italy where it hung behind the high altar. Before, that is, it was presented by the monks to the King of Saxony, was carted to Moscow after World War II, before it was returned and became the jewel in the crown of the Dresden Gemaldegalerie.

Known for his numerous Madonnas, the Renaissance master Raphael (born Raffaello Sanzio) portrays The Sistine Madonna in an informal, motherly, fashion. A peasant scarf covers her head and her infant as she holds her baby in her arms, tenderly resting his head on her cheek.

A pair of green curtains part to reveal the heavens and Pope Julius II (who commissioned this painting) as Holy Sixtus, who is pointing towards us. Saint Barbara is looking down, where the faithful once would have stood. It's as if the two saints are drawing our attention to the entrance into the world of the Christ Child — in the arms of the Madonna — a visual allegory of the Savior becoming man.

The Raphael Madonna Crèche

It could be that the two rather bored-looking cherubs depicted resting on a ballustrade on the bottom of Raphael's masterpiece are the most famous in the world: they decorate posters, coffee mugs, T-shirts, jigsaw puzzles, and refrigirator magnets. So it's surprising that they were left out of this crèche that features perhaps the best known of Raphael's Madonnas.

The manger takes the form of a Gothic church, whose arched windows and roof are draped in icecicles, snow, and sprinkles that glisten. The front windows are covered by ice-blue cellophane, and its wrought-iron gate is half open, as if to invite us in.

On the second plane, two angels kneel, and on the third, a standing angels crosses his hands to the right of the Madonna and Child.

The Raphael Madonna is beautifully rendered, and, as the crèche photo (above) shows, walks on a cloud and seems to be suspended in midair.

The fourth plane — the back wall of the manger/church — features Gothic columns and arches, and is pierced by two more Gothic windows. They are decorated with colorful, printed, cellophane in diamond-and-circle red, yellow, blue, and green motifs.

The center of the back wall, at the top of a set of steps covered with a red carpet, is a large Christms tree whose branches are lit by candles.

It's a dreamy nativity whose cold — color-wise — exterior is contrasted by the colorful, warm, tones of the Sistine Madonna, Child, and angels.


A missing bell tower?

There's another angel whose hand is holding a string that ends in a tassel (see photo, above).

Was there a bell tower and a swinging bell on the roof?

That certainly appears to be the case, judging from what appear to be the remnants of a brick bell-tower. But whether it's bell swung by tugging on this angel's rope, is anyone guess. Perhaps you might have an idea?



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