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Raphael’s Preparatory Drawing Essay

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Raphael’s Preparatory Drawing (“Madonna and Child”)
Picture 1. Raphael’s Preparatory Drawing (“Madonna and Child”).


Visual art is a unique tool helping a person to send a specific message using shapes, lines, colors, and postures. Real masterpieces such as Mona Lisa by da Vinci or the Creation of Adam by Michelangelo have several hidden meanings and ideas still studied by scientists. However, creating this image demands preliminary work and time to realize how a vision can be embodied. For this reason, artists also used preparatory drawings to conclude about shapes and lines, forms, and colors, and how they can help to reflect the creator’s vision.

The selected Renaissance preparatory drawing is made by Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, or Raphael, as an attempt to choose the best possible options for his famous Madonna in the Meadow (“Madonna and Child”). It reflects the critical thinking process as the artist wanted to send the message of tenderness, sanctity, and clearness through these images.

The Major Purpose

The final version of the picture is considered one of the unique masterpieces. The image shows the Virgin, with two children, Christ and St. John the Baptist, playing together. They hold a cross in their hands and have halos above their heads. The artist creates a serene and tender moment that is very important for all Christians as it represents the central figures of Christianity and the pillars of faith (Williams 54). The peaceful landscape and faces also help to reflect the idea of calmness, inspiration, and sanctity (Paoletti and Radke 65). In such a way, the author wanted to show the importance of this moment, its central character for all biblical motifs, and create an inspirational image.

The complexity of the task presupposed multiple attempts to find the correct shapes, colors, postures, and places for all figures. For this reason, Raphael created a sketch of the Madonna in the Meadow using red chalk. It is possible to see some differences from the final artwork, as there are no halos, and across cannot be seen in children’s hands. Moreover, in the analyzed drawing, Madonna’s left arm is free, while in the final painting, it is covered by heavy drapery (“Madonna and Child”). In such a way, the artist tries different forms and clothes with the central purpose to find the most appropriate final version and ensure it can convey his ideas and critical thinking.

Use of Preliminary Sketches

In general, many artists of that period used sketches and preliminary drawings to create their masterpieces. Raphael is not an exclusion as there are numerous drawings of his different works that can still be seen by researchers and visitors. For instance, the sketch of a nude male figure hanging from the cross was also created by Raphael (“Madonna and Child”). Such uncompleted works are vital for understanding the process of final painting creation and the creative thinking of the artist. The sheet stored in the Metropolitan Museum is the last in the series of preparatory drawings (“Madonna and Child”).

Moreover, the investigation of the Madonna in the Meadow shows that as the final step of the creative process, Raphael drew a full-scale drawing helping him to embody all ideas; however, it has not survived till our days (Williams 111). In such a way, using multiple sketches was a common practice for Raphael.


One of the factors explaining this approach to creativity is the difficulty of the planned masterpiece. Being a genuine artist, Raphael could not accept any flaws or imperfect lines. Moreover, research shows that the ability to create masterpieces is linked to the way the brain functions (Williams 98). In other words, outstanding painters such as Raphael or da Vinci have unique thinking processes that precede the creation of their paintings (Williams 99). For this reason, the difficulty of their thoughts and ideas should be embodied in art, meaning that there is a need for multiple sketches to visualize messages and ensure they would be understood by other people. This factor influences the preparatory drawings of most artists of that time.

Contexts Affecting Subject-Matter

At the same time, some other contexts influenced Raphael’s subject matter and concepts. The Renaissance era was known as the period when humanistic values became more important and, at the same time, the Church had remained one of the fundamental institutions in the life of every person (Paoletti and Radke 45). For this reason, the context, technique, and motifs of Raphael’s drawing were influenced by these factors. He used more realistic shapes to create the classic female figure close to the traditions of ancient Greek art, while children also have similar forms (Williams 78). These peculiarities are explained by the dominant set of values and approaches to depicting saints at that period.

The preparatory drawing shows that Raphael uses curvy and soft lines to create special images. As seen in the final artwork, the central idea was to introduce a calm, timid, and solemn atmosphere. For this reason, creating the drawing, the artist wanted to see if soft lines would help to do it. The shapes of the body, postures, and arms are also made in the same technique and are given attention as the elements helping to convey a specific image. All figures are relaxed and full of confidence that nothing threatens them.

Critical Thinking of the Artist

In such a way, the drawing perfectly represents how the thinking of the artist works and affects the final creation. Using the sketch as the place for experimenting, Raphael brings his thoughts and visions to the table. The investigators argue about the initial image of the Madonna in the Meadow as some changes can be seen in different drawings. However, they show that the artist followed some vision and wanted to make the message stronger, adding various elements, such as coverings, halos, and the cross (Williams 112). Furthermore, the thinking of the artist changed when working on the project, which can explain some alterations in the final version. However, the central idea remained the same, which is evidenced by the lack of critical differences between preparatory drawings and the last version. In such a way, such unique pieces of evidence help to understand artists and what factors influenced their masterpieces.


Altogether, creating artwork is a complex process impacted by the critical thinking of an artist, his/her visions, and the context. Using Raphael’s preparatory sketch, it is possible to see how he tried to select the perfect shapes for the Madonna in the Meadow. His intention to send a particular message preconditioned the use of forms, figures, and lines, which can be seen in the drawing. The complexity of the given painting preconditioned the appearance of several sketches; however, the final version does not have multiple differences, meaning that Raphael managed to come to a consensus and acquire the final vision of his masterpieces.

Works Cited

“Madonna and Child with the Infant Saint John the Baptist; upper left, Study for the Right Arm of the Infant Saint John; upper right, Study for Drapery (recto); Study of a Nude Male Figure (verso).” The MET. Web.

Paoletti, John, and Gary Radke. Art in Renaissance Italy. 4th ed., Laurence King Publishing, 2020.

Williams, Robert. Raphael and the Redefinition of Art in Renaissance Italy. Cambridge University Press, 2017.

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