‘The Disputation of the Holy Sacrament’ by Raphael (1509 – 1510) PART 2

 Breathing the spirit of the Renaissance, faith, theology, science and grace, Raphael’s Disputation of the Holy Sacrament is a pledge towards human knowledge and divine wisdom. His complex composition fits the semi-circular wall with utmost simplicity. Notice the golden dome of heaven, the glorious aureole of Christ, and the halo of the Holy Spirit! Each Person of the Trinity descends in radiant circles. In a climactic moment they culminate in the Sacred Host (circular) which is placed within a ring shaped pyx.

The circle, since antiquity, is universally associated with Infinity. Raphael through his painting demonstrates the absolute wisdom of the Infinite God present in the Holy Eucharist. But can a finite mortal comprehend this infinite mystery? Most definitely, the answer is no. Raphael, in the third realm, attempts to display the efforts taken by the finite intellect to grasp the nature of things beyond their senses. He places the vanishing point at the Monstrance that carries the Sacred Host. Thematically accurate, it is the Sacred Host that serves as a mediation between the finite and the Infinite.

The Monstrance is placed on a rectangular stone. Symbolically this can be interpreted as faith placed on the Cornerstone which is Christ Himself. It also serves as an attribute to faith placed on a rock on which Christ built His Church i.e. Peter and his successors. Thus, Raphael inscribes the words ‘Pope Julius II, Pontifex Maximus’ upon the frontal of the altar. Julius II was the Pope who commissioned the painting in 1509. The inscription is surrounded by a mandala of knots, yet another representation of Infinity.

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