Cover image for Vision and the Visionary in Raphael By Christian K. Kleinbub

Vision and the Visionary in Raphael

Christian K. Kleinbub


$123.95 | Hardcover Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-03704-2

224 pages
9" × 10"
50 color/46 b&w illustrations

Vision and the Visionary in Raphael

Christian K. Kleinbub

“With a rare combination of precise and probing visual analysis and searching historical and textual scholarship, Christian Kleinbub opens entirely new prospects on the artist who personifies our concept of High Renaissance. Vision and the Visionary in Raphael demonstrates the fuller dimensions of a profound pictorial intelligence. The very notion of seeing, in its several aspects, is at the core of this study, which includes not only the spectator/worshipper before an altarpiece, but also the spectator/witness in the istoria and the vision of the seer/prophet. While focusing on Raphael, it inevitably involves the full Renaissance tradition, from Alberti’s articulation of the viewer to Renaissance responses to and commentaries on the visionary in theological literature from antiquity to Ficino and Savonarola, as well as theological commentary in a particularly Pauline tradition. Kleinbub discovers new and deeper aspects of Raphael as a thinking artist.”


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For Vision and the Visionary in Raphael, The Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) has awarded Dr. Christian Kleinbub the 2013 Gustave O. Arlt Award for a book deemed to have made an outstanding contribution to scholarship in the humanities.

Although Raphael has long been recognized as one of the great innovators of visionary painting (images of supernatural phenomena, including apparitions and prophetic visions), the full measure of his achievement in this area has never been taken. Vision and the Visionary in Raphael redresses this oversight by offering an expansive reading of these works within their contemporary artistic and religious contexts. At the center of the book is Raphael’s engagement with one of the critical conflicts in the Renaissance understanding of vision. Whereas artistic theory emphasized painting’s engagement with the physical world by way of the bodily eyes, religious images were generally intended to inspire their viewers to move from sensible appearances to the use of their “spiritual eyes” for contemplation of their god. For Raphael and his contemporaries, this double commitment to physical appearances and the spiritual dimensions of the image presented one of the greatest challenges of Renaissance religious art.
“With a rare combination of precise and probing visual analysis and searching historical and textual scholarship, Christian Kleinbub opens entirely new prospects on the artist who personifies our concept of High Renaissance. Vision and the Visionary in Raphael demonstrates the fuller dimensions of a profound pictorial intelligence. The very notion of seeing, in its several aspects, is at the core of this study, which includes not only the spectator/worshipper before an altarpiece, but also the spectator/witness in the istoria and the vision of the seer/prophet. While focusing on Raphael, it inevitably involves the full Renaissance tradition, from Alberti’s articulation of the viewer to Renaissance responses to and commentaries on the visionary in theological literature from antiquity to Ficino and Savonarola, as well as theological commentary in a particularly Pauline tradition. Kleinbub discovers new and deeper aspects of Raphael as a thinking artist.”
“This highly original and informative work shows how Raphael created a new mode of painting in 16th-century Rome when he combined Renaissance naturalism with the tradition of sacred imagery. Kleinbub provides insightful formal readings and thorough assessments of the iconography of Raphael's major frescoes, paintings, and tapestries that depicted the world, spiritual phenomena, and the divine as indisputably real. . . . As the author traces Raphael’s development that culminated in The Transfiguration of Christ, he makes a compelling case for viewing Raphael as one of the inventors of a new type of devotional image—one that seamlessly integrated images of heaven and representations of the divine with depictions of the physical world.”
“In an ambitious new study of Raphael’s religious imagery, Christian Kleinbub explores the representation of divine apparitions in his altarpieces, frescoes, and tapestry cartoons. . . . The new readings of Raphael’s imagery that emerge are fascinating, instructive, and often inspiring. Indeed, Kleinbub’s interpretation of the St. Cecilia Altarpiece is a tour-de-force. . . . Kleinbub analyzes a sequence of Raphael’s paintings in a fresh and penetrating way, and thereby furthers our understanding of the artist who was the most lauded of all in the West from the year of his death in 1520 until the revolution of abstraction in the early twentieth century.”
“Christian Kleinbub, in his magisterial book, Vision and the Visionary in Raphael, thoroughly upends [an] outmoded view of the artist.
Kleinbub responds to the challenge of Raphael's paintings with dazzling exercises in visual analysis, discerning pictorial strategies that are always a priori to the theological explanations. . . . Pennsylvania State University Press has produced a volume . . . of visual beauty and sophistication that sustain[s] Kleinbub's readings, which will reshape Raphael studies.”
“In his fine book Christian Kleinbub considers Raphael’s solutions for inspiring a state of imageless contemplation in the context of the requirements of Renaissance naturalism. . . . This study is far-reaching both in the representational issues it tackles and in the theological, philosophical, and theoretical explanations it brings to bear on the subject matter.”
“Christian Kleinbub’s Vision and the Visionary in Raphael constitutes a major contribution to the literature on Raphael and, more broadly, on Italian Renaissance painting. It is hoped that others will follow his lead in elucidating the place of vision and the visionary in art of this period.”

Christian K. Kleinbub is Professor of Italian Renaissance Art at The Ohio State University and Co-Director of the New Foundation for Art History.


List of Illustrations



1 Making the Invisible Visible: Raphael and the Development of Early Modern Visionary Imagery

2 The Philosophical Eye: Iconographies of the Visual in the School of Athens

3 Blindness and Enlightenment: Saint Paul and the Idea of the Image in Raphael’s Sistine Tapestries

4 The Real and the Imaginary

5 Raphael’s Transfiguration as Visio-Devotional Program





At the end of his classic essay Perspective as Symbolic Form, Erwin Panofsky considers how the rise of perspective in the Renaissance transformed religious images. By defining the boundaries of painting as those of the sensible world,

perspective seals off religious art from the realm of the magical, where the work of art itself works the miracle, and from the realm of the dogmatic and symbolic, where the work bears witness to, or foretells, the miraculous. But then it opens it to something entirely new: the realm of the visionary, where the miraculous becomes a direct experience of the beholder, in that the supernatural events in a sense erupt into his own, apparently natural, visual space and so permit him really to “internalize” their supernaturalness.1

Having sketched the transformation of the image in these general terms, Panofsky names Raphael as a primary innovator of visionary painting, placing the artist’s Sistine Madonna first in a list of influential Renaissance visionary works.2 But even though Raphael’s importance to the development of the visionary image has been widely accepted, few have sought a deeper knowledge of the specifics of the transformation he helped bring about.3 As a result, Raphael’s authentic contributions to the Renaissance realignment of the visible and the visionary—his works aimed at making the invisible visible in painting—remain only partially understood.

The transformation of the Renaissance religious image cannot be treated apart from the larger conception of the period’s visuality, the totality of its ideas about vision.4 Following ancient tradition, Renaissance people thought sight the loftiest of the senses.5 Although its activities were sometimes described in terms of touch, a more “corporeal” sense, sight was most generally regarded as a contemplative process that could lift the mind farthest from the material world, away from the corruptions of the body’s sensual inclinations.6 Beyond the phenomenal perception of physical matter, vision included several varieties of cognitive and spiritual reflection. According to Saint Augustine’s classic formulation in On the Literal Interpretation of Genesis, vision could be divided into three classes: physical, imaginative, and intellectual. Whereas physical vision referred to the sensible perception of the world through the bodily eyes, imaginative and intellectual vision encompassed “spiritual,” “incorporeal,” or “internal” visual processes. Imaginative vision perceived images recalled or evoked in the imagination, the organ of Aristotelian faculty psychology that roughly corresponds with what today is called the memory; intellectual vision was used to behold abstract concepts that had no physical corollaries in images at all.7

The three modalities of vision were often related in terms of a functional hierarchy. The person who hoped to understand God would pass sequentially from the perceptions of physical vision through the increasingly immaterial images of the imaginative and intellectual kinds. Augustine’s analysis of the modalities of vision arose from the necessity of explaining paradise as portrayed in Genesis, but he concentrated the main part of his analysis on 2 Corinthians 12:2–4, in which Paul tells of his vision of the third heaven. In considering the enigma of Paul’s experience, Augustine demonstrated that intellectual vision, being altogether detached from the corporeal images used in physical and imaginative sight, was to be considered the loftiest of all visual modalities, the means by which the blessed saw God’s very essence in the beatific vision.8

That Augustine’s discourse on vision appears at the end of his commentary on a specific scriptural topic was not unusual in the theological literature on these matters. Indeed, Gregory the Great’s important discussion of vision and visionary issues was born out of his need to explain the nature of Ezekiel’s vision of God in his homilies on that subject,9 and numerous other theologians wrote about vision as part of specific exegetical explanations. Issues like the proper understanding of the beatific vision became the stuff of treatises and excommunications,10 and a whole range of biblical events were scrutinized for what they revealed about the visual and visionary. Among those issues debated were how Moses saw God in the burning bush, how the Virgin saw Gabriel at the Annunciation, and how the apostles saw Christ’s Transfiguration.11

Theological discussion of vision reached a high point during the Middle Ages when the Scholastics discussed, resolved, and codified certain central ideas about the varieties and operations of bodily and spiritual vision. Especially impressive for its detailed analyses of visual and visionary phenomena, Thomas Aquinas’s Summa theologica served as a compendium on numerous vision issues in later centuries. This was never truer than in Renaissance Rome, where Aquinas’s theology enjoyed virtually unrivaled prestige among the members of the curial establishment, who were the patrons and advisors for much of the art produced there in this period.12

Although Aquinas’s role was especially important, Renaissance theology was nevertheless eclectic and varied.13 The period’s theologians continued to discuss and teach visionary issues,14 and Renaissance Neoplatonism, in particular, continued to promote these discussions. The Florentine Neoplatonist Marsilio Ficino, who had emphasized the spiritual potentials of vision, had a number of followers among the learned men of the papal court in the early Cinquecento. Some of those influenced by him, like the important theologian Egidio da Viterbo, attempted to synthesize Neoplatonism with Scholasticism.15

Theologians and philosophers were not the only Renaissance people aware of the mechanics of spiritual vision. Whereas theologians knew their Augustine and Aquinas, laymen could rely on vernacular texts as diverse as Dante’s Divine Comedy, Girolamo Savonarola’s sermons, and Baldassare Castiglione’s Book of the Courtier to understand vision and visionary issues.16 Given the wide variety of sources that inculcated both general and arcane aspects of vision theory, it should be assumed that literate artists had a fair grasp of the topic, with some attaining to real sophistication. Just as we can adduce a long line of Renaissance artists who were deeply invested in issues of physical vision, we have, in the poetry of Michelangelo, rich documentation of at least one artist’s incessant ruminations on the mental and spiritual potentials of vision in relation to his art.17

It is probable that Raphael, like his sophisticated peers and predecessors, was sufficiently saturated with information on these matters to engage vision issues on a relatively complex level, supplementing what he did not know of specifics by discussing the problem with theological advisors. He may have received the foundations of his education in the theological issues of vision from Fra Bartolommeo, the Dominican painter with whom he exchanged artistic knowledge and probably some particulars of Dominican theology while living in Florence. And no doubt Raphael’s exposure to the theology of vision grew once he began his Roman career and may have had contact with Egidio da Viterbo, among other like-minded theologians. Even his well-documented friendship with Castiglione, a committed Neoplatonist of the Ficinian mold, must have led the artist to new insights.18 One of the few texts that survives from Raphael’s own hand gives some indication of the artist’s theological sophistication. In a fragmentary poem, Raphael compares his amorous rapture to that of Paul’s visionary ecstasy:

Just as Paul could not speak of the hidden God,

 once descended from heaven,

 so my heart with a lovely veil

 covered all my thoughts.19

Considered alongside the numerous theological references in Raphael’s works, these lines have been taken as evidence of the artist’s considerable knowledge of theology.20 It is relevant here to note that the poem would have been largely meaningless without a basic understanding of theological discussions of Paul’s vision of the third heaven and visionary phenomena more generally.

If artists like Raphael paid special attention to theories of spiritual vision, it was at least partly because they had to attend to the traditional contemplative functions of their religious images. Indeed, even as late medieval and early modern artists increasingly embraced the visceral, physical power of more naturalistic imagery,21 they continued to believe that religious images served as vehicles or physical signs—rather than self-sufficient objects—referring beyond representation to the Deity.22 Thus, the ultimate goal of the religious image, in theory if not always in practice, remained intact: to inspire a state of imageless contemplation by promoting a shift from corporeal to incorporeal vision.23

But whereas historians of medieval and Northern Renaissance art have produced numerous important studies concerning issues of visuality and the image, their Italian Renaissance counterparts have only recently begun to do the same.24 The relative dearth of Italian Renaissance studies on these problems may be the result of the still prevalent assumption that the culture’s images embody a radical departure from those of the Middle Ages, representing a turn toward an empiricist conception of the pictorial field that essentially came to dominate the traditional exegetical and devotional functions of religious images.25 According to such notions, Renaissance naturalism becomes unidimensional and through its association with single-point perspective presents the fiction of a disinterested and disembodied gaze that concerns itself more with objective measurement than with the period’s own ideas about the seeing body or the possibilities of spiritual visual experience.26 This is not, of course, to say that important issues concerning Italian Renaissance religious art have somehow gone unnoticed by scholars. Work on the genres of religious painting, miraculous cult images, and the spiritual interests of individual artists reveals substantial concern for the abiding devotional purposes of works of art.27

What remains lacking, however, is a more extensive reckoning of how what we still call Italian Renaissance naturalism—inflected through perspective, shaped by the ideal of the istoria, and informed by early modern visuality—frustrated and accommodated the spiritual aspirations of the religious image. With only a few exceptions, previous studies treating the religious image have skirted this issue by considering works by artists who stood outside of what has been characterized since Giorgio Vasari as the dominant naturalistic current in Renaissance art.28 These artists are frequently described as deeply religious creators who sought to represent numinous things rather than mere appearances. Thus, Fra Angelico is called an artist of dissimilitudo, representative of a theological tradition that exalted occasional dissemblance to convey otherwise unrepresentable spiritual meanings, and Michelangelo is rightly considered a rebel who, although obviously capable of naturalistic painting, took expressive liberties in his depiction of the human figure in works marked by their interest in spiritual allegory.29 But the question remains, how might a Renaissance artist struggle to find a position largely inside the theoretical conventions of naturalistic painting, eschewing marked dissemblance or expressive liberties, and remain true to the aspirations of the Christian image?

This question poses serious difficulties because the definition of Renaissance “naturalism” is itself somewhat elusive.30 In the first place, the answer depends on whether we can separate ourselves from current notions of the “natural,” for the constitution of nature meant something different in Raphael’s time from what it does in our own. It is worth noting, for example, how Renaissance artists, including Raphael, seem regularly to conflate what we would probably label the natural and the supernatural in their works. The infusion of the divine in nature was taken for granted, and often the boundary between the physical and spiritual was porous in the extreme. For example, images often expressed spiritual grace, an unseen divine endowment, through artistic grazia registered in the body or the sacred countenance.31 Furthermore, Renaissance portrait painters sought to render the “motions of the soul” through the “motions of the body,” obscuring distinctions between them.32 Even the absolute nature of the “corporeal” was debatable: Neoplatonists like Ficino felt that body and soul were entirely different but that “spirits,” quasi-physical substances, mediated between them.33

Depending on how one reads the period’s theorists, one might decide that some scholars have misstated the ambitions of Renaissance naturalism. In On Painting, Leon Battista Alberti calls upon the painter to depict dramatic compositions that he calls istorie, which are deeply conceived figural narratives meant to generate higher thought, that which would penetrate beyond what is seen on the surface of the painting.34 While avoiding most religious subject matter, Alberti recommends narratives from ancient writing, including the painting of fantastical beings like the Cyclops, whose proper province was mythology or poetic fiction, not observed nature.35 Even Leonardo da Vinci, perhaps the most mimetic artist of the Italian Renaissance, while comparing the proper disposition of the painter’s mind to a mirror reflecting nature, writes that the good painter must simultaneously judge all that he sees, selecting and combining the best.36 One can understand how Svetlana Alpers, in making her controversial distinction between Italian and Northern naturalism, argued that the Italian variety was always of a mediated kind, artfully adulterated and harmoniously arranged, hardly an exemplar of sheer description.37

Yet, for all of this, the Renaissance theoretical and practical emphasis on the primacy of physical appearances is both obvious and striking. Throughout his treatise, Alberti emphasizes painting’s goal as the rendering of sensible surfaces, using the technical vocabulary of optics to drive the point home.38 Unlike mathematicians, “who measure the shapes and forms of things in the mind alone and divorced entirely from matter,” he argues that painters ought to rely on the cruder terms of the senses, “a more sensate Wisdom” (una più grassa Minerva), for rendering the visible world.39 In order to speak in those terms, painters should base their works in perspective, a device modeled, he believes, on the structures of physical vision.40 Perhaps most tellingly, Alberti states near the beginning of his treatise that “[n]o one will deny that things which are not visible do not concern the painter, for he strives to represent only the things that are seen.”41

Leonardo, in his own treatise, carried forward Alberti’s description of painting as finding its template in sensible experience. In particular, Leonardo derided knowledge procured by means other than corporeal vision, expanding on Alberti’s definition of the visible in painting by declaring, “the scope of painting does not extend beyond the representation of the solid body or the shape of all the things that are visible.”42 According to Leonardo, painting should imitate the very processes of physical vision, even “all the ten functions of the eye,” replicating its optical effects through careful study of perspective, the surrogate of bodily sight.43 Over the visual world Leonardo claimed dominion for his medium, writing that its superiority consisted in its ability to convey directly all the variegated experiences of the physical world as witnessed by the corporeal eyes.44 Whether or not his practice always made good on this claim, Leonardo’s writings constantly emphasize the authoritative value of observation and description in painting.

It would appear that Alberti and Leonardo thus thought painting a representational art, in the sense that it best presents things through physical likenesses.45 For them, the antithesis of painting was not fiction per se but rather suprasensorial visual experience, those things that, by definition, resist or exceed direct representation and semblance. One could depict the fruit of imaginative vision, as in the image of a Cyclops or a figural allegory, but one could not paint imagination’s internal processes or present the objects of intellectual vision, which technically stood beyond all physical seeing. To this degree, these theorists ultimately sought for painting a visible order that corresponded not to symbols of things unseen but to the period’s own ideas of the commensurable, its prevalent notions about the relative accessibility of the cosmos to the sensible understanding of mortal men.46

Of course, there must have been a range of opinions, a sort of pictorial debate, on where the limits of the commensurable lay. Certainly, particular oeuvres mark these boundaries differently from others. Notice that Leonardo largely avoided the overtly supernatural in his painting. While he might readily imply a subject’s miraculous circumstances, he never paints a full-fledged supercelestial event like the coronation of the Virgin or the beatific vision. By theological definition an angel can take physical form and appear before the bodily eye, but that eye has no power to see the loftiest heights of heaven. In recognizing these things, Leonardo’s work seems to epitomize those definitions of Renaissance visuality wherein painting is bounded by sensible experience. Leonardo’s painting implicitly claims, in ways that medieval art did not, that certain phenomena were beyond picturing. The fact that Leonardo, like Alberti before him, did not always inspire the same constant desire for resemblances in his contemporaries is not in question: the theoretical injunction still stood as an ideal, even for those artists who seemed to stray furthest from it.

The primary goal of this book is to show that Raphael was an artist who, even in rebellion, felt the pull of this representational imperative. No doubt this was one result of his nearly Leonardesque embrace of naturalism, his practice, as he himself put it, of making “similitudes.”47 Among the artists of his generation, Raphael was one of the few who managed to capture some of the breadth of Leonardo’s naturalistic interests, even adopting for himself the older artist’s desire that his painting represent the whole of nature. As I shall discuss in the last chapter, Vasari writes that the Roman Raphael attempted to paint the “wider field” of painting by describing the totality of human and natural phenomena in his work. By acquiring “a catholic excellence” in rendering many things, Raphael hoped to surpass other painters who, though better in one or another area of painting, were inferior to him in his subsuming competency.48

But whereas Leonardo seems to have imposed nearly inviolable limits on his painting, Raphael sought, maguslike, to represent simultaneously spectacular supernatural and suprasensible phenomena, expanding his range to attempt the representation of those things that Leonardo never ventured to paint.49 Later in his life he would even imply the participation of imaginative and intellectual vision—his own and the viewer’s—in his paintings. But far from making light of the difference between the corporeal and the incorporeal, Raphael wanted to give a rigorous place to its dialectic in his works. Throughout his career, Raphael sought ways of presenting the supernatural as a plausible visual experience. Indeed, even as Raphael would paint the invisible divine, he did so self-consciously: he did not represent the visionary without adequate explication of its difference from bodily sense, and the physical world would remain a sort of control in crafting his “similitudes,” in a way that it did not in the works of contemporaries like Michelangelo. Even at the end of his career, when Raphael came to challenge the very representational grounds of naturalistic art and asserted the growing importance of fantasia in his painting, he did so on purpose, with full awareness of what he was doing.

Raphael’s paintings of the visionary have never been intensively studied in light of the representational tensions inherent in Renaissance religious images. In fact, the only published account of these visionary images, a study by Daniel Arasse of 1972, treats them in very different terms.50 Arasse deals strategically with four paintings that speak to “the relationship of the individual human with his God”51—the Saint Catherine, the Saint Cecilia Altarpiece, the Vision of Ezekiel, and the Transfiguration. But within this exclusive selection of images, Arasse assumes a congruency of effect that did not exist in the Renaissance. It was not in vain that theologians argued about the visibility of God in the burning bush or of Gabriel at the Annunciation. Not all “visionary” events were, strictly speaking, visionary. The Transfiguration was a miraculous but purely physical, visual event, whereas Ezekiel’s vision of God was primarily imaginary rather than corporeal or intellectual.52 Because they deal with different types of vision, not all religious episodes making use of visionary imagery could be treated by the artist in the same way.

Using his selection of four images, Arasse nevertheless formed a comprehensive theory about the development of Raphael’s representations of the visionary by tying these images to movements in Renaissance religious thought. He thus hypothesized that Raphael’s visionary representations moved away from showing visionaries enjoying subjective, intellectual experiences of the divine to portrayals of passive recipients subjected to the forceful, empirical impact of the divine within the physical world.53 Celebrating the triumph of freedom and love over order and intellect, Arasse told the story of the ineluctable evolution of Raphael’s visionary concept from Neoplatonism to a mysticism associated with the Divine Love movement and Saint Catherine of Genoa. In doing so, Arasse made important contributions to the understanding of individual pictures and the religious culture that informed them. Yet having neglected to account for Renaissance ideas about bodily and spiritual sight or to treat a larger number of the relevant images, Arasse did not recognize the full diversity and complexity of Raphael’s visionary painting. Indeed, this study develops conclusions substantially different from Arasse’s own by taking account of a wider array of the artist’s images treating vision and the visionary and attempting to understand them according to their individual visual modalities. Considering them in terms of Renaissance conflicts over the religious image, it seeks to encompass a more complicated reality than has hitherto been recognized for them.

Chapter 1 treats the young Raphael, who, having been exposed to traditional visionary imagery, moved to Florence and there applied himself to the problem of representing the visionary in more modern, naturalistic terms. Playing naturalistic against traditional imagery, he subsequently developed new ways to represent the invisible world by visible means, inventing what is here described as “spiritual perspective,” which, by gradually diminishing the visibility of the spiritual things shown, suggests the incorporeal realities beyond the painting. Then, having settled in Rome, Raphael eventually moved away from his early, idealizing images of the visionary to more natural ones that present visions as physical phenomena addressed to the “natural eye” of the individual viewer.

The work most emblematic of Raphael’s attempt to render the link between corporeal vision and incorporeal vision is his School of Athens, the subject of chapter 2. Here Raphael attempted to give visual form to thought itself, simulating the activity of thinking through the viewer’s tracing of a perspectivally rendered space that opens onto a view of sky. By this perspectival linking of the world to the heavens, Raphael conceived the viewer’s eye as “philosophical,” discovering spiritual order through the structures of physical vision. Yet when Raphael altered the finished fresco to include the introspective figure of Heraclitus, who represents the ideal of spiritual vision, he hinted at the possibility of an alternative conception of vision, one that would become more important to him in his later work.

Chapter 3 considers the function and use of the religious image by studying Raphael’s designs for the Sistine tapestries. In the Blinding of Elymas, the artist depicts true belief as the rejection of idolatry, the improper use of the bodily eyes. He then shows how images are inadequate to the depiction of the divine in his Paul in Athens. Investigating the dialectic of external and internal vision, Raphael explores the problem of the proper use of religious images and the role of the Christian artist in these works.

In chapter 4, I show how the later Raphael (ca. 1514–20) gradually moved away from depicting visionary occurrences as physical phenomena given to the “natural eye” of the viewer and toward presenting multidimensional surfaces that explicitly conjured the effect of higher forms of spiritual vision. In these works, the rising value of imagination, or fantasia, asserts itself as an independent, and sometimes disruptive, element in painting, one that overturns the normative order of perspectival representation. By means of this association of artistic and prophetic imagination, Raphael ingeniously presented the invisible world to the corporeal eyes of his viewers as something sanctioned by the very artificiality of the image itself.

Raphael’s desire to depict the visionary as an internal experience rather than a physical one was spectacularly realized in his last painting, the Transfiguration. Chapter 5 explores how this altarpiece presents two istorie that figure through expression and gesture a movement from corporeal to imaginative and intellectual seeing. In this way, the Transfiguration represents the artist’s most complex integration of the contemporary idea of painting with the traditional spiritual aspirations of the Christian image to orchestrate the viewer’s devotional experience.

In the Transfiguration, and other paintings, Raphael proves that he was deeply concerned with the way in which images induce spiritual experience in their viewers. I argue throughout this study that this, in fact, was Raphael’s first and foremost concern in all his visionary paintings. But Raphael’s continuous desire to convey the invisible by means of the visible has a wider significance as well. When properly understood, Raphael’s paintings of vision and the visionary speak to larger Renaissance artistic phenomena, pointing the way toward a richer history of the visionary in Western painting. Indeed, this investigation of Raphael’s pictorial ruminations on visuality and the status of the religious image enlarges even the classic account of the development of visionary painting with which this volume began.

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