THE TRANSFIGURATION

The Transfiguration is a picture divided into two parts. The lower part is filled with more figures than the upper and contains more action. On one side are nine of the disciples of Jesus; on the other is a crowd of people in company with a father who brings his son to be healed. He gives an account of his boy's sickness in these words:—

"He is mine only child. And lo! a spirit taketh him, and he suddenly crieth out; and it teareth him that he foameth again; and, bruising him, hardly departeth from him."[7]

[7] Luke, chapter ix., verses 38, 39.

The father calls upon the disciples, in the absence of Jesus, to heal his son. In the company with him, we can make out two women kneeling by the boy. We think it is the mother who supports him, and looks at the disciples as she points to her son. How quiet and self-possessed she is, in contrast to the poor fellow's violence as shown in his position, and his distorted hands.

She is wholly devoted to him, and the mother shows in her face and bearing. But the other kneeling woman, who may be his sister, carries a different expression as she points to the boy. She looks toward the disciples with a severe and scornful air, as if saying: "What! you profess to heal the sick, and you can do nothing for this poor sufferer!"

The figures in the background are crying aloud and stretching out their arms for aid. One can count the persons, but it looks as if there were a crowd behind that we do not see, all pressing forward.

On the other side of the picture are the disciples, all eager, with heads bent forward, and each gesturing to express his meaning. One, younger than the others, with his hand against his breast, looks at the father with a pitying but helpless expression, as if he would gladly help him if he only could. Another has an open book as though he were trying to find some word of comfort. One is pointing out the boy to his neighbor, and two in the background seem to be lost in perplexity.

But, after all, though most of the disciples are thus intent, the eye quickly notes the action of a figure near the centre, full of fire and energy, who is pointing upward, away from the group, and calling upon the father and the women to look that way. And the line of his arm thrust out is continued by that of another disciple behind him, who also points upward.

For these two have seen the Lord, and they are bidding the troubled parents look the same way for help. There, above all this turmoil and confusion, is a scene of dazzling light, of which they alone seem to be aware.

THE TRANSFIGURATION Vatican Gallery, Rome THE TRANSFIGURATION 
Vatican Gallery, Rome

The upper part of the picture discloses the transfiguration of the Saviour. As the evangelist tells us, he had taken Peter and James and John with him, and had gone up into a mountain to pray.

"And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering. And, behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias, who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem. But Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep; and when they were awake, they saw his glory, and the two men that stood with him."[8]

[8] Luke, chapter ix., verses 29-32.

The scene shown is at the moment of the awaking of the three disciples, one not daring to look up again, but bowing his head and folding his hands in prayer. They are dazzled with the glory. This glory is a cloud of brightness which envelops the three figures of Christ, Moses, and Elijah, or as the Greeks called him, Elias. The Saviour looks heavenward with rapture in his gaze.

On one side are seen two kneeling figures. They are said to stand for the father and uncle of the Cardinal who ordered the picture from Raphael. It was the fashion of the day thus to introduce a patron into a painting, and Raphael has made them as obscure as he well could.

We must not look at this great picture as if it were a panorama, where a succession of scenes is witnessed, or find fault with it because the Bible says that the transfiguration took place on one day and the scene below took place the next day, when Jesus and his disciples had come down from the mountain. Nor is anything said in the Bible which would lead us to suppose that Jesus and the prophets were raised above the ground.

No; what Raphael intended was to draw a contrast between an earthly scene of suffering and a heavenly scene of peace and serenity; and he took two scenes which lie next each other in the scripture narrative. That was his thought, and see how wonderfully he has expressed this contrast throughout!

There is the dark confusion and helplessness and grief below; above is a scene of light which is like a vision, and this vision two of the disciples see; and as we have pointed out, a contrast is made evident in various parts of the picture. Indeed, the painting is made up of contrasts; and not the least noticeable is that of the solid mass below, square shaped, and the light, pyramid-shaped composition above.