Biblical Proportions: Quick Bite

Today on Museum Quick Bites we’re taking a biblical walk down the aisle with a 16th century twist. Join me for a quick tour of Raffaello “Raphael” Sanzio’s, Lo Sposalizio (The Marriage of the Virgin; 1504), but first a little background…

Lo Spozalizio (1504) by Raffaello Sanzio, Pinacoteca di Brera

Originally located in the Church of San Francesco in Città di Castello in Umbria, Italy, Lo Sposalizio was inspired by a story from The Golden Legend (c1260) by Jacobus de Voragine.

This Biblical fan fiction was published in the 13th century and is filled with stories about key moments in the lives of Christian saints. In this particular story, the Virgin Mary selects her husband from a cast of suitors. Each suitor holds a wooden rod, and with the help of divine intervention, she chooses the man (*spoiler alert* Joseph) with the rod that miraculously sprouts flowers. 

In Lo Sposalizio, Raphael captures the moment when Joseph places a ring on Mary’s finger. With his head slightly tilted, a rabbi stands in the center and is flanked by the bride and groom, identified by their faint, golden halos and signifying their saintliness.

Mary’s female attendants cluster behind her, while the rejected suitors mill about behind Joseph. Note their flowerless rods clasped in their hands. Raphael features one suitor in the foreground, who is so disappointed by Mary’s rejection he makes a show of trying to snap his rod in two.

Members of the wedding party are dressed in deep vibrant colors, which pop against the bland pavement. Note, Joseph is the only person in the painting who is barefoot. Possibly a symbol of his humility? Zoom in and check out how his left foot appears misshapen.

In the background, groups of people stand talking and pay no attention to the wedding ceremony. One young man holds out a hat, begging for money.

At the center, a temple dominates Raphael’s painting and his signature and the year Lo Sposalizio was completed is emblazoned above the temple door. Beyond the temple is a cloudless sky and faint, hilly landscape. Notice how the pavement is filled with rectangles and orthogonal lines which draw our eye up the steps to converge on the temple door. This is one technique Raphael used to enhance the painting’s depth.

The setting for Lo Sposalizio is contemporary 16th century, based on the landscape, temple architecture, and clothing. In particular, the leotards and pointed hats worn by some of the male figures, are signature Renaissance attire.

Overall, Lo Sposalizio is somber and serene. Raphael has skillfully portrayed a holy event in an idyllic setting that is balanced and beautiful, has lots of depth and is a perfect blend of art and geometry. Despite being smaller than life-size, some of the figures look directly out at us, the viewers, as if we, too, were taking part in Mary and Joseph’s wedding ceremony. Mazel tov!

If you’d like to learn more about the life and art of Raffaello Sanzio (1483-1520), click on this Raphael link, courtesy of TheArtStory.

That wraps up our brief tour of Lo Sposalizio, I’ll be back next week with more Museum Quick Bites. Until then, be safe, be kind, and take care 🙂

Cover photo by cspxbay, courtesy of Pixabay.


Britannica: History of Middle Eastern and Western Dress
Britannica: Raphael
Khan Academy: Lo Spozalizio (1504)
Pinacoteca Brera: Lo Spozalizi (1504)
TheArtStory: Raphael
WikiArt: Raphael

Comments are closed.

Create a website or blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: