Friday, April 3, 2009

Raphael's Disputa

I was looking at John F. Moffitt's Painterly Perspective and Piety: Religious Uses of the Vanishing Point, from the 15th to the 18th Century, where he has a chapter entitled, "Seeing the Host in Art and Archtecture." There he talks about Raphael's painting, Disputa or Disputation over the Doctrine of Transubstantiation (1509-11). This is a fresco in the Stanza della Segnatura (Hall of the Judicial Tribunal) in the Vatican. In the picture, Heaven and Earth are shown, centered on the Trinity in a horizontal line connecting Heaven and Earth through the Eucharist. It is interesting that in a hall devoted to canon law, there is a Eucharistic fresco. Moffitt quotes historian Yryo Hirn on the picture: "Thus in this composition Raphael has concentrated the thought which lay at the basis of the whole Catholic Mass doctrine: that the Host was the supreme point between Heaven and earth" (Y. Hirn, The Sacred Shrine: A Study of the Poetry and Art of the Catholic Church, pp. 149-150, quoted in Moffitt, p. 128).

During the Protestant Reformation, the nature of the Eucharist became a contested battleground. Raphael depicted what the Catholic Church taught, which the the Council of Trent re-affirmed and clarified by defining transubstantiation in Session 13, Chapter IV, in 1551:

And because that Christ, our Redeemer, declared that which He offered under the species of bread to be truly His own body, therefore has it ever been a firm belief in the Church of God, and this holy Synod doth now declare it anew, that, by the consecration of the bread and of the wine, a conversion is made of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord, and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of His blood; which conversion is, by the holy Catholic Church, suitably and properly called Transubstantiation.

Raphael's Disputa is a wonderful example of art and faith informing each other, teaching and inspiring, bringing together beauty and truth.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Stanza Della Segnatura (*room of signatures) was originally intended to be the private library of Pope Julius II, where he would sign into law papal bulls. The fresco cycle was meant to inspire him to be just in his decisions, with the Disputa representing christian knowledge. Besides that, its in the Vatican. Christian iconography in the Vatican is really not, in itself, all that remarkable, if anything it is to be expected.