The Madonna Della Sedia

On May 8, 1938, Mr. E.J. McNeeley presented the church with a handpainted copy of Raphael’s famed “Madonna Della Sedia.” It now hangs over the fireplace in Middleton Parlor. The McNeeleys spent 14 months traveling through Europe, Africa and Asia—visiting all the galleries, temples, and cathedrals. In Florence, Italy they visited the Pitti Gallery and observed that an artist of two always seemed to be at work making copies of original paintings hanging there. When they found a copy of Raphael’s Madonna Della Sedia hanging in the studio of a famous artist in Florence, they bought the painting for their home. After the death of Mrs. McNeeley, Mr. McNeeley presented the painting to the church as a memorial for his beloved wife.

The Story of Raphael’s Painting

The story is told that late one summer afternoon Raphael was returning to Rome from one of the long excursions into the surrounding country which he loved to take. Passing through a little village, he encountered a band of strolling musicians playing in the one street about which clustered’ the houses of the little hamlet. Already the soft, dreamy gold dust, which sifts through the air and settles at the close of an Italian summer day, was enveloping fields and houses and the distant hills ; and wayfarers returning to the city, and laborers coming home from their work in the fields, stopped to listen to the sweet and joyous strains. Outside of the little stone houses were gathered the women and children, for when the burst of music of a well-conducted band fills the air and most Italians are good musicians — all who hear must stop and listen. So Raphael lingered by the roadside and, as was his wont, watched the faces of the little company, when suddenly his eyes rested upon one of the loveliest and purest faces he had ever seen, belonging to a young Italian mother who was seated on a doorstep holding her baby boy, while be-side her stood her little daughter listening to the music. Instantly Raphael determined to paint her as a Madonna, but looked in vain for something upon which to make a sketch. At last he discovered an old barrel head lying in the dust of the road, and, cleaning it off as best he could, he sketched the mother and her children, using the little girl as the figure of St. John (the Baptist). When he reached his studio, the thought came to him to retain the shape of the barrel head and make the painting circular, which he did.

Guide to the Painting

The Madonna, as you will observe, is seated upon a low chair holding the child in her arms. At her side stands the little St. John, his hands clasped in prayer. Over the shoulders of the Madonna is a brightly colored shawl, and a handkerchief of brilliant hues is tied about her head. The Madonna, the perfection of womanly beauty and modesty, is a young woman with a deep maternal love streaming out from her dark, expressive eyes ; while the child, strong and winning, nestles in his mother’s protecting arms. There is about the figures of the Virgin and child a warmth of coloring and a gladness of soul which are perfectly charming, while the earnest yet childlike worship of St. John is no less appropriate. The entire picture is painted with great freedom and power, and no other work of art in the world is so popular. At least fifty engravers have tried their skill upon it, and photographic copies have been sold by the thousands.