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Work Saint Michael Overwhelming the Demon

Department of Paintings: Italian painting

Saint Michael Overwhelming the Demon

© 2011 Musée du Louvre / Martine Beck-Coppola

Paintings
Italian painting

Author(s):
Cécile Scailliérez

Saint Michael Overwhelming the Demon may have been painted for Guidobaldo da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino, around 1503−1505, at the same time as Saint George and the Dragon (INV. 609), with which it has always been associated.

From Apocalypse to Divine Comedy

In the Apocalypse of Saint John (Book of Revelation), the Archangel Michael, having overcome the rebel angels, slays the dragon, an allegorical embodiment of evil, and casts it to earth. In this depiction, Raphael enriched the scene’s traditional representation with ancillary scenes inspired by the Inferno in the Divine Comedy, in which Dante recounts the punishment of hypocrites and thieves. On the left, the hypocrites, shrouded in gilded lead cloaks, are emerging from the ground and parading before the burning city, while on the right the naked thieves are at being devoured by snakes and black birds.

A text admired at the court of Urbino

Dante’s Inferno was greatly admired at the court of Urbino, and Duke Guidobaldo da Montefeltro, or possibly his sister, Giovanna Feltria della Rovere, eager to celebrate her son Francesco Maria della Rovere’s admission to the Order of Saint Michael in 1503, could have commissioned this picture. Its companion piece, a portrayal of Saint George, also in the Louvre, is very similar to another depiction of the same theme clearly linked to the Duke of Urbino’s patronage. Saint Michael’s shield, decorated with a red cross on a white ground, has so far been seen solely an allusion to the cross of Saint Michael, knight of Christ.

A strong northern European influence

This work is typical of a series of very small pictures Raphael painted around 1503−1505, when he was dividing his time between Perugia and Urbino. The influence of Perugino, discernable here in the lanky, dancing figure of Saint Michael, is combined with a strong debt to northern European painting, particularly Memling but also – herein lies the painting’s originality – Hieronymus Bosch. The latter had very probably stayed in Venice around 1500 and his phantasmagorical creatures belonging to a totally imaginary, subterranean world and artificial light effects also fascinated Italian painters. Raphael was one of the first to be inspired by him, as shown here by the ghoulish figures Saint Michael is fighting and the landscape itself.

Technical description

  • Raffaello SANTI, known as RAPHAEL (Urbino, 1483−Rome, 1520)

    Saint Michael Overwhelming the Demon

    c. 1505

  • Oil on wood

    H. 0.30 m; W. 0.26 m

  • Collection of Louis XIV (acquired in 1661)

    known as The Small Saint Michael

    INV. 608

  • Paintings

    Denon wing
    1st floor
    Grande Galerie
    Room 5

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