The Ecstasy of St Cecilia – Raphael, 1515 (on behalf of Douglas Hedley)


Raphael, The Ecstasy of St Cecilia with Sts Paul, John the Evangelist, Augustine and Mary Magdalene. Pinacoteca Nazionale. 1515.

Here is an image of conversion from sorrow to joy. But the image is also an interesting demonstration of the wider connotations of conversion in the ‘Discarded Image’ (C.S. Lewis) of medieval and renaissance literature. The Platonic-Pythagorean dimension is striking. Cecilia is looking up to the heavens. The broken instruments are at her feet.


Paul and John (with the book of revelation under his feet) are the visionaries of the NT. Augustine was associated in the Middle Ages with the possibility of the vision divine (cf Olivier Boulnois Au-dela de L’image, pp.133ff). I am intrigued by the figure of Mary Magdalene who gazes at us with such candour.

The link with Ficino is expounded in S. Mossakowski, Raphael’s ‘St Cecilia’: An Iconographical Study.’ Zeitschrift fuer Kunstgeschichte 31 (1968): 1-26


The Romantics loved this picture: in Wackenroder’s Herzergiessungen eines kunstliebenden Klosterbruders (1796-7) Cordial effusions of an art loving Monk, the fictional monk declares that ‘sein Inneres war durchbohrt’ ‘his soul was pierced’ by the painting. In 1818 Shelley describes a ‘unity and perfection in it of an incommunicable kind. The central figure St Caecilia seems rapt in such inspiration as produced her image in the painters mind…’