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Disputation of the Holy Sacrament

Rafael Sanzio, 1509

This painting was the first fresco with which the rooms that today are known as the Estancias de Rafael were decorated. The title is given later by the painter Giorgio Vasari, however, there has been controversy about this name and many think that the title should be "The Triumph of the Church." On the sides of the Holy Trinity (with God the Father, the Christ between the Virgin, Saint John the Baptist and the Holy Spirit placed on the central axis) is the Triumphant Church, with patriarchs and prophets of the Old Testament, alternated with apostles and martyrs, sitting in the hemicycle above the clouds.

The characters are, from left to right: Saint Peter, Adam, Saint John the Evangelist, David, Saint Lawrence, Judas Maccabeus, Saint Stephen, Moses, Saint James, Abraham, Saint Paul. On the earth, on the sides of the altar where the Blessed Sacrament dominates, the Militant Church is located. On the marble thrones closest to the altar are the four Fathers of the Latin Church: St. Gregory the Great (with the features of Julius II), St. Jerome, St. Ambrose, and St. Augustine. Part of the other figures has the appearance of historical figures: the portraits of Sixtus IV (uncle of Julius II) are recognized in the pontiff located further to the right; of Dante Alighieri behind him; of the Angelic Blessed in the friar of the extreme left.

The fresco tries to represent in painting what could be called the theological Truth, in front of the philosophical Truth that personifies the fresco of the School of Athens that is opposite. In the Christian tradition, this theological truth is embodied in the Eucharist, a gesture of sacramental sacrifice in memory of the real sacrifice and thanksgiving that Jesus Christ bequeathed to his disciples in his memory, shortly before his passion. Therefore, all the service of the Church of Christ on earth revolves around this supreme act, as a means of redemption and also of relationship with a divine being that includes the Trinity, the heavenly powers and the saints in all epochs It is thus this complex theological reality that Rafael intends to represent in this fresco that should be, given that it is intended for the office and library of Pope Julius II, a support for the contemplation of the mystery of the Church on earth and in the heavens.

Vatican Museums