Happy Feast of the Transfiguration!
Perhaps the best and of most well-known of artwork of the Transfiguration where Christ is shown in all His glory is this artwork by Raphael:
In fact! It is so glorious that, while looking for artworks of the Ascension for my book, The Glorious Mysteries, this was one of the first pictures that came up in search, even though it is not a depiction of the Ascension at all!
The artwork actually depicts two different scenes of the bible that happen right next to each other in the Gospel of Matthew:
1 After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. 3 And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him. 4Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid. 7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and do not be afraid.” 8And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone.9 As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, “Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” 10 Then the disciples asked him, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” 11 He said in reply, “Elijah will indeed come and restore all things; 12 but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him but did to him whatever they pleased. So also will the Son of Man suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.14 When they came to the crowd a man approached, knelt down before him, 15and said, “Lord, have pity on my son, for he is a lunatic and suffers severely; often he falls into fire, and often into water. 16I brought him to your disciples, but they could not cure him.” 17 Jesus said in reply, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long will I be with you? How long will I endure you? Bring him here to me.” 18Jesus rebuked him and the demon came out of him, and from that hour the boy was cured. 19Then the disciples approached Jesus in private and said, “Why could we not drive it out?” 20 He said to them, “Because of your little faith. Amen, I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” [
The top half of the art depicts the Transfiguration. Jesus is at the center, depicted as larger an life, with Elijah and Moses at his right and left, respectively. Below Jesus, the disciples are floored (literally!) at this stunning image of Jesus.
And to the left, those two people to the left of this glorious scene who are looking on to the scene and praying? They are two saints, Saints Justus and Pastor, who share a feast day with the Feast of the Transfiguration. They are also were the patron saints of the cathedral that this artwork was originally commissioned for!
The lower half is what happens directly after the Transfiguration! The disciples are unable to cure a boy possessed by demons, so they need Jesus’ help. The disciples try to approach the boy, but it is only Jesus that can cure him. So, the disciples point to the Jesus of the Transfiguration, who cures the boy. It is not through the disciples’ powers, but rather by Jesus, that the boy can be cured.
This was Raphael’s last painting. In fact, he died with this painting at his head, presumably finishing it up at the time of his death, as it was mostly completed when he died. Which, honestly, sounds like a wonderful sort of death.
This is one of Raphael’s greatest masterpieces and truly a creative vision of the Transfiguration. A lot of artists only focus on the Transfiguration as an isolated incident, like so. Or, they include the Transfiguration in a sort of visual summary of Jesus’s ministry, like so.
But, in this artwork, Raphael masterfully incorporates both the Transfiguration and the miracle in a profound way. Through it, he seems to emphasize the fact that these miracles of Jesus were not simply done just because Jesus was a mere miracle worker — far from it! Instead, Christ’s ability to do these miracles stemmed from His relationship with God, as the Son of God, to give all the glory to God.
The disciples not being able to perform this miracle was not due to them not being able to perform miracles. Instead, it was their lack of faith, especially after they were shown a profound vision of Jesus as God through the glory of the Transfiguration, that they were unable to help.
So, on this feast day, let us remember to always put our faith in God! As St. Paul once wrote:
13I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me.