History of Sistine Madonna

The Sistine MadonnaCongregation members and visitors at Philip G. Cochran Memorial United Methodist Church should look no further than the church's left wall to see a rare work of art.  The beautiful 12 foot painting is a priceless copy of The Sistine Madonna, painted by L. Sturm of Dresden at the turn of the 20th Century.

The original Sistine Madonna was painted in the early 1500s by Raphael Sanzia, one of the great artists of the Renaissance.  Born in 1483 in Urbino, Italy, Raphael was heavily influenced by such other great artists as Leonardo da Vinci and Michaelangelo.  As a young man, he watched da Vinci's and Michaelango's rivalry for the patronage of the Popes adn the Vatican.  Raphael soon earned his own reputation for his paintings, sculptures, poetry and architecture.  In 1518 he won a commission from the Benedictine Monks of the Monestary of Saint Sexton to paint a picture featuring the Virgin Mary, the Infant Christ, Pope Saint Sextus and Saint Barbara.  It would be known as the Sistine Madonna and would be Raphael's last painting.  He died soon after it was finished, at age 36.

The Benedictine Monks of Saint Sextus so loved the painting that it was used as an altar piece for 216 years.  It was sold around 1735 for $40,000 to Augustus III, the Elector of Saxony, who also was king of Poland.  He then brought it to Dresden, where it remained throughout the centuries.

Cochran Church's copy of the Sistine Madonna was the first one made by L. Sturm.  It was presented to the Cochran Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church of Dawson by philanthropist Mrs. Sarah B. Cochran on November 7, 1906, who purchased it for $2,000.  At the time of its presentation, there were only two other copies of the Sistine Madonna in the entire world; one at Leland Stanford University in California, the other somewhere in Europe.  The fact that only one such copy is permitted to be made each year adds to its material worth. 

The history of Dawson's Sistine Madonna was highlighted with great fanfare at a Sunday community service at Cochran Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church on April 21, 1918.  During the service, the Rev. W. B. Purnell interpretated the painting's many elements.  Among those elements are the Babe Jesus, his sweet-faced Mother Mary, a sainted man who was Pope Sextus, a martyred maiden who was Saint Barbara and two little boys with cherub's wings.

Saint Barbara, who stands below and to the right of Jesus and Mary, has an interesting story of her own.  She was the daughter of a heathen father who incurred his wrath by refusing to marry a heathen suitor.  According to legend, Barbara was locked in a castle tower because of her disobedience.  When she confessed her faith in Jesus Christ, her father condemned her to death and carried out the sentence himself, beheading his own daughter.  The martyred Saint Barbara shows no sign of pain in Raphael's painting, however; only a sweet patience which seems to say, "Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do."

The little boys with cherub wings who hang on the brown ledge at the bottom of the scene were not part of the original painting.  Raphael added them after seeing two little boys hanging over the railing gazing at the Sistine Madonna.

At first glance, there appears to be clouds behind Mary and the Babe.  But look closer.  Those "clouds" are actually the faint images of countless faces - so faint, in fact, that for years they were covered with dust and grime.  When the painting was ordered to be cleaned, the faces were rediscoved and so have appeared in later copies of the Sistine Madonna.

Dawson's precious copy of the reverend Sistine Madonna adorned the wall of Cochran Memorial Methodist Church from its arrival in 1906.  When the original building was razed, it was put in storage until it could be rehung in the new - and present - church, which was dedicated in 1927.  Sarah B. Cochran gave the painting in memory of her late husband, Philip for whom the church is now named, and her late son, James.