Raphael, 'The Sacrifice at Lystra'
Bodycolour over charcoal underdrawing on paper, mounted on canvas
Height 347cm x width 532 cm
On loan from HM Queen Elizabeth II; rcin 912949
'And there sat a certain man at Lystra, impotent in his feet, being a cripple from his mother's womb, who never had walked: the same heard Paul speak: who steadfastly beholding him, and perceiving that he had faith to be healed, said with a loud voice, Stand upright on thy feet. And he leaped and walked. And when the people saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in the speech of Lycaonia, The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men. And they called Barnabas, Jupiter; and Paul, Mercurius, because he was the chief speaker. Then the priest of Jupiter, which was before their city, brought oxen and garlands unto the gates, and would have done sacrifice with the people. Which when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of, they rent their clothes, and ran in among the people, crying out, and saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein: who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness. And with these sayings scarce restrained they the people, that they had not done sacrifice unto them.'
Paul and Barnabas (standing at left) have just cured a lame man in the city of Lystra (now Hatunsaray, in modern Turkey). Because of this miraculous cure, the Lystrians mistake the two men for the gods Jupiter and Mercury and try to offer a sacrifice to them. Paul tears his garments in fury at this act of idolatry, while Barnabas pleads with the crowd to stop the sacrifice. A young man in the crowd responds to Paul's anger and Barnabas's entreaties, leaning toward the executioner to prevent him from slaughtering an ox.
Raphael has filled the scene with pagan motifs, such as the statue of Mercury in the background and the fantastic images on the altar in the foreground, to demonstrate that the people of Lystra are idolatrous. However, classical, pagan ideas and stories enjoyed a revival during the Renaissance and the view that they were inimical to Christianity was being challenged. At the time Raphael began designing the cartoons, Pope Leo had appointed him Commissioner of Antiquities, putting him in close and frequent contact with Rome's classical past.