The Vision of Ezekiel

Keywords: VisionEzekiel

Work Overview

Ezekiel's Vision
Artist Raphael
Year c.1518
Medium Oil on panel
Style   High Renaissance
Genre   religious painting
40 x 30 cm
Location Palazzo Pitti, Florence

Ezekiel's Vision is a c. 1518 painting by Raphael showing the prophet Ezekiel's vision of God in majesty. It is housed in the Palatine Gallery of Palazzo Pitti, Florence, central Italy.

The work is remembered by Renaissance art biographer Giorgio Vasari as property of a Bolognese nobleman, Vincenzo Ercolani. There is trace of payment by him to Raphael for 8 ducats in 1510, but this is generally considered just a down payment, since stylistically the work (inspired for example by Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling) cannot be dated before 1518.

In Florence since as early as 1589, it was ceded to Francesco I de' Medici and was placed at the Uffizi. The painting is known to be at Palazzo Pitti in 1697. In 1799 it was robbed by the French, who kept it in Paris until returning it back in 1816.

The work was once considered to be by the hand of Giulio Romano, with Raphael providing only the drawing. However, it has been subsequently assigned to Raphael.

This painting is a typical example how some elements deriving from Michelangelo are present in Raphael's works from the period after 1517. The origin of the subject is the Bible. But instead of describing the four Cherubim (inspired by Babylonian iconography) as the Prophet did, Raphael represents a classical divinity with the traditional symbols of the Evangelists. A centrally placed tree dominates the low, broad landscape and the sky is stormy and turbulent. The divine group hovers amid the clouds, surrounded by an aura of bright light. The angel, eagle, lion and ox which symbolize the Evangelists, together with two cherubs, spiral around the vigorous central figure.

The balance of this composition impressed Vasari. Ezekiel is so small he can scarcely be recognized in the bottom left of the background, the scenes being completely dominated by his vision.

The painting, now in the Pitti Gallery in Florence, is believed to have been painted in 1518. Like many other paintings by Raphael, it was removed to Paris by Napoleon's army and returned to Tuscany in 1815.

The oil painting that showed the vision of the prophet Ezekiel about God was created in 1518 by Raphael was said to pay homage to another Italian artist, Michelangelo. He used the same elements from previous works by the artist and used it in depicting the majestic presence of God.

Art critics such as Giorgio Vasari were impressed by how the vision was emphasized and magnified in the drawing, that the prophet standing at lower left part of the drawing is almost unnoticed. God is accompanied by cherubims, and symbols of the evangelists such as the ox, lion, eagle and angel dominated the whole painting. The intricate illustration of the clouds and sharp detail at the rays are also impressive, making the painting truly a masterpiece.

The Old Testament prophet Ezekiel begins his book by describing his vision of God, who always addresses the prophet as “son of man,” enthroned in the heavens among angelic hosts, supported by four winged creatures, having the faces of a man, a lion, a calf (or ox), and an eagle (Ezekiel 1:5,10). The same four creatures appear in the last book of the New Testament, Revelation 4:7-8: “And the four living creatures never cease to sing: ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty who was and is, and is to come.’”

Beginning with Saint Irenaeus (ca. 125 – ca. 202) and also in the writings of Saint Jerome (ca. 347-420) and Saint Augustine (354-430), the four creatures of Ezekiel’s vision were understood to symbolize the four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Though there was some variation among these early Church fathers as to which creature represented which Gospel writer, all agreed on the symbolic significance of the visions of both Ezekiel and Saint John the Evangelist in expressing the unity of the Old and New Testaments.

It is the interpretation of Saint Jerome that has prevailed to this day. In the preface to his Commentary on the Book of Matthew, he wrote, “The first, the face of a man, signifies Matthew, as it was about man that he begins to write: ‘The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, son of David, the son of Abraham’ [Matthew 1:1]; while the second is the voice of Mark in which is heard the roaring of a lion… ‘A voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight her paths’ [Mark 1:3], and the third by the evangelist Luke, for Zachariah the priest took the calf, foretelling the sacrifice [cf. Luke 1:5]; and the fourth is John the evangelist, who preaches concerning the word of God by assuming the wings of an eagle and hastening to the heights [cf. John 1:1-13].”

In Raphael’s depiction, the tiny figure of Ezekiel can be seen at the lower left, as rays of light from the clouds shine on him. God, with His arms supported by cherubim, is seated on the wings of the eagle (John), surrounded by the winged man (Matthew), lion (Mark), and ox (Luke).


“The New Testament is hidden in the Old and the Old is made manifest in the New,” as Saint Augustine perceptively noted. It is important, therefore, that in both pastoral and academic settings the close relationship between the two Testaments be clearly brought out, in keeping with the dictum of Saint Gregory the Great that “what the Old Testament promised, the New Testament made visible; what the former announces in a hidden way, the latter openly proclaims as present. Therefore the Old Testament is a prophecy of the New Testament; and the best commentary on the Old Testament is the New Testament.”

— Pope Benedict XVI 

In a vision the prophet Ezekiel sees "the appearance of a man" sitting on a throne shaped by four creatures. The creatures have different faces: that of a man, an ox, a lion and an eagle. The "appearance" speaks to Ezekiel, who realises that it is God himself who speaks to him.

Ezekiel is the tiny figure standing in the beam of light in the bottom left.

St Hieronymus, a father of the church who lived from 347 until 420 AD, used the four creatures as symbols for the four evangelists. Man was the symbol for Matthew, the lion for Mark, the ox for Luke and the eagle for John.

French troops robbed the panel in 1799 and took it from Florence to Paris. After Napoleon's defeat it was returned to Florence in 1816. It now still is in the Galleria Palatina of the Palazzo Pitti.