The subject of this painting is split in two halves: the top and the bottom. The top is the Transfiguration from the Gospels and the bottom depicts a scene from the Acts of the Apostles. The scene from Acts is full of agitated motion; people pointing one way and looking another. There is a confusion. The child, who has one arm stretched to the sky and other towards the earth, is possessed by a demon. The family, dressed in green, brought their child to the apostles so they could cast out the demon, but the apostles do not know what to do. They are looking around and pointing, and St. Peter is searching through his book.
A couple of the apostles are pointing towards the top of the painting, where we see Jesus’ Transfiguration. Jesus is the answer the apostles are trying to find. The power in the light which surrounds Jesus pushes everything that opposes it away, including fallen human nature. Thus, Peter, James, and John are pushed to the ground and even Moses and Elijah find it hard to stay near Jesus. Only this power is capable of freeing the child from its demonic possessor, and Jesus’ arms are open and ready to save. Even with the power of God shining through Jesus, the actions of the top of Raphael’s painting do not convey overwhelming magnificence, but instead convey peaceful rest. This peaceful rest is the gift Jesus wishes to give to those below in agitated confusion at the bottom of the painting.
Resources: our Virtual Pilgrimage on St. Peter’s Basilica part 2 (watch on YouTube here)