Italian Painter, Printmaker, and Architect
Summary of Raphael
Alive for only 37 prolific and passionate years, Raphael blazed a comet's trail of painting throughout the apex of the Italian High Renaissance. His true lust for life translated onto the canvas where his skill in presenting the Renaissance Humanist era's ideals of beauty was breathtakingly new. He is, alongside Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo, considered an equal part of the holy trinity of master artists of his time.
- Raphael's prodigiousness in painting - despite his relatively short life - was a result of his training that began when he was just a mere child. From a childhood spent in his painter father's workshop to his adult life running one of the largest workshops of its kind, he garnered a reputation as one of the most productive artists of his time.
- The serene and harmonious qualities of Raphael's paintings were regarded as some of the highest models of the humanist impetus of the time, which sought to explore man's importance in the world through artwork that emphasized supreme beauty.
- Raphael not only mastered the signature techniques of High Renaissance art such as sfumato, perspective, precise anatomical correctness, and authentic emotionality and expression, he also incorporated an individual style noted for its clarity, rich color, effortless composition, and grandeur that was distinctly his own.
- Although largely known for his paintings, many of which can still be seen in the Vatican Palace where the frescoed Raphael Rooms were the largest work of his career, he was also an architect, printmaker, and expert draftsman. In other words, a true "Renaissance man."
- The artist was known, in contrast to one of his biggest rivals Michelangelo, as a man of conviviality, universally popular, and congenial, and a great lover of the ladies. His social ease and amicable personality allowed him acceptance and career opportunities at an advantage over other peers of the time.
The Life of Raphael
Raphael only lived to the age of 37, but he was already considered a High Renaissance master and “prince of painters” by the age of 17, going on to live and work in various cities in Italy, being appointed commissioner of antiquities in Rome by Pope Leo X, developing contentious rivalries with da Vinci and Michelangelo, and establishing a record-breaking workshop of over 50 apprentices.
Progression of Art
The Marriage of the Virgin
This painting shows the marriage between Mary and Joseph. As Joseph places the ring on Mary's finger, one of the two disappointed competing suitors is shown breaking his staff. Joseph's staff however is flowering, symbolizing the belief that all suitors carried wooden staffs, yet only the chosen groom's would bloom. A temple is seen in the background, created in the style of the architect Bramante. The use of vibrant colors and the emotional expressions of the figures add a graceful demeanor to the painting, which emanates a sense of the divine blessing of the scene rather than a mere happy temporal celebration.
Also known as Lo Sposalizio, The Marriage of the Virgin was commissioned by the Albizzini family for the chapel of St. Joseph in the Franciscan church of San Francesco of the Minorities at Città di Castello. The painting was inspired by a panel painted by Raphael's early teacher Perugino of The Marriage of the Holy Virgin and also, his famous fresco of Christ Delivering the Keys to St Peter's. The painting differs from Perugino's treatment though by its use of a more circular composition rather than a horizontal depiction, which was more commonly used in paintings of this period.
This painting represents a key point in the development of Raphael as a painter fusing the artistic style of his master Perugino with his own emerging confidence. We see him begin to integrate his own style with composition, perspective, and the daring use of bright tonal colors, all of which would define his later works.
Importantly too, this painting shows the confidence Raphael now had of proclaiming himself as a painter as it is one of the earliest of his signed works. It also shows his mastery of techniques that were being introduced during the Renaissance such as three-point perspective as we see the figures diminish in proportion as they recede into the painting, and the pavement, which leads us to the temple.
Oil on panel - Pinacteca di Brera, Milan
Disputation of the Holy Sacrament
This fresco in the Stanza della Segnatura, one of the four Raphael Rooms in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican, is one of four paintings in the room which depict separately: philosophy, poetry, theology, and law. The Disputation of the Holy Sacrament represents theology and shows the occupants of a Catholic Church underneath the span of heaven above their sacred altar. The fresco represents Christianity's victory over Philosophy, which is depicted in The School of Athens, the fresco on the opposite wall.
In heaven we see Christ in the center with the Virgin Mary on his right and John the Baptist on his left. God the Father is shown reigning over heaven above Jesus, with Adam to his left, and Jacob to his right. Moses is seen holding the tablets with the ten commandments, and the Holy Spirit is shown at the feet of Jesus. On either side of the Holy Spirit are the four gospels held by cherubs.
On earth are theologians. The original four Doctors of the Church, a title given to Saint Augustine, Pope Gregory I, Saint Jerome, and Saint Ambrose, named in their halos, are seen debating the Transubstantiation; the miraculous conversion of the eucharistic elements at their consecration into the body and blood of Christ in the earthly form of bread and wine. St Augustine and St Ambrose are seated to the right of the altar and Pope Gregory I and St Jerome to the left. Also present are Pope Julius II, Pope Sixtus IV, Savonarola, and Dante. All together this fresco depicts over 100 figures. In Raphael's rendition The Disputation takes on more than a depiction of the Eucharist. Instead, it becomes a dynamic search by theologians for the truth embodied in the mystery of the Eucharist.
This fresco, painted when Raphael was only 27 years old, represents his first significant commission to redecorate what were to become Pope Julius II's private apartments. Unfortunately, it involved painting over frescos by other important Renaissance painters including Piero della Francesca and Raphael's teacher Perugino. The Stanza della Segnatura was used by Julius II as a library and private office and takes its name from its use later in the sixteenth century as the highest court of the Holy See presided over by the pontiff Segnatura Gratiae et Ilustitiae.
Raphael won the commission to paint the four rooms in direct competition with both Michelangelo, who was at the time working on the Sistine Chapel, and Leonardo da Vinci. This is said to have incensed Michelangelo who would later accuse Raphael of plagiarism, spreading rumors that Raphael had stolen into the Sistine Chapel to have a sneak preview of Michelangelo's work. The source of the animosity was however probably no more than that of competition between two extremely talented professionals vying for the favor of the same client.
Fresco - Vatican City
The School of Athens
This fresco, also in the Stanza della Segnatura, is on the wall opposite the fresco showing The Disputation of the Holy Sacrament.
Although called The School of Athens, the title refers to philosophers from the classical world rather than any particular school of philosophy. The gestures of the philosophers depicted in the fresco have been subject to considerable academic interpretation and debate, however it is not clear how much of their philosophy Raphael would have been familiar with. What is important is the way in which Raphael has gathered all the most famous of the classical philosophers within a marvellous Renaissance building, the architecture of which points to Bramante's designs for the new St Peter's Basilica. Many of the philosophers are recognizable through their iconography, which would have been widely understood at the time and are drawn from busts recovered from archaeological excavations. We see Plato (said to be a portrait of Leonardo painted in homage) and Aristotle in the center carrying their well-known works Timeus and Ethics respectively. Also identifiable are Pythagoras in the foreground, Euclid on the right, Zoroaster holding the heavenly sphere, Ptolemy holding the earthly sphere, and Diogenes on the stairs holding a dish. The scholar leaning over Pythagoras is said to be that of the Arab philosopher Averroes who is credited with bringing the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle to the West.
Legend has it that Raphael poked an artistic dig at his great rival Michelangelo by painting his portrait as the face of the Philosopher Heraclitus, leaning against a block of marble. Heraclitus is often called the weeping philosopher due to the sad nature of his philosophical doctrine, and also connects with Michelangelo's own reputation for having baby-like tantrums. Also included in the painting is a self-portrait of Raphael wearing a black beret on the right corner of the fresco standing next to fellow-artist and friend Il Sodoma who was one of the artists whose work Raphael was ordered to paint over.
The fresco utilizes many techniques of the Renaissance artists, including the way it invites viewers to enter the space as if they are fully engulfed in the scene in an almost theatrical way. The perspective leads us into the throng of its occupants as if we, too, were engaged in the debate or contemplation. The light from the window in the background of the piece fills the scene, enhancing its three-dimensional solidity. The high vaulted ceiling with a view of the sky gives the feeling that we are entering into the realm of super human thought and activity and increases the sense of awe of being in the company of men so instrumental in shaping our understanding of the world. The coloring is muted to allow no one point of focus. Instead, we see the whole composition as being a world, which exists in a plane of time beyond that which we call our own demonstrating Raphael's great skill in his use of color.
The narrative aspects of the four frescos are perfectly arranged to engage in dialogue with each other and conducive to the intended use of the room as a library.
The School of Athens received both critical and popular attention immediately upon completion and was instrumental in elevating Raphael's public acclaim. This vindicated Pope Julius II's decision to award him the commission, and also laid the foundation for his trust in Raphael in conferring on him the artistic responsibilities that followed.
Fresco - Vatican City
The painting shows the Madonna and child in the centre with St. Sixtus and St. Barbara kneeling on either side of them. St. Barbara was included in the painting as her relics were worshiped in the church. St. Sixtus intercedes on the viewer's behalf, which is indicated by the right hand pointing down to us as he gazes up towards the Madonna. The two cherubs at the bottom of the painting look up at them without the reverence of the saints, or the solemnity of the Virgin, or the innocence of the baby Jesus. On the bottom left of the painting is the papal crown of Pope Sixtus.
Pope Julius II commissioned this work as an altarpiece for the Benedictine Monastery of San Sisto, Piacenza. It was in homage to his uncle Pope Sixtus IV (who was canonized and is now known as St. Sixtus) who built the Sistine Chapel, and after whom the chapel is named.
The painting continues Raphael's incorporation of Renaissance elements with his own style in this devotional work. He used a pyramidal compositional structure that was common at the time. The curtains, which appear to be drawn back to reveal the heavenly scene, help create a harmony between the painting and the altar for which it was created. The illusionary space in which the heavenly figures are placed enhances the celestial significance of the invocation of the blessings, meant to arouse awe when viewed by a congregation below. Raphael's masterly use of color enhances the endearing warmth in the expression of benevolence of the Virgin and piety of the saints, and the swirling drapery of St. Sixtus allows the viewer's eye to move around the ethereal stillness of the figures placed on the cushion of clouds. The only earthly contact alluded to in the picture comes from the inclusion of the Pope's crown and the balcony on which the cherubs are resting.
The piece is important for myriad reasons. It was the last of the Madonnas painted by Raphael but also carries an interesting lineage and influence in Germany. After its acquisition by Augustus III, King of Poland, for 110,000 francs, the then highest ever price paid for a painting, it was brought to Dresden. Art historians Hans Belting and Helen Atkins have called this painting "supreme among the world's paintings," with the ability to arouse a state of religious ecstasy so seminal that upon the opening of the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden in 1855, it was accorded a room of its own. After the war, the painting was taken to the Soviet Union, and remained there until 1955 when, following the death of Stalin, it was returned to Dresden.
Its influence continues to this day. The Belarussian artists Mikhail Savitsky and Mai Dansig based their iconic works The Partisan Madonna of Minsk (1978), and And the Saved World Remembers (1985) on this painting. The cherubs, too, have garnered a special place in contemporary visual imagery. The musicologist and author Gustav Kobbé said of them, "no cherub or group of cherubs are so famous," and they have gone on to appear on clothing, bed linen, handbags, stamps, Christmas cards, and jewelery to name but a few impressions they have made on the public imagination.
It is fitting to close with Giorgio Vasari who said of the Sistine Madonna, it is "a truly rare and extraordinary work."
Oil on Canvas - Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden
Triumph of Galatea
This fresco depicts the story of Galatea, daughter of the sea god Nereus, who had fallen in love with Acis, a shepherd. The story goes that Polyphemus, the Cyclops and son of Poseidon, loved Galatea, and when he caught her and her beloved Acis in embrace, he killed him in a jealous rage. In the center, we see Galatea riding the seas on a conch-shell chariot drawn by two dolphins, trying to flee. Mythical sea creatures, nymps, and flying putti surround the heroine in this dramatic escape.
The Triumph of Galatea was painted to decorate the Villa Farnesina for Raphael's banker and friend Agostino Chigi. It is the only painting from Greek mythology ever painted by the artist. It was inspired by the poem "Stanza per la Giostra," by Angelo Poliziano, which is also thought to have been the inspiration for Botticelli's The Birth of Venus (1483-85). The verse describes how, despite the love song sung by Polyphemus, Galatea spurns his love, sailing away with her company of sea nymphs. Although neither his poetic series nor the intended frescos to decorate the villa were completed, we are lucky to have within this work a marvelous example of Raphael's technical artistic ability as well as imaginative interpretation.
The piece breathes with an emotional intensity that is testament to Raphael's ability to conjure ideals of grandeur so majestically. The figures in the composition all interact with each other to form a cohesive whole. Each gesture is met with a reciprocal gesture, guiding our gaze to the central beauty of Galatea's face, which the artist professed came directly from his imagination rather than a model. A frenzied fluidity of movement is achieved through Galatea's billowing robe, the plunging dolphins, and the supreme musculature of the other figures, illustrating perfect machinations of the body.
It's easy to see Michelangelo's influence in the muscular forms or Leonardo's harking back to Roman classical frescos with the bright coloring. Yet, there is no doubt that this painting is a supreme example that embodies all Raphael had learned resulting in a magnificent elegy to the dreamlike nature of beauty.
Fresco - Villa Farnesina, Rome
Woman with a Veil (La Donna Velata)
Perhaps no other work by Raphael can be said to epitomize his passion for presenting beauty in all its idealism as this one, a portrait of his beloved Margherita Luti. Of note is the pearl in her hair, a reference to her name, which means pearl. The painting was borne of the artist's adoration rather than a work that was commissioned. In it, Margherita's facial features are reminiscent of the face in many of his Madonnas and present a quality of loveliness bestowed by the male gaze. The clear smoothness of her skin, the alluring almond shape of her eyes, and the perfectly modeled face in a pose of the divine, otherwise considered unattainable, make this piece an unforgettable testament to love. In fact, the art historian Oskar Fischel called it "a love-prompted improvisation."
The piece lays evidence of Raphael's consummate understanding of Leonardo da Vinci's sfumato technique of creating a smoky blurred fusion of colors. He also adopted Leonardo's innovation of painting half-length portraits, which allowed Raphael to focus on his skill at painting the lustrously shimmering fabric of his subject's dress. The art critic Julia Addison saw an amorphic sexuality in the looseness with which it is depicted the way others refer to the voluptuous sexuality of Georgia O'Keeffe's flower paintings.
The painting remains important to Raphael's overall oeuvre. Although a portrait of extraordinary beauty, La Donna Velata is unique in that it is of a real person, not merely a represented objectification of beauty. By painting a portrait imbued with such personal history, Raphael not only gives us a consummate homage to beauty and his legendary love of women, but also a reflection of his adoration of the sitter which makes him so personable.
Oil on Canvas - Palatine Gallery, Florence
Raphael's portrait of his close friend Baldassare Castiglione is rife with intimacy and emotionality in its depiction of a cultured man. His gaze is powerful yet humble, in homage to the kind of power gained without affectation or arrogance. He appears to be a man confident in his intellect, and thus a man devoted to the highest ideals of humanism, which was the most influential philosophy of the time. The brown background adds to the solemnity of the painting as it mutes the colors of the doublet trimmed with fur and black ribbon. In the quiet space of his presence, lurks the human vulnerability of the sitter.
The painting was made in celebration of Baldassare's appointment as Ambassador to Pope Leo X by Guidobaldo da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino. Castiglione was a diplomat and author of The Book of the Courtier (1528), a text which discussed manners and court etiquette, and which became an important cultural influence in the 16th century. It was also regarded as the antithesis to the cynical pragmatism of power expressed by Niccolò Machiavelli in his book The Prince, published in 1513, which considered dishonesty and immorality necessary evils in politics. The Book of the Courtier, on the other hand, considered the responsibility of power guided by humanistic virtue. With its excellent vulnerability, Raphael's portrait epitomized the restrained elegance of the courtier, which Baldassare proposed as necessary in his book. Baldassare was so impressed by the painting he referred to it in a poem he wrote to his wife in which he praised the uncanny likeness and the human presence it emits.
The composition showing the sitter in three-quarter profile gazing out at the viewer, contained within the pyramidal design much favored in the Renaissance was reminiscent of Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, which Raphael is said to have seen before Leonardo da Vinci left for France.
The painting is one of the most famous portraits of the High Renaissance and has enjoyed extensive popularity over the years. Its influence can be seen in the work of other prominent artists, including Titian with his Portrait of a Man (1520), the self-portraits of Rembrandt, and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres' Portrait of Monsieur Bertin (1832). Rubens and Matisse also copied the painting and Paul Cézanne exclaimed about it, "How well balanced the patches in the unity of the whole."
Oil on Canvas - Musée du Louvre, Paris
One of the most well-known of Raphael's paintings which was not commissioned, La Fornarina is a sister portrait to La Donna Velata and depicts Margherita Luti, the artist's great love. The painting shows a seated half-length nude looking out at the viewer in an undone dress, concealing the lower part of her body. While her left hand rests on her lap, her right hand touches her breast. A veil, while a symbol of modesty, fails to conceal her sensuously presented upper torso. The dark landscape in the background enhances the tonal modeling quality of the painting, and richness of the turban she wears. With her flawless skin and radiant face she looks straight past us, smiling to someone on our right, and, knowing her relationship with Raphael, we have no hesitation in imagining her looking at her lover as he painted her.
Raphael signed this painting on the band on her arm, perhaps alluding to his possession of her. After a recent restoration it appears the girl was originally wearing a wedding ring. Because the wedding ring was painted out, speculation rose that Raphael had secretly married Margherita. But due to their different social classes, and the fact that he was already engaged to Maria Bibbiena, the pair had to enjoy their union in private.
The work shows Leonardo's influence on Raphael, seen in the way gesture is used to convey meaning. It is also representative of the artist's mission to depict only the highest ideals of beauty. As Gustave Flaubert noted in his Dictionary of Received Ideas (1911), "Fornarina: She was a beautiful woman," of which there is little doubt.
Many artists have been inspired by the love story including Giuseppe Sogni Henri-Joseph Martlet, Nicaise de Keyser, Francesco Gandolfi, and Fancesco Valaperta, all of whom titled their paintings Raphael and La Fornarina. The most famous artist who drew upon this work was Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres with his La Fornarina (1814). In it, Margherita is resting on Raphael's knee, with Raphael looking adoringly at his own painting of La Fornarina. Picasso, too, was entranced by Raphael's secret passion and in 1968 created his famous 357 series of 25 erotic etchings. More recently, Cindy Sherman modeled herself as La Fornarina in her work Untitled Number 205 (1989).
Oil on Wood - Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome
This painting combines two biblical narratives. The title refers to the story of Christ referred to in the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, in which he took three of his disciples up a mountain to show his true form, an act validated by the voice of God. The second tale is that of the Miracle of the Possessed Boy, which relates an encounter after the Transfiguration when Jesus and his disciples descended the mountain only to encounter a man who begged Christ to heal his devil-possessed son. The presentation of these two stories is visually accomplished by the contrast between above and below.
Christ is shown in the upper half with the prophets Moses on the right and Elijah on the left, both illuminated by the emanating divine light. Peter, James, and John cower below them on the mountaintop, overwhelmed as they shield their eyes from the radiance. On the left of the top half of the painting are said to be two saints, Felicissimus and Agapitus, who were martyred with Pope Sixtus II in 258, on the feast day commemorating the Transfiguration.
In the lower half of the painting we see earthly turmoil as the crowd awaits the miracle Christ is about to perform to rid the boy of demons, which has also been interpreted as an epileptic fit. The boy's father leads him toward the apostles on the left, who are unable to help him. One points to Christ, another at the child, while the one on the bottom right holds out his hand as if asking the viewer to be privy to the scene.
This was the last painting Raphael worked on. It was one of two paintings commissioned by Cardinal Guilio de' Medici, who later became Pope Clement VII, for Narbonne Cathedral in France. Raphael's was for an altarpiece. The other The Raising of Lazarus (1519), was based on a drawing by Michelangelo that would eventually be completed by his friend Sebastiano del Piombo. The commission rekindled the competition between the two artists. Raphael had still not completed his work by the time of his death although the main part of the work is by his own hand. His pupil Giulio Romano and his assistant Gianfrancesco Penni would later complete it.
It reflects the culmination of Rachael's artistic achievement in his short life and began to receive public and critical acclaim following Raphael's death. The painting was hung in Raphael's studio while he was lying in state and was carried at the head of his funeral procession followed by a large crowd of mourners who accompanied the procession.
Instead of finding home with the Cathedral at Narbonne, it was placed above Raphael's tomb in the Pantheon, where it remained for three years before being donated to the Church of San Pietro Montorio. It was then confiscated by Napoleon in 1798 and went on public display in the Louvre, becoming the centerpiece in the Grand Galerie, which hosted 20 other paintings by Raphael. The importance of the painting while in France is demonstrated by the fact that it was included in a drawing by the artist Benjamin Zix who recorded the wedding procession of Napoleon and Marie Louise in 1810. While in the Louvre, many painters visited it for inspiration including the English Joseph Farington, John Hoppner, and JMW Turner, the Swiss artist Henry Fuseli, and the American artist Benjamin West for whom it was one of the greatest paintings in the world. Following Napoleon's defeat in 1815, it was returned to Rome.
Described by Giorgio Vasari as Raphael's "most beautiful and divine work," this painting has been a source of constant education and inspiration to artists. Turner used it as reference in a lecture on composition, and Caravaggio for its use of chiaroscuro (the effect of contrasted light and shadow), a technique Caravaggio went on to master.
Often alluded to as an important example of Mannerism, a style of European art that emerged at the time of Raphael's death and lasted until the end of the 16th century, the dramatic artistic tension in the lower half of the painting also echoes the Baroque style that replaced Mannerism.
Tempera on Wood - Vatican City
Biography of Raphael
Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, was born on April 6, 1483 to Giovanni Santi di Pietro and Magia di Battista di Nicola Ciarla, who came from wealthy merchant families from Urbino and Colbordolo in the Marche Region. At the time, Urbino was a flourishing cultural center, and Raphael's father worked as a painter for Federigo da Montefeltro, the Duke of Urbino, where he was the head of a well-known studio. Raphael was the only child of three to survive infancy. His mother died in 1491 when Raphael was nine years old, and his father remarried to Bernardina, the daughter of a goldsmith, the following year.
His father provided Raphael's early training as a painter. According to his biographer Giorgio Vasari in his influential book, Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects (1550), his father also arranged for Raphael to be placed in the studio of Italian Renaissance painter Pietro Perugino when he was eight years old. While we don't know with any certainty when this apprenticeship began, we do know he was working as an assistant in Perugino's studio the year of his father's death in 1494.
Upon Giovanni's death, Raphael inherited his father's studio and Giovanni's brother was appointed Raphael's legal guardian. His uncle took over the management of the studio, with Raphael continuing to work in his father's workshop.
Early Training and Work
Although Raphael went on to receive training in Urbino from a court painter named Timoteo Viti, it was Perugino who is recognized as Raphael's first significant artistic influence. When he was only 17 years old, his profound talent as a painter coupled with the completion of his apprenticeship gained him recognition as a true master. Such was his ability at the time that it was impossible to distinguish between the hand of Perugino or Raphael both in style and technique.
It was in 1500 that Raphael received his first commission; an altarpiece dedicated to St. Nicholas of Tolentino. The altarpiece was for Andrea Baronci's chapel in the church of St Agostino in Città di Castello, a town not far from Urbino. Although a joint commission with Evangelista da Pian di Meleto, a friend and contemporary of his father, Raphael was recorded as the "Master." Sadly, the altarpiece was damaged during an earthquake in 1789, and today only fragments remain, dispersed in various collections around the world.
Important commissions followed, including the Coronation of the Virgin (1502) for the altar of the Oddi family chapel in the Church of San Francesco al Prato in Perugia. He also created his most important piece of this time, The Marriage of the Virgin in 1504, which was inspired by Perugino's painting Christ Delivering the Keys to St Peter (1482).
In 1504, Raphael moved to Siena, invited by the painter Pinturicchio to prepare drawings for the frescos in the Libreria Piccolomini. From there he went on to Florence, the thriving center of the Italian Renaissance, where he stayed for the next four years. It was during this time that he would meet his two prime rivals Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo; the three would become known as the primary trio of great masters from that period, although Raphael was remarkably younger.
It was in Florence that Fra Bartolomeo persuaded Raphael to give up the delicate graceful style of Perugino in favor of a more grandiose style. His main artistic influence became Leonardo da Vinci, in particular his composition, use of gesture to create dialogue, his innovative techniques of chiaroscuro and sfumato. Using this inspiration, Raphael began to formulate his own style which was quickly garnering awe and reverence for its ease of composition, clarity of form, and visual achievement, all stunning contributions to the Neoplatonic ideals of human grandeur and the Renaissance motivations toward depicting beauty.
During this time Raphael painted a number of Madonnas, which embodied much of Leonardo's experimentation with realism and composition. The most famous example of which was his painting La belle jardinière in 1507. Later that year, his The Entombment would show references to Michelangelo's Battle of Cascina of 1504. It was this ability to learn from other artists and develop the knowledge into a signature style of his own that is said to have infuriated Michelangelo, leading the tempestuous artist to accuse Raphael of plagiarism.
Based on a recommendation by Donato Bramante, the first architect to rebuild St Peter's Basilica in Rome, Pope Julius II invited Raphael to Rome. It would become his adopted home for the next 12 years. There he worked for both Pope Julius II and his successor Pope Leo X, the son of Lorenzo de' Medici, and it was during this time that he gained the epithet "Prince of Painters."
In 1508, while Michelangelo was painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Raphael started work on redecorating Pope Julius II's apartments at the Vatican. This was his most important commission to date and established him as the pre-eminent painter in the Court of the Medici. Although he worked on the frescos for the next five years, he left completion of the commission to his assistants based on his drawings (except for some notable exceptions).
It was during this time that Raphael met the banker Agostino Chigi, who became one his most important patrons outside the church. The most famous commission he received from Chigi was for the fresco of Galatea in his Villa Farnesina in Rome, designed by the architect Baldassarre Peruzzi.
Raphael also received his first architectural commission from Agostino Chigi, which was the design of the Chigi Chapel in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo in 1513. He also went on to work with Bramante on the architectural design of the church of St Eligio degli Orefici in Rome. It was these architectural projects which secured him the position of Architectural Commissioner of the new St Peter's Basilica following Bramante's death in 1514.
1514 was also the year Raphael became engaged to Maria Bibbiena, Cardinal Bernardo Dovizi Bibbiena's niece. The Cardinal was a life-long friend and patron and held a position of considerable power at the Medici Court. He was protected by Pope Julius II during his papacy as well as being a long-time friend of Giovanni de' Medici, who later became Pope Leo X. Raphael is said to have accepted the engagement under duress, as he was already smitten by a baker's daughter, Margherita Luti, who was his mistress and model. Largely written out of Raphael's biography because of the general interest in his infatuation with Margherita Luti, it is known that Maria Bibbiena died of an unknown illness in 1520 before the marriage could take place.
Margherita Luti, immortalized in Raphael's portrait La Fornarina (1518-19), was the great love of his life. So much so that Vasari notes when Raphael was commissioned to decorate the Villa Farnesina for Agostino Chigi, his heart was not in his work due to his preoccupation with her. Chigi had to arrange for the two lovers to meet in secret throughout the commission. The themes of love and marriage chosen by Raphael for the Villa has led to speculation that the two might have been secretly married.
In 1517, Pope Leo X appointed Raphael commissioner of antiquities in Rome, a role of overseeing the restoration of antiquities. Raphael set about fulfilling this responsibility by drawing up an archaeological map of Rome. His restoration methods differed from the approach of earlier restorers by his insistence on keeping pieces true to their original form rather than the creative reconstructions favored by other architects of the time.
The Pope also commissioned Raphael to design ten tapestries to hang on the walls of the Sistine Chapel. Raphael managed to complete seven cartoons (full sized preparatory drawings), which were sent to be woven in the workshop of Flemish weaver Pieter Coecke van Aelst. They were hung in the chapel shortly before Raphael's death.
In his later years, Raphael lived in the Palazzo Caprini, a palace designed by Bramante. During this period, he was lauded with honors including the prestigious title Groom of the Chamber, a high office at the Papal Court. He was also appointed as Knight of the Papal Order of the Golden Spur for his contribution to the glory of the Catholic Church.
He also worked on a large number of architectural projects, which included the Palazzo di Jacobo da Brescia, a magnificent palace for Pope Leo's doctor. And on the Villa Madama, a country retreat for Cardinal Giulio de' Medici who later became Pope Clement VII, which remained unfinished at his death. The last painting he was working on at the time of his death was The Transfiguration (1520), also commissioned by Cardinal Giulio de' Medici, which was intended to be for a large altarpiece for Narbonne Cathedral in France.
By the time he died, Raphael is said to have had a workshop of over fifty apprentices, which was larger than any other painter at the time.
Raphael died in Rome on Good Friday, April 6, 1520 when he was only 37 years old. He died after a short illness during which he was able to put his affairs in order and receive his last rites (the last prayers given to Catholics before death). In keeping with local custom his body lay in state at his home, which was followed by one of the largest funeral processions of his time, ending at the Vatican where his funeral mass was held. As noted by the French biographer Quatremère de Quincy in his History of Raphael of 1824, "The true grandeur of the procession was that immense concourse of friends, of pupils, of artists, of renowned writers, of personages of every rank, who accompanied him, amidst the tears of the whole city; for the grief was general and the Pope's Court shared in it."
In his will Raphael asked to be buried in the Pantheon in Rome next to Maria Bibbiena. His tomb bears the inscription written by Pietro Bembo, a scholar who later became a Cardinal, "Here lies that famous Raphael by whom Nature feared to be conquered while he lived, and when he was dying, feared herself to die."
Although it is known he left a large amount of money to his beloved Margherita Luti, not much is known of what became of her. There is however a record of a woman calling herself "Margherita Luti, a widow", who entered the convent of St. Appollonia a few months after his death.
Much speculation surrounds Raphael's premature death primarily due to Vasari's reference of his death being caused by the "excesses of love." Vasari also wrote, "he was a very amorous person, delighting much in women, and ever ready to serve them." Although these reasons are firmly lodged in the public imagination, the cause of death of this consummate painter remains unconfirmed.
In an April 7, 1520 letter from Pandolfo Pico to Isabella d'Este, a great patron of the arts, he prophesized Raphael's death as being that of a "good man who has finished his first life, but his second life of Fame will be eternal."
Gentlemanly, well-mannered with an inborn confidence to move in courtly circles, the talent to imaginatively interpret both secular and religious commissions, and the consummate concentration and dedication to perfection have all contributed to Raphael's reputation as one who reached the pinnacle of what a master artist could be.
The Legacy of Raphael
As Vasari stated, "possessors of such rare and numerous gifts as were seen in Rafaello da Urbino, are not merely men, but mortal gods."
Joshua Reynolds, first president of the Royal Academy in London, hoped students of the school would be inspired by the "divine spark of Raphael's genius" directing them to copy the great artist's drawings as part of their studies.
As art historian Neal Ascherson commented, "19th century ideas of European civilization imagined art as an evolutionary process which would culminate in perfection, Raphael seemed to embody perfection."
In direct opposition of this perfection, the famous art historian John Ruskin would champion a different approach in the 19th century, giving birth to the rejection of the Renaissance ideals of human grandeur and its importance as part of an artist's education. As Ruskin explained, "execution was looked for rather than thought, and beauty rather than veracity." This rebellion moved the academic teaching of art away from the philosophies where Raphael was held to be the ideal, and led to the formation of the group of painters called the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in the 1840's. The founding members of the society, William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti believed that the only way to find a new direction in art was to go back to medieval and Early Renaissance art which preceded the painterly techniques and artistic interpretation epitomized by Raphael and the art of the High Renaissance.
Despite the direction modern art eventually took, Raphael continues to be revered for taking the practice of painting to the pinnacle of technical achievement, which subsequent generations would use as the ideal to aspire to. Those who have paid homage to this most extraordinary of artists in their own work are a legendary roster including Albrecht Dürer, Titian, Rembrandt, Velazquez, Sir Joshua Reynolds, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Raphael has remained consistently fixed in our imagination since the early 16th century, despite the increasing historical distance that conspires to numb our understanding of the Renaissance world.