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Important Art by Raphael
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.
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.
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, which falls in line with Michelangelo's reputation as a big baby. 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.