Sophisticated, elegant, handsome: Raphael was the courtly painter – and womaniser – of the Renaissance in Italy.
Born in Urbino on April 6th, 1483 and died in Rome on April 6th, 1520 – yes, it is not a mistake, that’s exactly the same day – Raphael was the son of a painter, Giovanni Santi.
This year, we are going to celebrate the 500th anniversary from his death. Allegedly, Raphael was born and died on Good Friday, preceding the Easter Sunday. According to legend, when he died in Rome at the young age of 37, floods of people came to farewell the great artist who was in company of his last masterpiece, the “Transfiguration” (1518-1520, Vatican Museums). Furthermore, a divine crack broke the Vatican Palace, probably an earthquake, like in Christ’s Passion.
The association between Raphael and the Christ was particulary evident: he was the favourit of the Popes, especially Leo X of the Medici family and he was considered the only one capable of rescuing the glory of the ancient Rome.
Let’s discover something more about this Renaissance’s star!
RAPHAEL’S LIFE: URBINO, FLORENCE, ROME
Raphael grew in the cultured atmosphere of the Urbino court, in the Marche region. His father Giovanni Santi was an educated painter in contact with Piero della Francesca and the Flamish master Justus van Gent. They both influenced the young Raphael: Piero della Francesca with his sense of geometry and proportions; Justus van Gent with his meticulous attention for details.
Raphael lost his parents in the 1490s; he trained in Città di Castello at the workshop of Perugino, the most famous and talented Umbrian painter and the fierce enemy of Pinturicchio. In 1500, Raphael was already called magister: he probably inherited his father’s workshop. The worskshop of Perugino was a cultural bridge between the refined court of Urbino and the Renaissance city of Florence: an ideal place for Raphael.
Already in his first works, like the “Marriage of the Virgin” (1503-04, Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan), Raphael showed that grace, elegance and harmony were in his DNA. Between 1503 and 1506 he worked with Pinturicchio for the wonderful “Libreria Piccolomini” in the Cathedral of Siena. Later, around 1504, he moved to Florence, where his reference points were the masters Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.
Raphael admired the “Cartoon of Saint Anne” by Leonardo, drawn a “Leda” after Leonardo’s drawing and portraited the “David” by Michelangelo.
A taste for gigantic and monumentality was developping in Florence due to Michelangelo’s works.
In his florentine period, Raphael painted the famous portrait of “Agnolo Doni” and “Maddalena Strozzi”, the couple who entrusted in 1507 from Michelangelo the worldfamous “Tondo Doni”. All this paintings are displayed in the same room at the Uffizi Gallery, in Florence.
The “Madonna of the goldfinch” (1505-1506, Uffizi Gallery, Florence) is a sublime masterpiece by Raphael: you can feel the delicate sweetness in the rotation sense of the composition, in the interplay between the Virgin Mary, John the Baptist and Jesus Christ, on a peaceful backdrop. Nature in Raphael’s works, with feathery poplar trees and calm streams, is always a serene and confident friend. The “Madonna of the goldfinch” was entrusted by Lorenzo Nasi from Raphael for his wedding; in 1548, unfortunately, Nasi’s home in Florence collapsed because off an earthquake. The painting broke in 17 different pieces; it was later restored.
1508 is the key juncture year in Raphael’s life: after starting the “Madonna del Baldacchino” for the Dei family (Pitti Palace, Florence), he left Florence for Rome. One year later, he was appointed from the Pope to sign papal “brevi”, a unique skill for cultured humanists. Only Leon Battista Alberti, architect, writer, clergyman and scientist of the Quattrocento, had the same honour before Raphael.
The adventure of Raphal reached its peak in the “Stanze Vaticane”: the Pope Jules II della Rovere entrusted from Raphael, Perugino, Lorenzo Lotto and Baldassare Peruzzi to paint his apartments. Jules II couldn’t bear the fact that, before him, the Pope Alexander VI Borgia had lived in the same rooms. Raphael took part to the work in cooworking with Perugino, but after a few months, he became the only responsible in charge. These were the same years while Michelangelo was painting inside the Sistine Chapel: the thrilling air was imbued with adrenalin, fury and astonishment.
Raphael painted in the “Stanze Vaticane” his masterpiece, the “School of Athens”, one of the Renaissance icons: a plethora of ancient Greek and oriental philosophers reasons about philosophy and humankind under a colossal building. The unforgettable central figures of Plato and Aristotle (recognised as the portraits of Leonardo da Vinci and Bastiano da Sangallo) are grand, monumental and imposing with gestures and emphasis. Plato points up to the sky, the world of the ideas, whereas Aristotle points down to the earth, the world of the knowledge. The majestic, impressive, classical architecture funnels the view to both philosophers. According to tradition, the philosopher Eraclito, solitary and melancholic, is a homage to Michelangelo.
After his epic challenge in the “Stanze Vaticane”, Raphael was crowned the Prince of the Renaissance. In 1513, Cardinal Giovanni de’ Medici, son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, was elected Pope Leo X. Raphael became his favourit artist and was in charge of the restoration of Saint Peter Basilica. He entrusted him to lay out the plan of the ancient Rome, “Urbis Romae cum regionibus simulachrum”, but unfortunately he never fineshed the project.
In 1514, the banker Agostino Chigi summoned Raphael to paint his wonderful Villa Farnesina. It was situated in the countryside: today, it is in the center of Rome, in the lovely neighbourhood of Trastevere. There, Raphael painted a new masterpiece: “The Triumph of Galatea”, from the “Metamorphosis” by Ovid. Everything is redolent of antiquity.
Among the countless works painted by Raphael, it is deserved to underline the beautiful “Madonna Sistina” (1512-13, Dresden State Art Museum) with its iconic, gentle angels; the “Madonna della Seggiola” (1513-15, Pitti Palace, Florence) with its exotic turban which will influence Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres in “La Grande Odalisque”; the “Madonna dell’Impannata” (1513-15, Pitti Palace, Florence).
Amidst all this work to do, Raphael had the time to hang out with a lot of “madonnas”, but profane, in this case. His favourite one was the popular Margherita Luti, better known as La Fornarina, because she was the daughter of a “fornaio” (baker). Insatiable, Raphael accepted to work again in Villa Farnese around 1517 only if he could have close to him, 24 hours per day, the beautiful Fornarina.
The last great feats on which Raphael decided to embark were the splendid “Loggia Vaticana” and the “Cartoons for the Vaticans Tapestries” for the Sistine Chapel. Extremely rich (at his death, he left 16.000 ducats and the lavish Palazzo Caprini in Borgo), engaged since 1514 with Maria Bibbiena , Cardinal Bibbiena’s niece, Raphael’s last masterpiece was the magnificent “Transfiguration”.
According to Giorgio Vasari, Raphael died because off “exhaustion brought on by unceasing romantic interests”. Marcantonio Michiel wrote in 1520 simply that he died because off “fever”.
He was immediately buried in the Pantheon, a great honour for the Prince of the Renaissance who was a painter, an architect and a trendsetter of the Cinquecento.
Baldassare Castiglione – portraid by Raphael around 1514 (Louvre, Paris) – described in his “Courtier” an ideal man imbued with elegance, beauty, wisdom; who should make a good first impression, who should have moderation and not affectation, who should have the “sprezzatura”.
The “sprezzatura” was a studied negligence, a middle-way between casualness and over-seriousness. It’s art which conceals art. It’s breaking the rules but knowing it. It’s a nonchalance without efforts and without thoughts. Raphael perfectly embodied the “Courtier” described by Baldassare Castiglione. In his efforts of restoration of the ancient Rome, Raphael was worried about the situation of the ruins and the ancient buildings of the past, but never showed his troubles: he lived his life simply as a perfect Prince.
RAPHAEL’S TEMPORARY EXHIBITIONS AND GUIDED TOURS
After Leonardo, it is Raphael’s round!
A lot of temporary exhibitions are planned for this year around Italy and the world to celebrate the Revenant artist of the ancient Rome, the Prince of the Renaissance, the elegant Courtier described by Baldassare Castiglione.
A list of the most important temporary exhibitions that you should not miss in 2020:
- “Raphael”, Scuderie del Quirinale, Rome, from March 5th to June 2nd
- “Raphael in the Domus Aurea. The invention of the grottesche”, Domus Aurea, Rome, from March 2020 to January 2021
- “Raphael Ware. The Renaissance’s colurs”, Urbino, Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, until April 13th
- “The relationship between Raphael and Baldassare Castiglione”, Palazzo Ducale, Urbino, spring 2020
- “Deposizione Baglioni”, Perugia, Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria, from October 9th, 2020 to January 10th, 2021
- “Raphael”, London, National Gallery, from October 3rd, 2020, to January 24th, 2021
- “Raphael in Berlin. The Madonnas of the Gemäldegalerie”, Berlin, Gemäldegalerie, until April 26th
And what about Florence?
The temporary exhibition at the Scuderie del Quirinale in Rome is jointly organized with the Uffizi Gallery. With over 200 masterpieces, including paintings, drawings and works for comparison, this major event focuses on Raphael, superstar of the Renaissance. Simply entitled RAPHAEL, the exhibition constitutes the high point of the world-widecommemorative celebrations and the showpiece of the programme approved by the national committee specially instituted by the Heritage Minister Dario Franceschini and chaired by Antonio Paolucci.
Would you like to follow the footsteps of Raphael during his florentine life? If you are coming to Florence, don’t forget to visit the Uffizi Gallery and the Pitti Palace: a huge collection of paintings by Raphael is on display in both museums. You will have the opportunity to watch Raphael directly in his eyes, admiring his selfportrait at the Pitti Palace. You will contemplate the beautiful “La Velata”, known for centuries as the portrait of Margherita Luti, his lover. You will explore the masterpieces of Raphael in a stroll across Florence’s museums, permeated with the artistic, splendid atmosphere of the Renaissance.
If you would like to get more information, please contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
I will be glad to personalize my Raphael’s guided tours for you!