Raphael 1483-1520 BACK

Raffaello Sanzio, Italian painter, with Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci one of the three masters of the High Renaissance. Born at Urbino, already a flourishing centre of the arts, and the son of a painter, Raphael was brought into contact with the highest artistic achievements from childhood. He was trained by Perugino, who was then at the height of his own career. Raphael's precocious talent was recognized long before he was 20 and his early Vision of a Knight shows an astonishing maturity. He was astute enough to realize that the art of Leonardo and Michelangelo was transforming the whole conception of painting and in 1504 he went to Florence to study it. Betrothal of the Virgin (1504) shows the transition between the teaching of Perugino and the assertion of the new influences. Raphael's color and the emotional qualities of his work always remained within the tradition of Central Italian painting, while his sense of composition and the dynamic power of his draughtsmanship were learned from the Florentines.

By 1508 Raphael was receiving offers from both the French court and the Pope; late in that year he went to Rome to take part in the grandiose decorative schemes of Pope Julius II for the new Papal apartments in the Vatican. Raphael's response to the enormous artistic challenge his part of the scheme presented is also one of those astonishing 'leaps forward' in art history and is matched, perhaps, only by Masaccio's painting of the frescoes in the Carmine church, Florence, 100 years earlier, and the exactly contemporary (1508-12) frescoes of Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel. When he found himself the peer and rival of Michelangelo Raphael was 26. Considered for their composition alone, The School of Athens, Parnassus and Disputa (Disputation concerning the Holy Sacrament) are probably supreme in art. They were immediately studied by every artist in Rome and remained an 'art school in themselves'.

The next 8 years were, indeed, a record of astonishing achievement: Raphael and his assistants continued the Vatican frescoes - in the Stanza d'Eliodoro there is a richer use of color, especially in The Mass of Bolsena. In 1514 Raphael was preferred to Michelangelo by the new Pope, Leo X, as successor to Bramante, architect-in-charge of St Peter's. In 1518 he was to be made, with A. da Sangallo, 'Superintendent of the Streets of Rome', which made him responsible for town planning as well as for the day-to-day upkeep of the entire city. The famous Galatea is, with Botticelli's Venus and Primavera, the supreme Renaissance evocation of the classical 'Golden Age'; it is also unmatched in its interpretation of spontaneous and graceful female action. In 1515-16, Raphael drew the cartoons for the tapestries which, woven in Flanders, were hung in the Sistine Chapel. Seven of the cartoons are preserved. Yet he also found time to paint altarpieces, e.g. The Sistine Madonna and Tite Transfiguration, a painting left unfinished when he died of fever. It was completed by Giulio Romano, one of the founders of the Mannerist school which borrowed so much from Raphael.

Image List

The Three Graces, 1504

St George, 1505

Madonna of the Meadow, 1505

The Entombment, 1507

Portrait of Julius II, 1512

Study for the Madoonna and Child, 1512

Sistine Madonna, 1513

Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione, 1514

Fire in the Borgo, 1516 (detail)

Portrait of Bindo Altoviti, 1518

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