Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino) (1483 – April 6, 1520), was a famous Italian painter, admired for his beautiful, refined and graceful paintings. His perfection of form and technique is held up as an ideal for other painters, and he has become known as the “Prince of Painters.” He was also noted for his ability to convey grandeur, beauty and perfection. Together with Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael makes up the great trinity of the High Renaissance period.
“When one is painting one does not think.”
Short Biography Raphael
Raphael was born in 1483, in the city of Urbino, in the Marches area of Italy. His father was a court painter and Raphael followed in his father’s footsteps, helping with his father’s own work at the court. He also gained a wide education in the arts, literature and social skills. When he was 11 years old, he was orphaned and his formal guardian became Bartolomeo, a priest Around 1500, aged 17, he was apprenticed to the workshop of the painter, Pietro Perugino. Raphael was adept in learning new painting techniques and his wonderful technical capacity meant he could soon replicate the paintings of his master. His reputation for being a talented artist quickly spread.
By 1501, Raphael was held in high esteem and he gained important commissions, such as the Mond de Crucifixion in 1503. From about 1504, Raphael lived mainly in Florence, which was a burgeoning centre of the Renaissance. He became acquainted with Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. (whom he fell out with on numerous occasions) He was inspired by their art and was quick to learn any new techniques and styles. For example, he often imitated Da Vinci’s style of painting figures in the formation of triangles.
Raphael became the pre-eminent painter in the Court of Medici, but in 1508, Pope Julius II summoned Raphael to the Vatican and gave him important commissions. Pope Julius II wished to see an artistic revival and recreate the prestige of ancient Rome. It was a fortuitous combination – the Pope’s patronage and the high Renaissance artists, such as Raphael. The pope asked Raphael to decorate a room in his residence with frescos. The pope was so impressed with Raphael’s work that he had other frescos removed so that he could have more space for Raphael.
Raphael painted figures from the Bible and also personalities of antiquity, such as the famous painting the School of Athens, which depicted Plato, Aristotle and other philosophers. It is considered the High Renaissance tribute to ancient Greek culture. He even gave it a contemporary touch by painting himself in a corner (wearing black cap on the far right)
Raphael’s commission was at the same time as Michelangelo was painting the Sistine Chapel, and although the Sistine chapel overshadowed the work of Raphael, his paintings are still considered some of the finest of European art. Also, Raphael is said to have sneaked into the Sistine Chapel and created impressions of Michelangelo’s work. These were very popular, giving an insight into Michelangelo’s masterpieces and Raphael’s talent for reproducing what he saw.
Even when working for the Pope he made time for other commissions, such as the banker Agostino Chigi. Raphael also cared about Rome’s architecture and inscriptions from antiquity. In 1515, he was given legal powers to supervise the extraction of ancient stone. Raphael wished to make sure ancient inscriptions were preserved before the stone was reused. His early death was unfortunate in that he was never able to complete an archaeological map of the city.
Raphael was noted for his natural charm, cheerfulness and gentlemanly style. Compared to Michelangelo, Raphael was much more at ease in social circles; he didn’t have the same brusqueness that got Michelangelo into trouble. He was able to run a large workshop without discord – contemporaries record his ability to smooth over misunderstandings and arguments between painters and patrons. The combination of political, social and artistic skill was a rare combination.
Raphael occasionally suffers from the inevitable comparison to Da Vinci and Michelangelo – two of the most gifted artists in history, but he was an influential figure in his own right. He might not have the same inventive genius, but he had a supreme grace of painting and dedication to his art. He concentrated on a more classical interpretation of perfection but was still somewhat influenced by the contemporary Florence tradition. He was known for employing a technique of drawing his paintings in rough before beginning the painting properly. He used these drawings to work on composition and form. He might come up with several drawings per painting, showing different approaches to the same subject. As well as a painter, Raphael was also a noted architect, drawer, and with Raimondi a printmaker of his engravings.
Teacher and legacy
As well as being a great painter, Raphael was also a noted teacher, who could inspire his fellow pupils to greater standards. He had one of the largest art schools in Rome, with over fifty pupils. His enthusiasm and talent helped his school become a famous place of art. The strength of his school also enabled Raphael’s painting style to be defused across Italy. For many years, his style of perfect form and balance were taught in the great academies of art. The biography Vasari said of Raphael
“possessors of such rare and numerous gifts as were seen in Rafaello da Urbino, are not merely men, but mortal gods.”
Raphael never married though he had several affairs. Vasari claimed: “He (Raphael) was a very amorous person, delighting much in women, and ever ready to serve them.” He got engaged in 1514 to Maria Bibbiena – the niece of a Cardinal, though he seems to have lost interest and never married.
He was financially secure due to his commissions from paintings and also income from being a Groom of the Chamber – an official papal position which gave him considerable status.
He died on April 6, 1570, aged only 37 (though some argue he died at 33 or 34. He passed away after a difficult, acute illness. There is uncertainty over the cause of death, although Vasari (who could be liberal with the truth) suggested that it was due to “excess of love.”
He was a practising Roman Catholic and before his death, he was able to make his confession and receive the last rites.
He left behind a considerable legacy and was celebrated even during his lifetime, thousands of people attended his funeral. He was buried at the Pantheon – where the inscription on his tomb read
“Here lies that famous Raphael by whom Nature feared to be conquered while he lived, and when he was dying, feared herself to die.”
Raphael depicted many religious paintings.
Madonna in the Meadow
This is a classic example of Raphael’s art. The composition uses Da Vinci’s technique of painting figures using a triangle as the base. Raphael also drew many tender and compassionate images of the Madona. He infuses the painting with grace, tenderness and serenity. A contrast to the turbulent political times of the Renaissance.
This commission was given by Atalanta Baglioni, whose son had been killed in factional fighting. Raphael worked on it over two years, drawing preparatory outlines of the figures before he was happy. The picture conveyed both the agony of death and the concern of those close to Christ as they carry his body from the cross to his tomb. Giogio Vasari writes of this painting.
“In this most divine picture there is a Dead Christ being borne to the Sepulcher, executed with such freshness and such loving care, that it seems to the eye to have been only just painted.”
Citation: Pettinger, Tejvan. “Biography of Raphael”, Oxford, UK – www.biographyonline.net. Published: 12th Jan 2014. Last updated 12 March 2020.
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