6 April 2016

Raphael - Renaissance painter and architect

Precocious genius from Urbino famous for Vatican frescoes

Raphael's self-portrait, believed to have been painted in 1506, when he was 23
Raphael's self-portrait, believed to have
been painted in 1506, when he was 23
The Renaissance painter and architect commonly known as Raphael was born Raffaello Sanzio in Urbino, in the Marche region of Italy, on this day in 1483.

Raphael is regarded as one of the masters of the Renaissance, along with Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci.  He was more prolific than Da Vinci and, some argue, more versatile than Michelangelo, and was certainly influenced by both.

The young Raphael was taught to paint by his father, Giovanni Santi, who was a painter for the Duke of Urbino, Federigo da Montefeltro, but his talents surpassed those of his father, who died when he was just 11 years old.  He was soon considered one of Urbino's finest painters and was commissioned to paint for a church in a neighbouring town while still a teenager.

In 1500, Raphael moved to Perugia in Umbria to become assistant to Pietro Vannunci, otherwise known as Perugino, absorbing considerable knowledge of his master's technique and incorporating it in his own style.  From 1504 onwards, Raphael spend a good deal of his time in Florence, studying the works of Fra Bartolommeo, Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Masaccio.

He added more intricacy and expressiveness to his own work. He produced a series of paintings depicting the Madonna including La Belle Jardinière, which features the Madonna in an informal pose with the Christ Child and John the Baptist and is regarded as a quintessential example of the Raphael style.

The School of Athens, in the Stanza della Segnatura in the Vatican, is regarded by some as Raphael's masterpiece
The School of Athens, in the Stanza della Segnatura in the
Vatican, is regarded by some as Raphael's masterpiece
Raphael moved to Rome in 1508 under the patronage of Pope Julius II to work in the Vatican and a year later began to paint a fresco cycle on the four walls of the Stanza della Segnatura to depict Philosophy, Poetry, Theology and Law. The School of Athens, which represented Philosophy, is regarded by some as Raphael's masterpiece.

He went on to paint three more fresco cycles for the Vatican and more paintings of the Madonna, including the famed Sistine Madonna.

It was while working at the Vatican that he received his first commissions to design buildings after the Pope asked him to succeed Donato Bramante, who died in 1514, as his chief architect. Raphael designed a chapel in Sant’ Eligio degli Orefici, the Santa Maria del Popolo Chapel and part of the new Saint Peter’s basilica, although much of his work was later demolished.

His Palazzo Branconio dell'Aquila was destroyed to make way for Bernini's piazza for St Peter's but the Chigi Chapel, which he designed and painted for the Papal treasurer, Agostini Chigi, survives.

On 6 April, 1520, which was Good Friday and his 37th birthday, Raphael died, having fallen into a fever of unexplained cause.  He had been working on his largest painting on canvas, The Transfiguration, at the time of his death. The unfinished work was placed on his coffin stand at his funeral mass, which was attended by a large crowd, before his body was interred at the Pantheon.

Although he was greatly admired by his contemporaries, it was not until the late 17th century that history began fully to appreciate his talent.  His works were at their most popular in the 19th century.

The Casa Natale di Raffaello houses a museum open to the public
The Casa Natale di Raffaello in Urbino
(Photo: Sailko CC BY-SA 3.0)
Travel tip:

The Casa Natale di Raffaelo - Raphael's birthplace - can be found in the Via Raffaelo Sanzio in Urbino.  Purchased by Raphael's father, Giovanni, in 1460, it became the property of the Raphael Academy in 1875 and subsequently restored.  Nowadays, it is both a shrine to Raphael and a museum of his and his father's work.  It is open for eight hours daily (except Sundays) from March until October and for five hours from November until February.  For more information, visit www.accademiaraffaello.it

Travel tip:

The four Raphael Rooms form a suite of reception rooms in the palace, the public part of the papal apartments in the Palace of the Vatican. They are famous for their frescoes, painted by Raphael and his workshop. Together with Michelangelo's ceiling frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, they are the grand fresco sequences that mark the High Renaissance in Rome.  For more information, visit www.vaticanstate.va

More reading:

The legacy of Michelangelo -'the greatest of all time'


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