Raphael, a master Renaissance painter
Raphael 1483 - 1520
Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, an Italian painter and architect of the High Renaissance movement, was so well-known and renowned as a painter during his lifetime he was known simply by his first name, Raphael. He is known so today by only his first name and a master painter during the Italian Renaissance. His contemporaries were Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. Together these three form the triumvirate of master artists and genius' from this same period of art.
Throughout his short lifetime, Raphael, who died at the age of only thirty-seven, painted many portraits, frescos, and stanzes (room paintings) and left a legacy of prolific works to his adoring public. His paintings are known for their visual achievement of the classical antiquities and the ideal of human grandeur.
His name has become synonymous with 'classical' and his genius was in strengthening and refining painting techniques rather than technical innovation. His paintings show elements of grace and refinement because of the influence of his early teacher, Perugino. There is a subtle elegance to his figures and sweetness in his female faces.
While the paintings and frescos of Michelangelo are bold, wild and unconventional, Raphael maintains a strict attention to the artistic rules and techniques in his paintings. There is a grandeur that is not found in Michelangelo's or da Vinci's paintings as there is in Raphael's.
Raphael's paintings have a more serene and harmonious quality to them and they were regarded as the highest painting models to emulate during the Renaissance period. This was much to the consternation of Michelangelo and caused much friction and inner conflict for Michelangelo.
He is best known for his stanze, or room, paintings done in the Papal apartments at the Vatican in Rome, Italy, and these are the greatest masterpieces left behind by Raphael today. He is best known for his stanze, The School of Athens, his finest and most perfect fresco left behind.
His early series of Madonna paintings, painted while he lived in Florence, are also considered the best in the world even today.
Raphael was born in Urbino in the central Marche region of Italy. His father was Giovanni Santi, a court painter and poet to the Duke of Urbino. Therefore, Raphael grew up in this Italian court, known to set the model throughout Italy for its grace and manners. Here, Raphael learned excellent, refined manners and social skills. He mixed easily with the highest circles throughout his life because of his father's position at court.
His father is said to have apprenticed him out to the Umbrian artistic workshop of Piero Perugino who was an early influence in Raphael's paintings and other artistic pursuits at the young age of eight. This was a rare occurrence at such a young age, but Raphael's mother, Magia died in 1491, when he was eight. It is believed his father, busy with his own workshop, wanted Raphael busy during his days without his mother.
Perugino's workshop was active in both Perugia and Florence and Raphael was a master of Perugino's workshop and fully trained when he left.
Three years later, Raphael's father died and at the young age of eleven, along with his step-mother, he successfully took over and ran his father's workshop. By now, Raphael was a master painter and so began painting frescoed altarpieces at churches around Umbria. Some of these only partially survive today.
Wedding of the Virgin, pictured above, is Raphael's most sophisticated altarpiece he painted from this period of his paintings.
Florence 1504 - 08
Raphael spend these years living and working in Florence, Italy and this is known as the 'Florentine period' of his art. Here Raphael was greatly influenced by Leonardo da Vinci and his paintings.
Raphael's painted figures began to take more dynamic and complex positions. His drawings of portraits of young women used da Vinci's three quarter length pyramidal composition as seen in da Vinci's Mona Lisa.
Raphael continued with his tranquil paintings but he also branched out into drawings of fighting nude men so popular at this time in Florence. He also perfected da Vinci's sfumato technique to give subtlely to his painting of flesh on canvas. He also developed the interplay of glances between his groups of figures but they are much less enigmatic than those of da Vinci.
This was Raphael's period of painting Madonnas and though he assimilated da Vinci's techniques in his paintings he kept the soft clear light in his paintings he had learned from Perugino as a youth. His Madonnas portray a tender humanity along with the divine that shines forth in these paintings. The subtle use of colors and the sfumato technique are evidence of da Vinci's influence in his paintings.
Raphel also adapted the lessons of tone, color and light from da Vinci and then added his grace and harmony to his faultless paintings.
In his painting, Depostion of Christ (1507), Raphael draws on a classical sarcophagi for his composition. He spread his figures across the front of the canvas space in a complex and not wholly, successful arrangement. So, although, he was influenced by da Vinci, not every painting included da Vinci's techniques.
The Madonna della Sedia, pictured above, although painted after his period in Florence, is still considered one of Raphael's great Madonnas. It has the perfect balance of curving forms in round frame and the harmonious colors are not rich and glowing but subtle yet full. This Madonna shows perfect balance, harmony, and untroubled radiance.
Within these four years in Florence, Raphael had achieved so much success that he was now a well known painter throughout Italy and all of Europe and became very popular with the public.
Rome 1508 - 20
Raphael moved to Rome in 1508 at the request of Pope Julius II and he was commissioned to fresco paint the Papal apartments and the walls of the Sistine Chapel. Meanwhile, Michelangelo was painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
This is when Michelangelo began his great dislike in Raphael and his paintings, believing that Raphael and the Pope were conspiring against him. Michelangelo even went so far as to accuse Raphael of plagiarism, but his accusations were not taken seriously.
Raphael's stanze paintings, or room paintings, in the papal apartments and Sistine Chapel are considered the great masterpieces by Raphael. These paintings show all the gatherings of High Renaissance principles and techniques Raphael used in his paintings. They represent the intellectual reconciliation of Christianity and classical antiquity.
The School of Athens, 1509-11, is Raphael's first history painting and it is near perfect in composition and construction The perfect structure of reason built by the classic philosophers is symbolized by the architecture of the paintings. Raphael, who bore Michelangelo no ill will, even painted Michelangelo in this fresco as Heraclitus.
Raphael completed a sequence of three rooms in the papal apartments each with paintings on each wall.
With the death of Pope Julius II in 1513, the succeeding Pope Leo X kept Raphael on and commissioned him to not only paint but as architect and archaeologist. Raphael at one point was named the architect of St. Peter's for the papal court. But, it is his masterpiece paintings and frescos that are his greatest legacy.
His frescoes display harmony, movement within strict symmetry and the merging of the real and the ideal. In his later stanzes we see Michelangelo's influence. In The Expulsion of Heliodorus (1511-13) we see the beginnings of the Mannerist and Baroque movements, with the dramatic contrasts of light and dark and the stronger and richer colors of those movements.
In painting these rooms, Raphael achieved 'sprezzatura' which is a certain nonchalance that conceals all artistry and makes whatever he painted to look uncontrived and effortless. It was this 'effortlessness' of Raphael's paintings that drove Michelangelo mad with jealousy.
Raphael died suddenly at the age of thirty-seven after a brief illness. His last painting, The Transfiguration (1520), was left unfinished and eventually completed by his pupils of his workshop.
Raphel had never married, but in 1514 became engaged to a Maria Bibbiens. It is unknown why they never married, but it is believed Raphael had a mistress, Margherita Luti.
With the death of Raphael came the end of the High Renaissance movement in painting and the Mannerism movement began. Michelangelo was named architect of St. Peter's and he discarded Raphael's designs for the great basilica and created his own.
Raphael was buried in The Pantheon in Rome at his bequest and his funeral was large, grand and attended by large crowds of his public who adored him.
Giorgio Vasari, the 16th century art historian and artist in his own right, called Raphel 'the prince of painters' for the simple yet majestic dignity of his paintings.
Piper, David.The Illustrated History of Art. 2004. Octopus Printing: UK
Other High Renaissance painters
- Leonardo da Vinci, the ultimate Renaissance man
Leonardo da Vinci, from whom we coined the term "the Renaissance man", is because of all the various subjects of knowledge to which he lent his genius. He is best-known for his paintings.
- Michelangelo - A masterful Renaissance artist
Read about Michelangelo, the epitome of the Italian Renaissance man, and his greaest works.
© 2014 Suzette Walker