Raphael Santi

Raphael Santi
(Raphael Sanzio; 1483-1520)
   One of the greatest figures of the High Renaissance and among the most influential, Raphael's works are known for their graceful and aesthetically pleasing qualities. Truthfully, although he is among the most admired, he certainly was not as innovative as Leonardo da Vinci or Michelangelo. Raphael was born in Urbino to Giovanni Santi, an average painter and poet who wrote a rhymed chronicle on the artists of the 15th century active in the court of the Duke of Urbino. Raphael was orphaned by age 11 and, as Giorgio Vasari informs, was taken in by Pietro Perugino who was already training him in his studio in Perugia. Raphael's early style is closely related to that of his master, so much so that his Marriage of the Virgin (1504; Milan, Brera) is completely based on Perugino's painting of the same subject.
   Soon after creating this work, Raphael moved to Florence, where he remained until 1508. There he was exposed to the art of Michelangelo and Leonardo. His Madonna of the Meadows (1505; Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum) and Madonna of the Goldfinch (1507; Florence, Uffizi) are, in fact, simplified versions of Leonardo's Virgin and Child compositions. Both utilize Leonardo's pyramidal arrangements, monumentality of the figures, closely arranged folds of the drapery, and there is even a hint of sfumato, particularly around the eyes. The portraits Angelo Doni and Maddalena Strozzi (c. 1505; Florence, Pitti Gallery) and the Entombment (1507; Rome, Galleria Borghese) also belong to Raphael's Florentine period. Maddalena Strozzi loosely follows the composition of Leonardo's Mona Lisa (1503; Paris, Louvre) yet, unlike Leonardo who strove for anatomical and botanical accuracy, Raphael emphasized grace, elegance, and beauty.
   By 1510-1511, Raphael was in Rome painting frescoes in the Stanza della Segnatura at the Vatican, a commission he received in 1509 from Pope Julius II. In 1511, he had the opportunity to view the Sistine ceiling (1508-1512) by Michelangelo while still in progress. Raphael was greatly influenced by what he saw, so much so that he included Michelangelo in the School of Athens in the Stanza della Segnatura as homage and began to paint in a more monumental mode, similar to that of the older master. In the following years, he continued work in the Vatican, painting the Stanza d'Eliodoro (1512-1514). To this period also belong his Sistine Madonna (1513; Dresden Gemäldegalerie), thought to have been commissioned by Julius II to hang above his funerary bier, and the Donna Velata (c. 1513; Florence, Palazzo Pitti), which seems to portray the same woman who posed for the Sistine Madonna and who may be La Fornarina, Raphael's lover. In 1513, Raphael was also working for Agostino Chigi, a wealthy Sienese banker and close friend of the pope, in his Villa Farnesina painting mythological frescoes. In 1514, Pope Leo X appointed Raphael his official architect and asked him to continue the work of Donato Bramante at St. Peter's. Raphael provided some drawings, but these were never implemented. Leo also gave him the commission to paint his portrait with Cardinals Giulio de' Medici and Luigi de' Rossi (c. 1517; Florence, Uffizi) and a series of cartoons for 10 tapestries to be woven in Flanders depicting scenes from the Acts of the Apostles (1515-1516) for hanging on the lower walls of the Sistine Chapel. These proved to be a major influence in the art of Nicolas Poussin, Domenichino, and later European masters such as Jacques-Louis David and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. Raphael's Transfiguration (1517; Rome, Pinacoteca Vaticana) he painted for Cardinal Giulio de' Medici, later Pope Clement VII. It was originally intended for the Cathedral of Narbonne in France, but Cardinal Giulio was so impressed when he saw the finished work that he decided to place it instead in the Church of San Pietro in Montorio, Rome. Raphael died suddenly in 1520 at the age of 37 and the Transfiguration was moved above his tomb in the Pantheon, Rome. His funeral mass was held at the Vatican, a major honor not normally accorded to artists.

Historical dictionary of Renaissance art. . 2008.

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