Raphael Sanzio or Raffaello, April 6, 1483 (Good Friday) – April 6, 1520 (also Good Friday). Raphael was celebrated for the sprezzatura of his work and personality. He came to Florence at about 20 years old, seeing the work of Leonardo, "whom he never ceased to admire as a mentor and father figure", and to Michelangelo, just eight years his senior, "with whom he later had a stormy and competitive relationship." (Vasari) Raphael's time in Florence was very productive and the influences of Leonardo and Michelangelo (who were working on the Mona Lisa and David, respectively, at the time) is evident. Raphael's paintings showed the influence of his older colleagues in the way he explored light and composition (Leonardo) and anatomy (Michelangelo), though Rapahel includes a certain delicacy and poetry to his work that his older colleagues do not. His early instruction is from his father, Giovanni Santi through whom he was introduced to the works of artists like Paolo Uccello, and Hieronymus Bosch (whom the later Surrealists revere). At the age of seventeen, Raphael's father sent him to Perugia to become an apprentice under the highly-regarded Perugino (b. Pietro Vannucci).

St. George and the Dragon, Paolo Ucello, c. 1450s.

Raphael's answer to Paolo Ucello's St. George.

St. George - then a knight - saves a pagan princess, who has been given as a sacrifice to appease the dragon. George risks all to save her and the people of her land, and in turn all convert. George became patron of soldiers, and of England, because he is said to have appeared in a vision to troops before the defeat of the Saracens in 1089. [E.Hallam, Saints, p. 89.]

St. George and the Dragon, 1504. (Louvre)

Sposalizio or The Wedding of the Virgin, 1504.

This painting corresponds closely to that of the work of the same name by Perugino, and it is assumed that Raphael was here executing a repeat commission passed on to him by his teacher. But while the faces of the figures, such as that of the girl on the left, could have been painted by Perugino, Raphael can elsewhere be seen to introduce elements which reveal his interest in the achievements of the new age. The domed building in the semicircular upper half of the picture may be derived from Bramante's contemporary ideal of architecture, as expressed in his round tempietto at S. Pietro in Montorio in Rome. The scene is one of tranquility. Mary graciously receives the ring from Joseph, who is depicted barefoot in accordance with the custom of oath-taking ceremonies at that time. In contrast to the calm figures of the main group, one young man in the foreground is shown in motion; angered at his failure to win Mary, he is breaking a dead stick over his knee. Joseph's stick, on the other hand, has blossomed afresh in accordance with apocryphal legend, indicating that he was chosen for Mary. [Artchive, 11/01/07]

St. Catherine, c. 1507.

The Coronation of the Virgin, c. 1503.

Detail of above.

The Crucifixion, c. 1503.

The Entombment of Christ, c. 1507.

Detail of above.

At the end of 1508, he moved to Rome (at the urging of Donato Bramante, the architect of St. Peter's, whom Raphael will replace) and was immediately commissioned by Julius II to paint some of the rooms at his palace at the Vatican. This marked a turning point in his career, and he was only twenty-five years old. He well exploited the situation and remained almost exclusively in the service of Julius and his successor Leo X. At the time, Raphael painted a series of frescoes in the papal apartments as well as those of the Stanza della Segnatura, which include his vast School of Athens The themes of the paintings are Theology, Philosophy, Poetry and Justice. [Artchive, 11/01/07]

School of Athens, 1509-1510.

Because it was positioned over the philosophical section of the library of Pope Julius II, The School of Athens shows the greatest philosophers, scientists and mathematicians of classical antiquity.

Detail of above. The Mona-Lisa-like girl is Hypatia of Alexandria, whom Raphael may have modeled after a lover.


Detail of above. (Note Raphael looking out at us.)

Detail - Plato and Aristotle.

Aristotle and Plato are seen in conversation at the center of the picture just as one might imagine a scholarly discourse taking place in Ancient Greece, they are walking - in true Peripatetic manner - through a lofty lyceum. The gesture which Plato is making with his upward-pointing finger is symbolic in meaning: he is pointing to the source of higher inspiration, the realm of ideas. Aristotle, on the other hand, is gesturing downwards, towards the starting-point of all the natural sciences. Like Michelangelo in the Sistine Ceiling, Raphael also incorporates a number of his contemporaries into his fresco. This Plato is probably a portrait of Leonardo, while Archimedes, bending down to draw on a slate tablet with a pair of dividers, may be recognized as Bramante. There's also a story that Raphael snuck into the chapel to see Michelangelo's work in progress. He viewed it by candlelight and was so moved, he included a portrait of Michelangelo (not in the original cartoons). Michelangelo was said to have loathed Raphael. [Artchive, 11/01/07]

The Triumph of Galatea, which Raphael completed in 1512 in the palazzo owned by the banker Agostino Chigi (the later Villa Farnesina) is perhaps the supreme evocation of the glorious spirit of antiquity. Much of the beauty of Galatea's face lies in its hint of shyness and innocence, as if she were utterly unaware of her physical charms; the expression of devotion on her face is not unlike that of Leonardo's angel in Verrocchio's Baptism of Christ. The composition is clearly constructed upon the interplay of diagonals. The arrows strung in the bows of the putti establish directional lines which are taken up in the lower half of the picture. Thus the diagonal issuing from the arrow top left, for example, is continued in the dolphins' reins, while the arrow top right is restated in the body of the twisting sea nymph. Raphael positions the head of the beautiful Galatea subtly but clearly at the exact center of the composition.

These works may be seen as high points of what we understand as Late Renaissance painting in its most evolved form. The transition to a new approach to art was complete. A painting was no longer to be the mere portrayal of an event but was to translate and interpret its subject-matter in its composition. The movement of the body was now understood as an analogy for the animation of the spirit or the emotions; the external structure of a scene proclaimed its inner content. Everything in the picture was aimed at harmonious balance; each individual figure became an inseparable part of the whole. In this lies Raphael's significant contribution to the painting of the late Renaissance. [Artchive, 11/01/07]. This will lead us into the changes found in Mannerism and later - the Baroque. Compare these aesthetics with the transition of Classical art into Hellenistic by revisiting our lecture on The Classical Ideal.

The Triumph of Galatea, 1512.

The Birth of Venus, Botticelli, c. 1485.

St Cecilia with Sts Paul, John Evangelist, Augustine and Mary Magdalene, c. 1513.

St. Paul Preaching in Athens, 1515-18.

Part of the Sistine Tapestries depicting the Acts of the Apostles, hang below Michelangelo's ceiling on high feast days. There are 14 in all, measuring about 10' high, varying slightly from that in width. Raphael created the cartoons (the first seven of which are in London), and they were sent to Brussels to be woven. When Leo X was elected pope in 1513, he decided to commission real tapestries, as tapestries were far more expensive than frescoes. This allowed Leo, the first Medici pope, to outshine the previous popes and rival families.

One of the most frequently discussed and best-loved paintings of the Renaissance is Raphael's so-called Sistine Madonna. For many people it remains the supreme example of Western painting, and its popularity is virtually as great as that of the Mona Lisa. All who have written about this picture have acknowledged the strange and baffling expressions worn by Mary and the child Jesus. Schopenhauer spoke of the "terror-stricken" face of the boy Jesus; for the dramatist Hebbel, "The child is wild, teeth clenched, eyes blazing..." Raphael painted the picture for the high altar of S. Sisto in Piacenza. The small town had become part of the Vatican state in 1512, and the picture arose shortly afterwards. Only recently have the questions surrounding this painting finally been resolved. As recent research by A. Prager has shown, the key to the mystery lies in the position in which the altarpiece originally stood. It had long been forgotten that, as in many churches, opposite the altarpiece in S. Sisto and at the far end of the chancel there stood a crucifix. The expressions of horror on the faces of Mother and Child are thus their reaction to the sight of death. It is interesting to note that, long before this successful interpretation, it was a writer, and not an art historian, who came closest to understanding the mystery: R. A. Schröder saw the "deepest horror" written in the face of the child, "before which even Death itself is frightened to death. [Artchive, 11/01/07]

Lucretia, (c. 1508-1518)

The artist recast the heroic early Roman legend to focus on the rhetorical gesture of Lucretia as a model of sublime virtue, heightening the drama of her death. The pose for the monumental female figure was clearly inspired by a Roman sculpture. [MMA, 11/02/07]

Self-Portrait with Friend (fencing instructor), c. 1518.

Portrait of a Nude Woman (the 'Fornarina'), c. 1518.

La Fornarina, a beauty named Margherita, the daughter of a baker (fornaro). Art historians and doctors debate whether the right hand on the left breast in La Fornarina reveals a cancerous breast tumour detailed and disguised in a classic pose of love.

According to Vasari, Raphael's premature death on Good Friday (April 6, 1520, his 37th birthday) was caused by a night of excessive sex with her, after which he fell into a fever and, not telling his doctors that this was its cause, was given the wrong cure, which killed him. Whatever the cause, in his acute illness Raphael had the wit to receive the last rites, and put his affairs in order. He took the care to dictate his will, in which he left sufficient funds for her care, entrusted to his loyal servant Bavera. Vasari underlines that Raphael was also born on a Good Friday, in 1483, on 27 or 28 March. At his request, he was buried in the Pantheon.