High Renaissance painter and
considered one of the greatest and most popular artists of all time.
Usually known by his first name alone, Raphael Sanzio was an Italian
painter and architect celebrated for the perfection and grace of his
paintings and drawings. Together with
Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael forms the
traditional trinity of great masters of that period. Raphael was
enormously productive, running an unusually large workshop, and despite
his death at thirty-seven, a large body of his work remains. Raphael was
extremely influential in his lifetime, though outside Rome his work was
mostly known from his collaborative printmaking. After his death, the
influence of his great rival Michelangelo was more widespread until the
18th and 19th centuries, when Raphael's more serene and harmonious
qualities were again regarded as the highest models.
Raffaello Santi, known as Raphael, or Raphael of Urbino, was born in Urbino on Good Friday 6 April 1483, the son of Magia di Battista di Nicola Ciarla and Giovanni Santi di Pietro. His father was a painter and poet at the court of Frederico da Montefeltre, one of the most famous princes and art patrons of Early Renaissance Italy. Raphael's father was not an outstanding painter, though he was a man of good sense. Raphael started helping out in Santi's studio at a very early age. It is believed that Raphael learned the fundamentals of art in his father's studio. In 1491, Raphael's mother Mŕgia died, followed by his father on August 1, 1494. Orphaned at eleven, Raphael's formal guardian became his only paternal uncle Bartolomeo, a priest, who subsequently engaged in litigation with his stepmother. Raphael probably continued to live with his stepmother when not living as an apprentice with a master. He had already shown talent, according to Giorgio Vasari, who tells that Raphael had been "a great help to his father"
Urbino had become a center of culture during the rule of Duke Federico da Montefeltro, who encouraged the arts and attracted the visits of men of outstanding talent to his court. Although Raphael would be influenced by major artists in Florence and Rome, Urbino constituted the basis for all his subsequent learning. Furthermore, the cultural vitality of the city probably stimulated the exceptional precociousness of the young artist, who, even at the beginning of the 16th century, when he was scarcely 17 years old, already displayed an extraordinary talent. In 1499 Raphael went to Perugia, in Umbria, and became a student and assistant of the painter Perugino. Raphael imitated his master closely; their paintings of this period are executed in styles so similar that art historians have found it difficult to determine which were painted by Raphael.
Among Raphael's independent works executed at Perugia are two large-scale paintings, the celebrated "Sposalizio", (Shown here) or Marriage of the Virgin, and "The Crucified Christ with the Virgin Mary, Saints and Angels". In 1504 Raphael moved to Florence, where he studied the work of such established painters of the time as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Fra Bartolommeo, learning their methods of representing the play of light and shade, anatomy, and dramatic action. At this time Raphael made a transition from the typical style of the Umbrian school, with its emphasis on perspective and rigidly geometrical composition, to a more animated, informal manner of painting. Raphael's development during his Florentine period can best be traced in his numerous Madonna's. The earliest example, still Umbrian in inspiration, is the Madonna del Granduca. Later examples, showing the influence of Leonardo in serenity of expression and composition, include the well-known La Belle Jardiničre and the Madonna of the Goldfinch. The last of his Madonna's executed at Florence, the Madonna del Baldacchino, a monumental altarpiece, is similar in style to the work of Fra Bartolommeo.
Within four years Raphael had achieved success in Florence and his fame had spread abroad. By the autumn of 1508,Raphael was in Rome. The young man soon made a deep impression on the volatile Julius and the papal court, and his authority as a master grew day by day. Raphael was endowed with a handsome appearance and great personal charm in addition to his prodigious artistic talents, and he eventually became so popular that he was called "the prince of painters." Raphael spent the last 12 years of his short life in Rome. They were years of feverish activity and successive masterpieces. His first task in the city was to paint a cycle of frescoes in a suite of medium-sized rooms in the Vatican papal apartments in which Julius himself lived and worked; these rooms are known simply as the Stanze. The Stanza della Segnatura and Stanza d'Eliodoro were decorated practically entirely by Raphael himself; the murals in the Stanza dell'Incendio, though designed by Raphael, were largely executed by his numerous assistants and pupils. The decoration of the Stanza della Segnatura was perhaps Raphael's greatest work.
Julius II was a highly cultured man who surrounded himself with the most illustrious personalities of the Renaissance. He entrusted Bramante with the construction of a new basilica of St. Peter to replace the original 4th-century church; he called upon Michelangelo to execute his tomb and compelled him against his will to decorate the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel; and, sensing the genius of Raphael, he committed into his hands the interpretation of the philosophical scheme of the frescoes in the Stanza della Segnatura. This theme was the historical justification of the power of the Roman Catholic church through Neo-Platonist philosophy. "The Transfiguration "(shown here), was the last work Raphael painted. It was commissioned by Cardinal Giulio de' Medici. Raphael died unexpectedly on Good Friday 6 April 1520. The painted was completed posthumously by Raphael's assistant. Vasari wrote: "He was laid out in the room where he last worked, and at his head hung his painting of the transfigured Christ, which he completed for Cardinal de' Medici. The contrast between the picture, which was so full of life, and the dead body filled everyone who saw it with bitter pain."