Sunday, 6 April 2014


“It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” - PabloPicasso

Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino – born, 1483; died April 6, 1520), was a great Italian painter. Together with Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael makes up the great trinity of the High Renaissance period. He was noted for his clarity of form and ability to convey grandeur, beauty and perfection.

Raphael was born in the Italian city of Urbino in the Marches area of Italy. His father was a court painter and Raphael followed in his father’s footsteps, gaining a wide education in the arts, literature, and social skills. This enabled Raphael to move easily amongst the higher circles of court society and this helped his career in gaining commissions. Compared to Michelangelo, Raphael was more at ease in social circles; he didn’t have the same brusqueness that got Michelangelo into trouble. His style was also considered more refined. He didn’t have the same inventive genius of Michelangelo or Leonardo da Vinci, but he had a supreme grace of painting. He concentrated on a more classical interpretation of perfection, but was still somewhat influenced by the contemporary Florence tradition.

By 1501, Raphael was held in high esteem and he gained important commissions, such as the Mond de Crucifixion in 1503. From about 1504, Raphael lived mainly in Florence, which was a burgeoning centre of the renaissance. He became acquainted with Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo (with whom he fell out with on numerous occasions). In 1508, he was invited to Rome by Pope Julius II. The pope asked Raphael to paint some rooms in the Vatican. This was at the same time as Michelangelo was painting the Sistine Chapel, and although the Sistine chapel overshadowed the work of Raphael, his paintings are still considered some of the finest of European art. This work included some of masterpieces such as: “The School of Athens”, “The Parnassus” and the “Disputa”.

As well as being a great painter, Raphael was also a noted teacher, who could inspire his fellow pupils to greater standards. He had one of the largest art schools in Rome, with over 50 pupils. His enthusiasm and talent helped his school become a famous place of art. As well as a painter, Raphael was also a noted architect, draughtman, and with Raimondi a printmaker of his engravings. He died in April 6 1570, aged only 37. Yet, he left behind a considerable legacy and was celebrated even during his lifetime, with thousands of people attending his funeral.

The piece illustrated above is “Fire in the Borgo”, a fresco painted in 1514 in the Vatican, measuring 647 cm at the base.  It is the most complex of the four episodes in the Stanza dell’ Incendio di Borgo. It is full of references to classical antiquity, to medieval architecture at the time of the affirmation of the Church, and to themes used by contemporary artists. It celebrates the intercession of Leo IV, by whose grace a fire, which spread through the Borgo, a popular section of Rome near the Basilica of St Peter, was extinguished. The event depicted happened in AD 847 and is documented in the “Liber Pontificalis” (a collection of early papal biographies). Pope Leo IV managed miraculously to halt the raging fire, which was threatening an area of the city, by his benediction from the loggia of Old St Peter’s.

The structure of the composition is complex: Two colonnades of clear classical derivation define a square. The Pope, who bears the features of Leo X, blesses the frightened crowd from a gallery located beyond the colonnades. The façade of old St Peter’s appears behind him, in the background. While those in the foreground are desperately trying to put out the fire, the female figure in yellow with her back to us is begging them to look at the only effective source of help, the pope.

The term “scenographic” can appropriately be applied to this painting. Clearly, Raphael was concentrating on richer, more varied, but less harmonious compositional solutions than those of his previous paintings. The figure groups express great formal beauty, but they lack harmonious relationships and remain pure examples of episodical representation. The group in the left foreground, for example (made up of an old man on the shoulders of a young man, and a child), may be drawn from the episode of the Aeneid in which Aeneas escapes with his father, Anchises and his son, Ascanius. The woman with children in the centre of the fresco and the water carrier at right, whose clothes blow in the wind, represent similar stereotypes.

The nude descending from the wall at left recalls the heroic figures of Michelangelo. Notwithstanding these limitations, the scene is highly effective and demonstrates Raphael’s skill as an illustrator, although, as the critics maintain, it was executed largely by his pupils (albeit based on his sketches and under his supervision).

1 comment:

  1. The Raphael frescos in the Vatican are simply breathtaking! I admired them for a long time when I visited!