Sunday, 10 April 2016


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

Raphael (Italian in full, Raffaello Sanzio or Raffaello Santi; born April 6, 1483, Urbino, Duchy of Urbino, Italy – died April 6, 1520, Rome, Papal States Italy), master painter and architect of the Italian High Renaissance. Raphael is best known for his Madonnas and for his large figure compositions in the Vatican. His work is admired for its clarity of form and ease of composition and for its visual achievement of the Neoplatonic ideal of human grandeur. Early years at Urbino Raphael was the son of Giovanni Santi and Magia di Battista Ciarla; his mother died in 1491.

Italian Renaissance painter and architect Raphael was born Raffaello Sanzio on April 6, 1483, in Urbino, Italy. At the time, Urbino was a cultural centre that encouraged the Arts. Raphael’s father, Giovanni Santi, was a painter for the Duke of Urbino, Federigo da Montefeltro. Giovanni taught the young Raphael basic painting techniques and exposed him to the principles of humanistic philosophy at the Duke of Urbino’s court. In 1494, when Raphael was just 11 years old, Giovanni died. Raphael then took over the daunting task of managing his father’s workshop. His success in this role quickly surpassed his father’s; Raphael was soon considered one of the finest painters in town. As a teen, he was even commissioned to paint for the Church of San Nicola in the neighbouring town of Castello.

In 1500 a master painter named Pietro Vannunci, otherwise known as Perugino, invited Raphael to become his apprentice in Perugia, in the Umbria region of central Italy. In Perugia, Perugino was working on frescoes at the Collegio del Cambia. The apprenticeship lasted four years and provided Raphael with the opportunity to gain both knowledge and hands-on experience. During this period, Raphael developed his own unique painting style, as exhibited in the religious works the Mond "Crucifixion" (circa 1502), "The Three Graces" (circa 1503), "The Knight’s Dream" (1504) and the "Oddi altarpiece, Marriage of the Virgin", completed in 1504.

In 1504, Raphael left his apprenticeship with Perugino and moved to Florence, where he was heavily influenced by the works of the Italian painters Fra Bartolommeo, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Masaccio. To Raphael, these innovative artists had achieved a whole new level of depth in their composition. By closely studying the details of their work, Raphael managed to develop an even more intricate and expressive personal style than was evident in his earlier paintings. From 1504 through 1507, Raphael produced a series of "Madonnas," which extrapolated on Leonardo da Vinci's works. Raphael's experimentation with this theme culminated in 1507 with his painting, La belle jardinière. That same year, Raphael created his most ambitious work in Florence, the Entombment, which was evocative of the ideas that Michelangelo had recently expressed in his Battle of Cascina.

Raphael moved to Rome in 1508 to paint in the Vatican “Stanze” (Room), under Pope Julius II’s patronage. From 1509 to 1511, Raphael toiled over what was to become one of the Italian High Renaissance’s most highly regarded fresco cycles, those located in the Vatican's Stanza della Segnatura (“Room of the Signatura”). The Stanza della Segnatura series of frescos include The Triumph of Religion and The School of Athens. In the fresco cycle, Raphael expressed the humanistic philosophy that he had learned in the Urbino court as a boy. In the years to come, Raphael painted an additional fresco cycle for the Vatican, located in the Stanza d'Eliodoro (“Room of Heliodorus”), featuring The Expulsion of Heliodorus, The Miracle of Bolsena, The Repulse of Attila from Rome and The Liberation of Saint Peter. During this same time, the ambitious painter produced a successful series of “Madonna” paintings in his own art studio. The famed Madonna of the Chair and Sistine Madonna were among them.

By 1514, Raphael had achieved fame for his work at the Vatican and was able to hire a crew of assistants to help him finish painting frescoes in the Stanza dell’Incendio, freeing him up to focus on other projects. While Raphael continued to accept commissions -- including portraits of popes Julius II and Leo X -- and his largest painting on canvas, The Transfiguration (commissioned in 1517), he had by this time begun to work on architecture. After architect Donato Bramante died in 1514, the pope hired Raphael as his chief architect. Under this appointment, Raphael created the design for a chapel in Sant’ Eligio degli Orefici. He also designed Rome’s Santa Maria del Popolo Chapel and an area within Saint Peter’s new basilica. Raphael’s architectural work was not limited to religious buildings. It also extended to designing palaces. Raphael’s architecture honoured the classical sensibilities of his predecessor, Donato Bramante, and incorporated his use of ornamental details. Such details would come to define the architectural style of the late Renaissance and early Baroque periods.

On April 6, 1520, Raphael’s 37th birthday, he died suddenly and unexpectedly of mysterious causes in Rome, Italy. He had been working on his largest painting on canvas, The Transfiguration (commissioned in 1517), at the time of his death. When his funeral mass was held at the Vatican, Raphael's unfinished Transfiguration was placed on his coffin stand. Raphael’s body was interred at the Pantheon in Rome, Italy. Following his death, Raphael's movement toward Mannerism influenced painting styles in Italy’s advancing Baroque period. Celebrated for the balanced and harmonious compositions of his "Madonnas," portraits, frescoes and architecture, Raphael continues to be widely regarded as the leading artistic figure of Italian High Renaissance classicism.

The painting above is the “Parnassus” a fresco painting in the Raphael Rooms (Stanze di Raffaello), in the Palace of the Vatican in Rome, painted at the commission of Pope Julius II. It was probably the second wall of the Stanza della segnatura to be painted, in about 1511, after “La disputa” and before “The School of Athens”, which occupy other walls of the room. The whole room shows the four areas of human knowledge: philosophy, religion, poetry and law, with The Parnassus representing poetry.

The fresco shows the mythological Mount Parnassus where Apollo dwells; he is in the centre playing an instrument (a contemporary lira da braccio rather than a classical lyre), surrounded by the nine muses, nine poets from antiquity, and nine contemporary poets. Apollo, along with Calliope, the muse of epic poetry, inspired poets. Raphael used the face of Laocoön from the classical sculpture “Laocoön and His Sons”, excavated in 1506 and also in the Vatican for his Homer (in dark blue robe to the left of centre), expressing blindness rather than pain.

Two of the female figures in the fresco have been said to be reminiscent of Michaelangelo's Creation of Adam, Euterpe and Sappho, who is named on a scroll she holds. Sappho is the only female poet shown, presumably identified so that she is not confused with a muse; she is a late addition who does not appear in the print by Marcantonio Raimondi that records a drawing for the fresco. The window below the fresco Parnassus frames the view of Mons Vaticanus, believed to be sacred to Apollo. Humanists, such as Biondo, Vegio, and Albertini, refer to the ancient-sun god of the Vatican.

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