Raffaello Sanzio Raphael Biography | Oil Paintings
3-28-1483 Urbino, ITA – 4-6-1520 Rome, ITABack to Artist IndexView Artists Paintings
The archetypal artist of the High Renaissance, Raffaello Sanzio was also known as Raphael, was born in Urbino, in the shadow of the Palazzo Ducale of the Montefeltro family. He was the son of Giovanni Santi, a fine artist and intellectual. He endowed with an extraordinary precocious talent and completed his apprenticeship in Umbria and the Marches, Raphael received a cosmopolitan, figurative training starting in his early youth, which focused on problems of the representation of space as well as the exploration of emotion, light, and physiognomy.
In 1504, at the age of twenty-one, he moved to Florence to be near Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo. There he executed a number of works, including portraits and several small, but extraordinary versions of the Madonna and Child. In these paintings, he combines a rich figurative culture with a simple, spontaneous, natural style. This masterpiece, Marriage of the Virgin, painted for the church in Citta di Castello, marks the end of Raphael's early career, it is also a close reproduction of Pietro Perugino version of the same painting. The scene, set in a square in front of a splendid temple. With its harmonious blend of architecture and nature, the figures are arranged with great simplicity in a series of semi-circles following the shape of the dome. No expression is overdone and no single emotion prevails, not even in the group of disappointed suitors shown breaking their staff.
Raphael The Devine Gift of Eternal Youth.
Soon, Raffaello Sanzio reputation reached the ears of Pope Julius II, who summoned him to Rome in 1508. Deeply influenced by Michelangelo he added a new sense of grandeur to his compositions and greater solidity to his figures and began working on the memorable fresco cycle, in what has come to be known as the Raphael Rooms in the Vatican.
Michelangelo grew jealous of his young rival, accusing Raffaello Sanzio of stealing his ideas, but Raphael’s charming manner won him powerful friends and numerous commissions. The most prestigious of these jobs was the decoration of the Stanze, the papal apartments in the Vatican. This was such a big endeavor that it occupied Raffaello for the rest of his life, of all the frescoes, The School of Athens is the most famous. Plato and Aristotle lead the group of ancient philosophers, Plato (an idealized portrait of Leonardo da Vinci) points to the sky, while Aristotle stretches his hand toward the earth. Around them, the variety of gestures, poses, and expressions makes this one of the liveliest and most complex group of figures in the history of art.
Madonna of the Chair.
One of Raphael's first works was a fresco painted on the wall of a private house, showing the soft profile of a very young Mary clasping the Christ Child. This delicate fresco in Urbino marked the beginning of his poetic experimentation with the theme of the Madonna and Child. This subject renewed the tender, heart-rending memory of the lost embrace of his mother, who died in 1491 when he was only eight and a half years old.
From this moment on, Raphael devoted himself to a series of variations on one of the most celebrated and common themes in painting, depicting natural, reassuring smiles of truly moving beauty. Raphael's Madonnas constitute a “gallery” of charms, minimal gestures, subtle smiles, and tenderness. These paintings are also evidence of the artist capacity to vary positions, landscapes, situations and light with increasing complexity. The Madonna of the Chair represents the culmination of this process. Using the usual parameters of art criticism, we might describe it as an extraordinary blend of Leonardo's Mona Lisa and Michelangelo's Holy Family. This painting has a completely novel impact. For once, it is not “we” who look at the Madonna, it is “she” who looks at us, gently inviting us into a circle of emotions and smiles, caresses and gazes that are unparalleled in the entire history of art.
The tondo format poses considerable compositional problems. This is partly the reason why it was used so often during the Tuscan Renaissance because it demonstrated the painter's perfect control of perspective. The old anecdote that Raphael painted this masterpiece on the bottom of a cask in payment for a night spent at an inn is very far-fetched.
The painting takes its name from the elegant armchair in which the Madonna is seated. The gilded wood chair has a brocade backrest with an elaborate crimson and gold tassels. Although it might look like it is the colorful dress, it is not, its a backrest. In fact, it is no modest chair, as the title suggests, a title that led to the erroneous interpretation of the group as common people because it is rendered with a touching simplicity that suggests a domestic scene.
The Madonna's unforgettable gaze looking at us establishes a hypnotic rapport with the viewer. Her clothes and hairstyle provide a touch of unexpected exoticism. The color combinations are quite unconventional and totally foreign to the iconographic tradition, which calls for the Madonna to be dressed in blue and red.
The chubby Christ Child's elbow occupies the exact geometric center of the tondo, and nose, elbow and left leg to determine the vertical axis. The bent elbow, which extends slightly beyond the circles of light, creating an illusion of a convex surface. This explains the circular movement given to the group of figures and also the way St. John the Baptist appears to be receding and slightly out of proportion.
Raphael Between Pope Julius II and Pope Leo X.
Raphael spent his years in Rome under the sway of two great popes and he painted both of their portraits. Julius II was impatient, ambitious and hot-tempered and it was he who commissioned the frescoes that Raphael began while Michelangelo was working on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and Bramante was laying the foundations of St. Peter's Basilica. Leo X, who succeed Julius II in 1513, was a completely different kind of pope. He was the son of Lorenzo the Magnificent and a lover of moderation and the arts. Raphael continued the work on his Stanze under him, and also coordinated the decoration of the Vatican Loggias and produced cartoons for the tapestries depicting the Acts of the Apostles.
Year after year, he modified his painting style with impressive speed. From the limpid scheme of the Stanza Della Segnatura, he moved on to the dramatic, insistent rhythm of the Stanza dell'Incendio di Borgo and the Loggias, he laid the foundations for Mannerism.
From that point on, he continually produced altarpieces, portraits, and works inspired by classical antiquity. Other commissions included a majestic series of cartoons for a set of tapestries, which were destined for the Sistine Chapel, and a cycle of frescoes for the banker, Agostino Chigi. In the midst of this frantic activity, however, Raphael caught a fever and died at the tragically young age of 37, while working on the Transfiguration.
Sex in the Vatican, the Painting that Killed Raphael.
Raphael's premature death on Good Friday, was caused by a night of excessive sex with his mistress and lover, 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. So says Giorgio Vasari's 16th century biographies, but his stories are interspersed with amusing gossip. Many of his anecdotes have the ring of truth, while others are inventions or generic fictions. One thing is sure, he was having sex with his mistress in the Vatican. No sex, no frescoes. The girl in question, in the painting La Fornarina, is wearing an armband proclaiming her as his. It's a pretty clear declaration of desire and Raphael's cause of death. The legend of lustful Raphael, it seems, has entranced artists and become folklore.
During his brief lifetime he achieved a subtle balance between serene perfection, and delightful, spontaneous beauty. The most divine of all painters was entombed in the Pantheon in Rome. After his death, the influence of his great rival Michelangelo was more widespread until the 18th and 19th centuries, when Raffaello Sanzio's more serene and harmonious qualities were again regarded as the highest models. No other artist has rooms in the Vatican named after them, nor a whole artistic movement named after them.
Art Movement History: Renaissance.
Artists Influencing Raphael: Michelangelo, Santi, Leonardo da Vinci, Pierto Perugino.
Artist's Biography compiled by Albert L. Mansour at The World's Artist.