The Early Years
This article focuses on facts about Raphael, the artist and his life. Born Raffaello Sanzio de Urbino, Raphael came from a small town in central Italy where his father was the court painter for the Duke. Raphael’s mother died when he was eight and, three years later his father also died leaving Raphael orphaned at the age of eleven.
Though he began apprenticing his father early in life, the first of Raphael’s own documented work was the Baronci Altarpiece commissioned for a church in Città di Castello in 1500. In subsequent years, Raphael completed several other large works including the Mond Crucifixion, the Wedding of the Virgin, and the Oddi Altarpiece for a church in Perugia. In 1502 Raphael travelled to Siena at the invitation of one of his peers to be a draughtsman for the design of a fresco series to be painted in the Piccolomini Library of Siena Cathedral.
Time in Florence
In 1504 Raphael Sanzio travelled to Florence bearing a personal recommendation from the Duchess of Montefeltro, mother of the next Duke of Urbino. Raphael was used to travel by this time and quickly learned all there was to know about the art of Florence which he studied while continuing to develop his own style. Between 1504 and 1508, Raphael’s paintings began to reflect the influence of Leonardo da Vinci who had begun to paint his subjects in complex, dynamic poses.
The works which most obviously reflect the influence of Leonardo da Vinci include a drawing of a young woman using the same pyramidal composition as da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa”. During Raphael’s stay in Florence another young artist had begun to gain popularity: Michelangelo. Though Raphael was aware of Michelangelo’s works, they did not have much of a relationship - Michelangelo came to suspect his young contemporary of taking part in conspiracies against him.
Frescoes in Rome
In 1508 Raphael replied to a summons by Julius II to travel to Rome. There, Raphael undertook the task of painting a number of large frescoes to decorate a suite of papal rooms in The Vatican. To complete these works Raphael recruited a large number of pupils and assistants who worked alongside him to complete the paintings.
This work, begun in 1509, marks a divurgence from the highly detailed quality of Florentine Renaissance art that was popular at the time. Rather, Raphael took a more expansive approach to his frescoes, bringing his subjects to life. For example, the center of the scene shows Aristotle and Plato engaged in serious discourse, walking side by side through the lyceum.
The rooms Raphael painted came to be known as the Stanza della Segnatura and the frescoes contained within are named “The School of Athens,” “The Parnassus” and “Disputa.”
Raphael’s School of Athens
Raphael’s Other Works
Throughout his career Raphael Sanzio comissioned several portraits of his patrons including popes Julius II and Leo X. He also painted portraits of his friends, those in the papal circle, and completed paintings for contemporary rulers such as French King Francis I. Though his frescoes in the Vatican required much of his time, Raphael also managed to paint two chapels in Santa Maria della Pace and Santa Maria del Popolo.
Another set of works commissioned by the pope for which Raphael is well-known is his series of 10 cartoons depicting the lives of Saint Paul and Saint Peter which were woven into tapestries for the Sistine Chapel.
Later Years and Death
Though he never married, Raphael was engaged to Maria Bibbiena, the daughter of Cardinal Medici Bibbiena. Maria Bibbiena died in 1520 before being married to Raphael who is said to have been talked into the marriage without any intentions of seeing it through.
Though he had no desire for marriage Raphael’s, life was not devoid of female companionship - for years he had an affair with the daughter of a baker, Margherita Luti. Raphael died on Good Friday, April 6, 1520 at the age of thirty-seven. His funeral was a grand occasion, attended by many who admired, even revered the young Raphael.
Raphael’s Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione
“Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio),” artchive.com
“Raffaello Sanzio,” Web Gallery of Art