Historical Figures

Raphael, Italian Renaissance painter

Short biography - Raphael (1483-1520) is an Italian painter of the Renaissance . Trained in Perugia with a great master of painting, Perugino, he produced a famous work during his youth, the Marriage of the Virgin (1504) . He then goes to Florence and observes the works of Leonardo da Vinci, which have a great influence on his painting; The Beautiful Gardener (1507-1508) is an example. From 1508, Raphael worked in Rome as an architect and painter for Popes Julius II and Leo X. He created the frescoes decorating the four Chambers of the Vatican, as well as those of the Vatican Lodges. During his career, he painted many figures of Virgins or Madonnas such as the Madonna with the Goldfinch (1505-1506) .

Raphael, a precocious painter

Raphael's beginnings were happy. In its infancy, Italy was still in a state of relative political equilibrium between large and small republics, lordships and territorial principalities. The incessant struggles between the different families, fractions and local tyrants nevertheless had no effect on the high level of literary and artistic culture attained since the Middle Ages. Exceptional works are emerging everywhere, and those who produce them enjoy immense notoriety. The small duchy of Urbino, in which Raphael was born in 1483, was then home to one of the most brilliant courts of the Renaissance. Giovanni Santi, Raphael's father, was esteemed there as a skilled painter and had entries to the ducal court.

Raphael was a child prodigy in painting:thanks to his extremely precocious talent, he resumed, still a teenager, the father's workshop and became a master at the age of 17. Representative of the artistic culture of Urbino, Raphael became close to Perugino around 1500. With Perugino, it was not just a question of a simple master-pupil relationship, but rather of an attentive and critical collaboration. The Marriage of the Virgin (Milan, Pinacoteca di Brera) is an excellent example of this, because Raphael reinvents Perugino's schemes in it.

Also known as lo Sposalizio, the altarpiece (commissioned by the Albizzini family for the Chapel of St. Joseph in the Church of St. Francis in Città di Castello) is one of the first great works of Raphael. With a layout of great rigor, the scene is dominated by the silhouette of a temple with scrupulously restored volumes. The arrangement of most of the characters in the foreground provides a striking effect of depth; the extreme attention paid to questions of perspective is one of the characteristics of the Umbrian school within which Raphael was formed. The painting betrays the influence of Perugino (The Delivery of the Keys to Saint Peter).

The Florentine and Roman periods

Raphael traveled to Florence in 1504, definitely a must for all painters of the Italian peninsula. In addition to assimilating the discoveries of the Quattrocento, he also drew inspiration from his contemporaries Fra Bartolomeo, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, particularly in his portraits. His ability to perceive and rework the innovations of other artists characterizes the Florentine period of Raphael (1504-15081. The young artist quickly achieved a sovereign balance between the application of the rules of Renaissance art:imitation of nature and softness of expression. Some portraits and remarkable Virgins are representative of this period.

With Deposition (Rome, Galleria Borghese) Raphael demonstrates his expressive abilities. Pope Julius II called him to Rome to execute the frescoes for the rooms of his private apartment in the Vatican. The cycle begins with the chamber of the Signature (1508-1511) and continues with that of Héliodore (1511 -1513), and we pass from scenes organized in a harmonious way in front of symmetrical backgrounds, to more tormented episodes, with suggestive plays of light. During the pontificate of Leo X, the artist devoted himself to decorative enterprises, once again modifying his style, even anticipating the solutions of mannerism in its infancy.

Raphael's style

Raphael's style is characterized by a great mastery of drawing, coupled with a sense of volume (he is also an architect). The artist also knows how to soften linear perspective, often of a somewhat fixed geometry, by mixing it with aerial perspective. He also takes up Plato's theory of Ideal Beauty in his always harmonious compositions, and especially in the faces of his characters, soft and serene. Raphael was undoubtedly one of the most famous designers of his time. In addition to numerous compositions engraved by Marcantonio Raimondi, he left several hundred drawings, including sanguines (made with hematite sticks) which stand out for their harmonious classicism.

Raphael died young (in 1520), but his art had a strong impact on the history of painting. Many artists were inspired by him in the following centuries.

To go further

- Raphael:his life his work his time, by Joséphine Le Foll. Hazan, 2012.

- Raphael, biography of Christof Thoenes. taschen, 2016.

- Leonardo, Michelangelo &Raphael, by Giorgio Vasari. Trédaniel, 2019.