Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio; 1483–1520)

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RAPHAEL (Raffaello Sanzio; 14831520)

RAPHAEL (Raffaello Sanzio; 14831520), Italian painter and architect. The importance of the sixteenth-century artist Raffaello Sanzio to the subsequent development of European culture can be gauged by the fact that only three Italian artists were ever glorified by receiving anglicized versions of their names: Raphael, Titian (Tiziano Vecellio), and "Michael Angelo" Buonarroti. Raphael's father, Giovanni Santi, worked as a court painter to the duke of Urbino; his colorful style owed a great deal to the area's lush, hilly landscape and to the spiritual legacy of St. Francis, whose native Assisi bordered Urbino. Giovanni Santi also nourished literary ambitions (expressed in a long history written in vernacular verse) as did his talented relative Donato Bramante (14441514), a painter, architect, and musician who eventually moved to Milan. Raphael himself would one day try his hand at writing vernacular sonnets.

Raphael's mother supposedly cared for her infant son herself rather than sending him out to a wet nurse, and the close relationship with his parents was invoked by contemporaries as the reason for his sweet disposition. Sweet he may have been, but he was also talented to an extraordinary extent, with ambitions to match. He learned the elements of painting from his father and the local painter Timoteo Viti, but was soon apprenticed in Florence to Italy's most successful painter of the time, Pietro di Vannucci, nicknamed Perugino (c. 14501523), "the man from Perugia."

The Florence in which Raphael served his apprenticeship was a republican city (the Medici had been expelled in 1494) that celebrated its cultivation of ancient Roman virtues in diplomacy, in rhetoric, and in public works of art. The most famous of these is Michelangelo's David of 1504. Among painters, Perugino stood at the height of a long, successful career, his soft, colorful Umbrian style underpinned by a stately grandeur that lent his paintings some of the authority of ancient Roman monuments. Perugino's soft contours and bright primary colors had introduced what proved to be a popular contrast with the more linear "dry" style of Florentine painters like Botticelli and Pollaiuolo, and Raphael's earliest work shows the strong influence of his master. In 1503 Raphael worked in Siena with another popular Umbrian painter, Bernardino Pinturicchio (c. 14541513), on the frescoed walls of the Piccolomini Library of Siena's Duomo.

Already, however, the young painter stood out among these two established masters for his sheer dexterity: his brushwork was finer, his textures more meticulous, and his ability to suggest depth by layering different colors of paint was comparable only to the treasured oil paintings imported from northern Europe. Once again, the talented young painter contemplated a change of venue. This time the opportunity came from Rome, through the good offices of Bramante.


In 1507, Pope Julius II Della Rovere (reigned 15031513) decided to move the papal apartments upstairs and to commission a new decorative scheme for their walls; this was the commission for which Bramante procured Raphael's participation as part of a team of painters drawn from all over Italy to work in competition with one another. Quickly, however, Raphael's ability to put the pope's ambitions into powerful imagery earned him the entire commission. This suite of rooms, now called the Vatican Stanze, would occupy him for the next several years. At the same time, Raphael made several important contacts among the people who comprised the intimate circle of Julius II: his brilliant, eccentric librarian, Tommaso Fedro Inghirami, his banker, Agostino Chigi, and his favorite theologian, Egidio da Viterbo. Despite their widely differing roles in the Julian court, each of these men shared the pope's deep commitment to an ideal view of Rome as a renewed capital city for a renewed Catholic Church, and they worked with remarkable zeal to see that ideal made concrete. Raphael's own work reflects his contacts with each of them; Chigi soon became his most important private patron.

Raphael also confronted, for the first time, a serious rival to his skill. When Raphael arrived in 1508 to join the team of painters assigned to the Stanze, Pope Julius had entrusted the greatest painting commission in the city, the Sistine Chapel ceiling, to a sculptor, Michelangelo Buonarroti (14751564). By 1510, when Bramante procured Raphael entrance into the unfinished chapel, the young painter from Urbino took in all of Michelangelo's epic grandeur and strange, luminous color. Michelangelo would later claim that he himself had taught Raphael all he knew about painting. Still, when Michelangelo finished the chapel in 1512, the older painter hurried back to Florence, leaving Raphael as Rome's undisputed master painter, just as Bramante had become the city's supreme architect.

By this time, however, Raphael had begun to diversify his operations. He became an early proponent of engraving as a new medium with potentially wide appeal, and he also began to work as an architect under Bramante's expert tutelage. The press of his commissions compelled him to assemble a workshop of variously talented assistants; he ran his artistic business with a good deal of the acumen gleaned from his patron Agostino Chigi.

The deaths of Julius II in 1513 and Bramante in 1514 led Raphael into ever closer collaboration with Julius's successor, Pope Leo X (reigned 15131521). Together with the venerable architect Fra Giovanni Giocondo (c. 14331515) and Bramante's young assistant Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, Raphael took over the post of architect for St. Peter's. Raphael and many of his associates, among them Tommaso Inghirami, Egidio da Viterbo, and Agostino Chigi, survived the transition from one papacy to the next and continued to exert their influence on their artistic friends and on the papal court. Raphael's circle of acquaintances widened to include Leo's private secretary, the Venetian writer Pietro Bembo, and the papal functionary Angelo Colocci, an antiquarian and book collector of deep learning. Raphael's most inspired work in this period was done not for the pope but for Chigi, whose fiscal genius was accompanied by a bold, innovative taste in art.

Unable to build a new Rome to rival the old, Leo instead commissioned Raphael to draw a reconstruction of the ancient city, which the artist undertook together with an investigation of the work of the Roman architectural writer Vitruvius. In this undertaking Fra Giocondo and Angelo Colocci would exert profound influence on the depth of Raphael's architectural insight, already refined by his long association with Bramante, who had been a remarkably insightful interpreter of ancient architecture.

With the spread of his own reputation, Raphael began to cultivate international connections, taking orders from the king of France and other heads of state. His death of a sudden fever on 11 April 1520, his thirty-seventh birthday, came as a surprise to everyone. Four days later, Agostino Chigi followed him to the grave. Both men were mourned extravagantly in Rome.

Raphael's many unfinished projects were carried out by his efficiently diversified workshop; but not even the artist's most gifted associates could provide either Raphael's inventiveness or his painterly technique. Furthermore, they lacked their master's fierce dedication; their humor was more flippant, their monsters more monstrous, their conceits more conceited, their erotica more pornographic. As painters, engravers, and architects, Giulio Romano, Gianfrancesco Penni, and Marcantonio Raimondi owed an immense debt to Raphael, but the harmonious order of his style gave way to more extreme effects, presented most powerfully in the art of the elderly Michelangelo.

Already in their own day, Raphael and Michelangelo had acquired the personae by which they are still known today: Raphael as the angel called too early back to heaven, Michelangelo as the rugged, struggling hero. Their relative fortunes have varied somewhat with changing tastes, but their stature has never been seriously called into question. Each, however, partakes of the other: Michelangelo's Pietà is as intimately moving as a Raphael Madonna, and some of Raphael's frescoes show the muscular monumentality of Michelangelo.

See also Art: Artistic Patronage ; Florence ; Florence, Art in ; Julius II (pope) ; Michelangelo Buonarroti .


De Vecchi, Pierluigi. Raphael. New York, 2002.

Hall, Marcia, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Raphael. Cambridge, U.K., and New York. Forthcoming.

Jones, Roger, and Nicholas Penny. Raphael. New Haven and London, 1983.

Ingrid Rowland