During a time when Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci were the prime
artists in Europe, a young man by the name of Raffaello Sanzio was
starting to attract major attention with his artworks.
The Italian high renaissance was marked by paintings expressing human
grandeur and very humanistic values. No one better portrayed the Italian
high Renaissance then Raphael Sanzio, with his painting's clarity and ease
of composition, Raphael was easily one of the greatest painters of this
Born in an artistically influenced town in Italy called Urbino, Raffaello
Sanzio was first taught by his father, Giovanni Santi, how to compose
works of art at a very early age. At the age of fourteen, Raphael's
father realized his son's potential and sent him to a very talented
teacher by the name of Pietro Perugino. Pietro Perugino lived from 1478
to 1520, and had a strong influence on Raphael's early artworks. Perugino
was a Umbrian painter who loved to incorporate beautiful landscapes into
his paintings. Raphael's early works resembled Perugino's so much that
paintings such as the Crucifixion with the Virgin, Saint John, Saint
Jerome, and Saint Mary Magdalene were thought to be Raphael's until the
church of San Gimingniano proved that they were in fact Perugino's.
"Raphael was only 14. It is undoubtedly a Perugino calmly emotional, and
pious rather than passionate"(Pioch). Unlike the other great painters of
this time such as Michelangelo and Da Vinci, Raphael was born with a great
understanding of art and required little instruction if any. Because of
Raphael's great understanding of the arts, he quickly surpassed his
teacher and ventured out on his own to the great city of Florence in 1504.
At the same time Raphael arrived in Florence, the other great painters of
time, Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci were the popular painters of the
city. Because of the competitive environment of Florence, Raphael adopted
many new painting techniques such as shading, anatomy, and frozen action.
Both Michelangelo and Da Vinci's styles influenced Raphael while he was in
Florence. Raphael's energetic paintings with softness and balance such as
the "Small Cauper Madonna", were influenced directly from Michelangelo.
While Raphael was in Florence, Duke Guidobaldo employed him to paint a
painting for King Henry VII of England. In the painting "Saint George and
the Dragon", Raphael portrays Saint George as a brave warrior fighting
against a dragon right outside it's lair. In contrast to the action of
the painting, the background is peaceful and serene. In the story of
Saint George, after the dragon is slain, the town all converts to
Christianity, symbolizing the triumph of Christianity over all. Raphael
stayed in Florence until he decided to go to Rome where he could branch
out and away from his two competitors.
Once in Rome, Raphael was immediately commissioned by Pope Julius II
because of his uncanny gift for painting sacred and secular paintings.
Julius II had Raphael paint the rooms of the Vatican apartment which
brought life to the otherwise dull walls of the stanze.
When Raphael arrived at the Vatican palace, Michelangelo was busy
painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Raphael started the stanze walls
around 1508 and didn't finish until 1511. Raphael had painted the walls
to celebrate the four aspects of human accomplishment: theology,
philosophy, arts, and law. To represent theology, was the "Disputation of
the Sacrament". To represent philosophy was the famous "School of
Athens", in which Raphael paints Michelangelo and himself in amongst the
philosophers. To represent the arts was "Parnassus" and finally to
represent law was "Cardinal Virtues". When fused together, these four
aspects marked the transition from the middle ages to modern times.
After he finished the frescos in the Vatican Palace, Raphael went on to
fresco the Stanza d'Eliodoro between the years 1511 and 1514. Again
Raphael depicted four historical events that illustrated salvation by
divine intervention with his unparalleled gift for painting Christian
Throughout Raphael's artistic career, he went back to painting's
portraying the Madonna and child many times. "The Alba Madonna", was one
of Raphael's most famous Madonnas because it differed so much from
traditional Roman art. The Madonnas of this time were usually shown
sitting on a throne, but Raphael painted her in the middle of a field
which I think added a realism without shattering her queenly image.
Raphael also painted the Alba Madonna in a classic symmetrical triangle
which was consistent with the painting techniques of that time. Raphael's
painted more then forty Madonnas before his untimely death in 1520. (The
Metropolitan Museum of Art, 22)
After suffering in bed for fifteen days, Raphael Sanzio died on his
birthday at the young age of 37. Raphael seemed to blend harmony and
balance perfectly into his paintings. Two of Raphael's most famous
artworks that I found to be the most astounding seemed to symbolize his
never ending quest to create the perfect masterpiece. In the painting "
The School of Athens", Raphael immortalizes all of the great philosophers
for all of time by capturing them in the height of the Italian
Renaissance. Also in Raphael's "The Deliverance of Saint Peter from
Prison", the angel of the Lord seems to strike fear into the hearts of the
soldiers that are guarding Saint Peter's cell. Raphael captures the
heavenly light from the divine being in such a way that one can almost see
the action taking place.
If one analyzes Raphael's works, there are reasons for the harmony and
realistic perspective. Raphael looked back to ancient Roman architecture
when painting buildings, the subjects always came from antiquity, such as
Plato and Socrates. The bodies of Raphael's figures were muscular and
idealized and full of motion and gestures, further adding to the realism.
In the short thirty seven years of his life, Raphael summarized and
epitomized the entire course of Italian humanism. (Taylor, 56) Even though
Raphael did not live as long as Leonardo or Michelangelo, he will always
be ranked along with them as one of the greatest artists of all time.
Taylor, Frances Henry. "Fifty Centuries of Art." Harper and Brother,
New York, 1960.
"What Makes a Raphael a Raphael." The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1993.
Pioch, Nicholas. "Raphael." Webmuseum, Paris. Online.