Raffaello, or most commonly referred to as Raphael, was one of the members of the so-called trinity of the Great Masters of the High Renaissance. Raphael became a celebrated Italian painter for the eloquent grace, sweetness and charm of his paintings and drawings. He had the mastery of using spatial geometry as an approach to paint well-formed figures.
Having been one of the greatest painters of the post-medieval period, Raphael was called The Divine One by his critics and contemporaries. And this would never have been possible if not for the training he received by his father, Giovanni Santi and mentor Perugino as well as the sensational achievements attained by the artists he looked up to such as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Fra Bartolomeo and Masaccio.
Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino was born on March 28 or April 6, 1483 in Marche, a small town of Urbino. His was father, Giovanni Santi, was a renowned court artist to Federico da Montefeltro III, the Duke of Urbino at that time. Giovanni was just as talented as his son with his inclination towards almost all sorts of arts, particularly to poetry, drama and architecture.
During the ruling of the Montefeltro’s, the literary and musical culture would have been flourishing that Giovanni’s court life can be concluded as highly successful, enabling him to provide Raphael a comfortable life and elite social circles. Raphael would visit the court frequently during his childhood years that he learned to adapt to the noble manners and outgoing skills of his aristocratic friends and acquaintances.
In 1494, Raphael was left as an orphaned at age of 11 and got uncle Bartolomeo as his official guardian. However, it was believed that his uncle and stepmother got involved in litigation that he opted to stay with his stepmother for the rest of his pre-adolescent years.
Before Giovanni died, he made sure that Raphael would receive the best training possible through Pietro Perugino, an Umbrian master. Raphael’s role was an assistant to Perugino around the early 1500’s and his master’s influence on his creative process was very apparent. In fact, art historians found it difficult to distinguish the works of Perugino’s from Raphael because of how well the assistant was able to absorb of his master’s techniques and teaching.
For instance, Raphael was used to applying the paint thickly and quickly on the material using oil varnish as the medium. He would also use this technique to shadow and darken some areas but apply paint thinly on the surface and flesh areas. Apparently, this was the very technique that Perugino was famous for. Raphael completed his apprenticeship for his master in 1501.
Around 1500’s, Raphael’s earliest commissioned work was documented, which was an altarpiece for the Church of St. Nicholas of Tolentino. This church is located in Citta di Castello in a town situated between Urbino and Perugia. It was believed that Evangelista da Pian di Meleto was the employer that the painter worked for.
In 1503, Raphael continued pursuing his painting career in Urbino by painting the Mond Crucifixion, an Oddi altarpiece and the Brera Weeding of the Virgin that was completed a year after. He then finished some small cabinet paintings with figures of St. Michael and Three Graces for the Urbino connoisseurs. But before he painted the Mond Crucifixion he traveled to Siena because he received an invited by Pinturiccio to help him with designing and painting frescoes for the Piccolomini Library in Siena Cathedral.
Having been an in-demand painter during the 1500’s Raphael traveled throughout the Northern part of the country to attend to work. However, he concentrated on Florence during the so-called Florentine Period from 1504 to 1508 to gather some materials and to study. Studying in the said city helped him a lot in improving his own painting style. In 1505, he had done frescoes that showed resemblance to the style and quality of paintings by Fra Bartolomeo and Leonardo da Vinci.
Leonardo da Vinci’s visit to Florence from 1500 to 1506 made an impact on the overall creative development of Raphael because he used him as his inspiration and started doing more complex styles out of da Vinci’s works. This was also the period when Raphael tried to paint nude men in the act of fighting with each other, which was a very popular subject of this particular period in the city.
Raphael drew a picture of a young woman because Leonardo’s Mona Lisa painting inspired him to create his own version of it, too. It would seem that Leonardo and Raphael have met already by this time as art historians later on found a sketch of Saint Catherine of Alexandria by the Urbino painter in the collection of drawings of da Vinci.
Towards the end of 1510, Raphael went to Rome and there he spent the rest of his years. He moved to Rome because he was summoned by Pope Julius II and by recommendation of Donato Bramante. Raphael was contracted to fresco the walls of the Pope’s library in the Vatican Palace, and this was a pivotal role because it was by far his biggest commission.
Together with several artists like Michelangelo, Raphael painted the walls of different rooms at the palace. He later on had his own room to work on called Raphael Rooms, also known as the Stanza della Segnatura. This marked his own golden age for his works became phenomenal and influential on the Roman art. His works on the room contained the Disputa, The School of Athens and The Parnassus. It was a successful start indeed that Raphael earned some more projects that were supposed to be for Perugino and Signorelli.
Even after the death of Pope Julius II, Raphael was still able to continue working for the Vatican under the approval of Medici Pope Leo X. He developed close relationship with this new Pope which was one of the possible factors that allowed him to extend his contract in Rome. By this time, Raphael would have known of Michelangelo and his works on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. He looked up to Michelangelo’s talent and skill that he was a source of inspiration in his other works.
For instance, Raphael’s painting of The School of Athens had the figure of Heraclitus but with attributions of Michelangelo. This particular work was also inspired by the greatest Italian painter’s Sybils painting on the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling. Michelangelo did acknowledge of how much Raphael appreciate his art, however it came to a point where he accused the Urbino painter of plagiarism because of the way he absorbed his style and technique, and to an extent, his own ideas.
Nevertheless, to be fair, Raphael made significant contributions to the development of Italian High Renaissance. He made painting large and complex compositions and learning other painters’ technique so easy that served instrumental for him to paint almost effortlessly. All of his works are of highest quality and great precision in the details.
During his old age, Raphael established his own studio and acquired 50 assistants and apprentices. His studio had the largest number of pupils for any master at that time and most of whom earned the respect of their contemporaries later on. Raphael also employed various masters that he contracted from all over of Italy.
Giulio Romano and Gianfrancesco Penni were two of the notable pupils of Raphael. They were the ones that continued the works of their master when it was cut short because of his untimely death. Overall, Raphael had a very successful workshop stint in Rome. He had an exceptional negotiation and diplomatic skills in dealing with his assistants and patrons, some of whom had troubles against each other. Few examples of his students and assistants include Vincenzo Tamagni, Lorenzetto, Bartolommeo Ramenghi, Andrea Sabbatini, Timoteo Viti and Raffaellino del Colle.
Raphael never had a family of his own, but once he got engaged to Maria Bibbiena in 1514. His fiancée died in 1520 that resulted to the cancellation of their supposed wedding, but even though he was engaged to Bibbiena, he showed little enthusiasm about it.
Throughout his life, he had had love affairs but the one whom he considered as his unforgettable love was Margherita Luti who hailed from Siena. This woman was Raphael’s inspiration in painting the La Fornarina. However, this love affair was interrupted by the untimely death of Raphael in April 6, 1520. He was 37 years old when he died due to an acute illness that was wrongly diagnosed by the doctors because he would not admit the true cause of how he acquired such an illness. Vasari however revealed that Raphael’s premature death was caused by too much consummation of their love throughout the night. As a result, he suffered from high fever but did not talk about his prior activities to his doctors; thus, he was given the wrong medications.
Raphael had a grand funeral and Pietro Bembo wrote him an inscription in his marble. The large number of people that attended his funeral only shows how he was well-received by the Romans.