Raphael Biography

Born Raffaello Santi (or Sanzio), in Urbino, 6 April 1483; son of the painter Giovanni Santi. Died in Rome. 6 April 1520. Commuted between Perugia and Citta di Castello. probably as junior partner to Perugino, 1500-04; based at Florence by 1504, then settled in Rome. 1508; did frescoes for the Vatican Stanza della Segnatura for Julius II, 1509-11. and did other rooms, helped by assistants; after the accession of Leo X (1513), was artistic supremo in Rome; did frescoes for the Farnesina, Rome; succeeded Bramante as architect for the new His name was Raffaello Santi or Sanzio. The anglicised form, Raphael, has been current in English-speaking countries since at least the 17th century. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, and during much of the 19th, when the art of classical antiquity was regarded as the fountain-head of excellence in sculpture and painting, Raphael was considered the greatest of all painters. This was chiefly because his art was thought to have approached the spirit of antiquity more closely than that of any other painter. Since then, when the Romantic revival elevated the primitives, the art of Greece and Rome has been less deified; and in our own day admiration of the painterly qualities exemplified by Titian and the Venetians has had the effect of making many of Raphael's paintings appear dry. Finally, the excessive prominence given by the Victorians to engravings and photographs of the more sentimental Raphael Madonnas has led to a further reaction. For all of these reasons his reputation has suffered, though he is still recognised as one of the key masters of the High Renaissance style. Raphael's farther, Giovanni Santi, worked as painter for the ruling family of Urbino, the Montefeltro but he died when the boy was only eleven. From the time of Vasari in the mid- 16th century it has been assumed that the young Raphael was then apprenticed to Perugine, who was then active both in Perguia and Florence. But documents indicate that Raphael remained in Urbino until his seventeenth birthday in 1500, by which time he was officially no one's apprentice but a master painter. For the next four years he was in association with Perguino at Perugia but in the capacity of junior partner, not of pupil. It follows that Va.sari's misleading deduction of an apprenticeship to Perugine is likely to have arisen from the fact, which he himself noted, that the pictures which Raphael painted between the years 1500 and 1504 are almost indistinguishable from those of Perugino. They consist primarily of three altarpieces-the Crucifixion (London, National Gallery), the Coronation of the Virgin (Vatican) and the Marriage of the Virgin (Milan, Brera). There are also fragments (at Naples, Bergamo, and in the Louvre) of the earliest of all Raphael's altarpieces, representing St. Nicholas of Tolentino.

Between 1504 and 1508 Raphael based himself at Florence as a free lance, but spent much time away from it, in Urbino, Perugia, and elsewhere. He may have paid a short visit to Rome at this time. During this time the influence of Leonardo da Vinci, who was living in Florence in the years from 1500 to 1506, prevails over that of Perguino. The most notable paintings were small Madonnas, such as the Madonna del Granduca (Florence, Pitti), or "La Belle Jardiniere" (Louvre) and some portraits, such as those of Angelo and Maddalena Doni (Florence). His chief patrons at this time were Florentine merchants. At the end of 1508 Raphael settled in Rome where he was to die, twelve years later. His first work there, the so-called Stanza della Segnatura in the Vatican, was the first of a series of such rooms which he covered with frescoes at the direction of successive Popes, Julius II and Leo X. The decoration of the Stanza della Segnatura seems to have been finished around the end of 1511. It includes the School of Athens, one of the most highly esteemed and most famous of all his works. The frescoes in this room represent a great advance on Raphael's earlier work. The main influence is still that of Leonardo, but at this time Michelangelo was painting the Sistine ceiling in an entirely new and highly dynamic manner. There was a public showing of the first half of the ceiling in August 1511, but Raphael had apparently contrived to have a look at it before that, and the sight of it had some effect on his latest work in the Stanza della Segnatura, introducing a kind of grandeur that had not been there before.

In the years 1510-11 Pope Julius was away from Rome on a campaign in north Italy, and during this time the enormously rich banker from Siena, Agostino Chigi, started to employ Raphael both as painter and architect. This patronage continued, sandwiched between work for the papacy, until Chigi died, within a week of Raphael, in 1520. This work consisted, apart from panel pictures of the fresco of Galatea in Chigi 's villa, now called the Farnesina, and later, the Loggia of Psyche in the same villa, some frescoes of prophets and sibyls in the church of S. Maria della Pace, the design and decoration of Chigi 's chapel at S. Maria del Popolo, and the design of his stables (now almost totally destroyed) at his villa. Two of Raphael's most famous altarpieces, the Madonna of Foligno (Vatican) and the Sistine Madonna (Dresden), date, in all probability, from the years 1511-13, as does the Madonna of the Chair (Pitti) and several famous portraits, including that of Pope Julius (London).

During Raphael's early years in Rome he was involved in an important development. A draughtsman from Bologna, Marcantonio Raimondi, had been imitating, and, in effect, forging the prints of Diirer which had been having a very large circulation in Italy at this time. Now Marcantonio settled in Rome and established a partnership with Raphael, making engravings not from his paintings but from his drawings, and thereby spreading his reputation.

At the time of Pope Julius death in February 1513, the second of the Vatican apartments, the stanza d'Eliodoro, was about three quarters finished. It is totally different from the Stanza della Segnatura in that the frescoes are dynamic, dramatic, and asymmetrical in their composition, revealing the strong influence of Michelangelo, and, in their technique, surprising indications of Venetian influence in the form of a broader and more painterly handling of paint.

The death of a Pope automatically brought with it the cessation of work commissioned by him. In this case the Pope Leo X, allowed Raphael to finish the Stanza d'Eliodoro and to continue the series with the Stanza dell'Incendie. But in August 1514 he appointed him architect to St. Peter's in succession to his kinsman, Bramante, who had started the rebuilding of the Basilica but had completed very little. This appointment marked the turning point in Raphael's life. From now on he completed relatively few paintings unaided. Most of his time was given to architectural work at St. Peter's (none of it visible today) and elsewhere, and to supervising the execution of his designs for frescoes, altarpieces, tapestry and decorative arts by a team of assistants whom he trained. Examples of this are the tapestry cartoons (London, Victoria and Albert Museum, on loan from the Queen), the Stanza dell'Incendio, already mentioned, the Vatican Loggia, and the start of work on the Sala di Costantino.

These works saw the birth of the so-called Grand Manner, which had been adumbrated by Leonardo da Vinci in his Last Supper. This was based on the art of antiquity and aimed to eliminate incidental details generalising the features and the costumes, and raising the effect to a superhuman level of nobility. Naturally this involved a certain sacrifice of realism, and the somewhat stereotyped style which resulted was suited to, and partly a result of, the delegation of the execution to assistants. Between the years 1514 and 1519 the only paintings which issued from Raphael's studio with a high proportion of his own paintings were a few portraits, notably the Baldassare Castiglione (Louvre) and Leo X and Cardinals (Uffizi). At last according to Vasari, Raphael himself felt that he had carried delegation too far. Around the year 1516 the Pope's cousin, Cardinal Guilio de'Medici, later Pope Clement VII, had commissioned altarpieces from Raphael and Sebastiano del Piombo to send to the cathedral of Narbonne, in France, of which he was bishop but which he never visited. Sebastiano's picture (The Raising of Lazarus, now in London) was in fact sent to Narbonne, but Raphael's contribution, The Transfiguration, remained in Rome (now Vatican). It was probably not started until 1519 and as though conscious that it was to be his last work he set out to execute it all himself. Opinions differ as to what extent he had finished it at the time of his death. But it was immediately regarded as the testament of the demigod, and for centuries was regarded as the greatest picture in the world. Raphael, who had amassed a considerable fortune, was buried in the Pantheon.