The “rebirth” of art in Italy, otherwise known as the Renaissance, was connected with the rediscovery of ancient philosophy, literature, and science and the development of methods in these fields using keen observation. Greater awareness of classical knowledge created a new way to learn by direct study of the natural world.
Because of this, religious themes became increasingly important to artists, and with the large interest in the Middle Ages came to a new idea for subjects drawn from Greek and Roman history and mythology. The models provided by ancient buildings and works of art also inspired the development of new artistic techniques and the desire to recreate the forms and styles of classical art.
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Raphael was one of the greatest and most influential painters of the Italian Renaissance. His figures and compositions influenced artists up to the early 1900s. The period of Raphael’s influence was called the High Renaissance.
Raphael painted altarpieces, frescoes (paintings on damp plaster) of historical and mythological scenes, and portraits. His most popular works include his paintings of the Madonna and Child. Raphael was also an architect. From 1514 until his unfortunate death, he directed the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
Raphael, otherwise known as Raffaello Santi or Sanzi, was born in the Umbrian City of Urbino,. The atmosphere was probably quite familiar to Raphael from an early age since his father, Giovanni di Santi di Piero, a respectable poet and painter, was well known throughout the Urbino circle. Giovanni died when Raphael was only eleven, however, his workshop was still maintained, and it was there where Raphael received his first artistic training.
His development was exceptional and there are works related to him with certainty that they must have been painted in 1499-1500, when he was at the most seventeen. The most extraordinary of these are two banners in the Pinacoteca Comunale at Citta di Castello, near Urbino. Little of his father’s influence is seen in these and other early works, although, the young artist was influenced by two major early Renaissance figures, the painter Piero della Francesca and the architect Leone Battista Alberti, as well as the leading Umbrian painter of his own time, Perugino.
In 1500-1501, with Evangelista da Pian di Meleto, Raphael began a large altarpiece, The Coronation of Saint Nicholas of Tolentino, for the church of Sant’Agostino in Citta di Castello. Remaining fragments in the Pinacoteca Tosio Martinengo, Brescia, and the Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples, show great technical knowledge. It also showed a unique skill Raphael had, the ability to use the forms of another artist while combining them with his own style. It is evident that Perugino was his model in this piece.
Many of Raphael’s early pieces were, in fact, similar to Perugino’s works. His Marriage of the Virgin, painted in 1504, is closely related to Perugino’s altarpiece on the same subject. Raphael’s work, however, is more organized than Perugino’s. The perspective is more accurate, and the figures are more expressed. To some, this may even be evidence that Raphael was also studying Alberti.
Another difference between the works of Raphael and Perugino was the way Raphael, unlike Perugino, concentrated on human and natural emotion.
When Raphael went to Florence in 1504, at the age of twenty-one, he was somewhat considered to be a mature artist, however, from another point of view, he had almost everything to learn. During his four years in Florence he turned for influence not only from famous artists from that city, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, but also to Masaccio, Donatello, and other Tuscan artists of the early Renaissance. Raphael was very eager with his study and fast with his development, and by the time he left Florence, he was close to becoming equal to Leonardo and Michelangelo.
The most well-known works of Raphael’s days in Florence combine a long series of Madonnas and Holy Families. One of the earlier paintings, the Madonna del Granduca (1505), greatly displays the influence of Perugino in the Virgin’s expression, however, the expression of the infant Jesus shows the new spirit of humanism.
Raphael’s adaptation of new humanism was due to his appreciation of Michelangelo’s works and the works of Leonardo da Vinci. The influence of these famous artists is shown in many of his later works, however, it is an influence centered on spirit rather than technique.
Of all the Madonnas, the Madonna of the Goldfinch is the most well known, however, the La Belle Jardiniere, painted in 1507, stands out as an excellent example of Raphael’s expertise for expression. This piece is simple yet balanced, and is, indeed, very similar to the Madonnas of Leonardo and Michelangelo. The more natural and gentle style, however, makes it stand out as one of Raphael’s.
There are other works that were obviously influenced by Leonardo, although at the same time quite different. They include a pair of portraits of Angelo Doni and his wife Maddalena, which are now in the Palazzo Pitti in Florence. These are two of the finest of a group of portraits that Raphael produced while in Florence. Both are based on the design of Leonardo’s Mona Lisa but were altered with sharpness instead of the softness of color used by Leonardo.
Along with the numerous paintings Raphael did of Madonnas, Holy Families, and portraits accepted from patrons of Florence, he also produced pictures for patrons in various other cities. Among these pictures are some of the earliest altarpieces of the High Renaissance. These works are larger in for than any altarpiece produced in the fifteenth century.
Raphael was quite a flexible artist whose personal style could change very quickly due to different problems. There is evidence of this change of expression in The Deposition (1507). The picture was given to a Florentine woman, in memory of a son killed in a family dispute. The painting of this depressing scene lacks balance and symmetry, and the colors are unusually harsh. This style marked the beginning of Raphael’s struggle with an area of Renaissance art in which he wasn’t very interested.
In 1508 Raphael went to Rome. It is to be believed that he made the move because of the great architect Donato Bramante, a distant relative and old resident of Urbino. It was Bramante who introduced him to Pope Julius II. 1509 gave him, along with a number of artists, given the opportunity of decorating a suite of private rooms in the Vatican. Julius II had an excellent eye for talent, and soon after he saw Raphael’s work he dismissed the other painters and the job was directly given to Raphael. In his work there, Raphael firmly established his name along with Leonardo and Michelangelo, as one of the greatest artists of the Renaissance.
After three years of working on the first room, Stanza della Segnatura, it was completed in 1511. Raphael was then immediately asked to decorate the second room, the Stanza d’Eliodoro, which he worked on for an additional three years. The frescoes in the second room are less spiritual than those in the first room. On the ceiling, there are four scenes from the Old Testament depicting God’s appearances to mankind.
They include The Burning Bush, Jacob’s Dream, God Appears to Noah and The Sacrifice of Abraham. On the walls are another four frescoes showing extraordinary occurrences in the history of the church. In these there are also many references to important church figures such as Julius II himself, and Leo X, who followed Julius II. The paintings in the Stanza della Segnatura are more pale and cool in color, whereas, in the Stanza d’Eliodoro, the colors are deeper and more dramatic.
In 1514, Leo X ordered Raphael to begin the third room in the suite, the Stanza dell’Incendio. By this time, however, he was assigned many other tasks and there were delays in decoration and much of the work was given to his workers.
Toward the end of his life, Raphael began a large, long hall at the end of the suite, called the Sala di Constantino. His workers mainly carried out his plan for this room, and the decorations were not completed until 1524.
One of the famous works of Raphael’s career was the design of a set of ten large tapestries to hang in the Sistine Chapel (1515). It was probably the competition with Michelangelo’s ceiling, as well as the importance of the job that pushed him to work so hard on this particular project.
During his later years in Rome, Raphael’s talent for architectural design began to show. His first projects were the church of Sant’Eligio Degli Orefici (begun 1509) and the Chigi stables (begun 1512). Among his later architectural projects was the design of the Palazzo Branconio dell’Aquila (1517-1520). Unfortunately, it was destroyed in the seventeenth century, however, the building is known through drawings and engravings. Raphael’s Villa Madama (1516), is mainly known for its fancy and elaborate plan, based on Roman buildings, as well as for its unusual interior design.
While Raphael involved himself in painting the frescoes at the Vatican, designing tapestries for the Sistine Chapel, and planning various architectural projects, Raphael somehow found time to do numerous easel paintings. These include a number of his Madonnas: Alba Madonna, the Madonna of the Diadem, the Madonna of the Chair, the Madonna of Foligno, and the Sistine Madonna.
Raphael was one of the most productive artists in the history of Western art. Three large collections of his drawings are in England, in the Ashmolean Museum, in Oxford, in Windsor Castle, and the British Museum in London. Others appear in the Louvre and the Uffizi. Raphael’s drawings are as varied as his paintings and show the same early influences of Leonardo and Michelangelo as his own style displayed in works of his later life.
When Raphael died in 1520, he left almost finished his most challenging altarpiece, The Transfiguration, now in the Museo del Vaticano. This rather large picture is a good example of Raphael’s potential in his late style.
After his death, Raphael’s workers carried different parts of his accomplishments to other Italian cities including Genoa and Mantua. None of his followers, however, even began to come close to the talent Raphael had. Although Raphael’s career was only over a time frame of barely two decades, he is surely ranked as one of the greatest artists of all time.
My report was on the life, works, and influences of Raphael. He was a very well known painter and architect of a time period called the High Renaissance. Being a lover of art myself, Raphael was, in fact, known to me, however, Leonardo and Michelangelo were always more popular and more talked about. They were mentioned in my previous art classes as well as in my Italian class, and even in some of my regular subjects such as English.
Now, looking deeper into the actual life of Raphael, I got to take a look at someone who accomplished so many things in such a short period of time. He traveled which meant he was worldly, and got a chance to share his talents with so many people, as well as inspire them. It is true that the people that did work for him were never as good as Raphael himself, however, they learned a great deal from him.
I thoroughly enjoyed researching this particular artist. Along with the information I found, I also got a chance to view and analyze some of Raphael’s works for myself. Each piece is so different from the other, even though on some, the same materials were being used.
Yes, Leonardo da Vinci along with Michelangelo were among my favorite Italian artists of the Renaissance, however, after doing this paper, Raphael is right up there with them.
World Book Encyclopedia 2001. Vol 16. Chicago: World Book, Inc., 2001.
Muhlberger, Richard. WHat Makes a Raphael a Raphael? New York: The Metropolitan Museum
of Art, 1993.
The New Book of Knowledge. Vol 16. Darbury, CT: Grolier Incorporated, 2001.
The New International Illustrated Encyclopedia of Art. Vol 17. New York: Greystone Press, 1990.