Born in Urbino, Italy on April 6 (or March 28) 1483, Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino aka Raphael was an Italian painter and architect of the High Renaissance. Though his career was short, Raphael produced works of “extraordinary refinement” that would have a great influence on European painting. Along with Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, Raphael was a member of the trinity of the great masters of the Renaissance.
Raphael first trained with his father Giovanni Santi, who was a court painter. After his father’s death in 1494, he traveled extensively and worked with several masters including the dominant Umbrian painter Pietro Perugino. From about 1500, Raphael became an independent master and worked throughout central Italy where he became known as a portraitist and painter of Madonnas.
In 1508, Raphael moved to Rome to work on Pope Julius II’s papal apartments. “Raphael’s frescoes there and the Stanza d’Eliodoro and dell’Incendio, along with Michelangelo’s work in the nearby Sistine Chapel, represent the finest examples of High Renaissance art. “
Raphael’s commissions increased in Rome and he was dependent on teams of assistants to assist in the completion of his projects. He was a superior draftsmen and used drawings extensively to refine his poses and compositions, apparently to a greater extent than most other painters.
After the achitect Donato Bramante’s death in 1514, Raphael was named architect of St Peter’s Basilica. Most of his work there was altered or demolished after his death and the acceptance of Michelangelo’s design, but a few drawings have survived. Raphael designed several other buildings, and for a short time was the most important architect in Rome, working for a small circle around the Papacy.
The Vatican projects took most of Raphael’s time. “Among Raphael’s most famous works are the frescos that are painted on the walls of Julius II’s own rooms in the Vatican Palace, known as the Stanze. The paintings in the Stanza della Segnatura and the Stanza d’Eliodoro were created by Raphael himself, whilst the Stanza dell’Incendio was designed by Raphael and painted by his assistants.”
Another important papal commission was the “Raphael Cartoons”, a series of 10 cartoons, of which seven survive, for tapestries with scenes of the lives of Saint Paul and Saint Peter, for the Sistine Chapel. The cartoons were sent to Brussels to be woven in the workshop of Pier van Aelst. It is possible that Raphael saw the finished series before his death which were most likely completed in 1520.
At the age of 37, Raphael died on his birthday, April 6, 1520, after a short illness. He was buried in the Pantheon. His two main assistants, Giulio Romano and Gianfrancesco Penni, inherited his studio and completed the outstanding contracts.
“Raphael was highly admired by his contemporaries, although his influence on artistic style in his own century was less than that of Michelangelo. Mannerism, beginning at the time of his death, and later the Baroque, took art “in a direction totally opposed” to Raphael’s qualities with Raphael’s death, classic art – the High Renaissance – subsided.”
Sources: J. Paul Getty Museum, National Gallery London, Athenaeum (images), Wikipedia