Raffaello, 500 years after his death

Self portrait 1506 Uffizi GalleryIn the midst of Covid19 Lockdown is the celebration of Raffaello, the great Renaissance painter and architect, 500 years after his death on the 6th April 1520.

A grand exhibition  ‘Raffaello’  has been organised in the Quirinal Stables in Rome to open on the 5 March until 20 June. However Covid 19 changed all that, although the exhibition may still be extended.  Over 100 paintings and designs are in the exhibition from all over the world, 40 of which have come from the Uffizi Gallery in Florence which has an extensive collection of Raffaello‘s work.

In such a brief lifespan (1483-1520) Raffaello produced some remarkable and beautiful masterpieces, in paintings, frescoes and designs. Born in Urbino ( Le Marche) he lost his mother at 8 years and was orphaned at 11 when his father died. His father had been a painter and recognised the potential in his son, introducing him to the well known painter Perugino where Raffaello completed his apprenticeship. At 17 he had already surpassed his master in technique and skill in composition, perspective and sensitivity to his subject.

The Engagement of the Virgin Mary 1504

 

Raffaello’sThe Engagement of the Virgin Mary’ 1504   (Pinoteca Gallery Brera, Milan)  has definite similarities to his master, Perugino‘s work ‘The Marriage of the Virgin’ yet if you compare the two the pupil has outclassed his master in perspective and naturalness in the figures.

In 1504 he arrived in Florence, which at the time was experiencing a moment of great creativity with artistic masters such as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. Raffaello studied their work and develops his own ‘in which naturalness of gesture and idealized beauty are in perfect balance.’

He still remains very attached to his birthplace and is sought after for his talents, producing many portraits of important members of society – like the Duke and Duchess of Urbino (Uffizi Gallery)Duke and Duchess of Urbino

and an important Florentine couple – the merchant Agnolo Doni and his wife Maddalena Strozzi 1506 (Uffizi Gallery)Agnolo Doni and wife Maddalena Strozzi 1506

 

Madonna of the goldfinch 1505/06He works on some variations on the theme of the Virgin, a subject which will accompany him throughout his life, like the Madonna of the Goldfinch also part of the Uffizi Gallery collection.

His fame reaches Rome, where he moved to in 1508 to become the official painter of Pope Julius II and his successor Leo X. In 1508 he began the frescoes in the Vatican Rooms and papal apartments. He was also called upon to continue the frescoes of legendary figures and mythological episodes in the grandiose Villa Farnesina, home to a wealthy Sienese banker, Agostino Chigi.

This is definitely on my list of places to visit next time I am in Rome as his ‘Triumph of Galatea’  a nymph standing on a shell drawn by dolphins fleeing from the amorous advances of the dreaded Polyphemus, has to been seen in real life.

The Veiled Woman 1516

Raffaello was officially engaged to married but seemed reluctant, and is known to have had many affairs. The great love of his life being the baker’s daughter Margherita Luti ‘La Fornarina‘ depicted here by Raffaello (Palazzo Pitti, Florence)

His bride to be died in 1520 and Raffaello suddenly on his 37th birthday. Giorgio Vasari, painter and historian of the time wrote it was from ‘exhaustion and excessive passion’ and historians today believe it was from some mysterious illness.

His last commissioned and unfinished work the  ‘Transfiguration’ was placed on his coffin. There was a grand funeral, attended by large crowds and important people of the day. Raffaello‘s body was carried by four Cardinals and buried in the Pantheon in Rome with an extraordinary epitaph:

‘To the memory of Raffaello, son of Giovanni Sanzio of Urbino, the most eminent painter and rival of the Ancients. Behold his almost breathing images and you will easily see the alliance of Nature and Art. With his works of painting and architecture he swelled the glory of Popes Julius II and Leo X. He lived 37 virtuous years and died on the day of his birth, April 6 1520.

This is Raffaello, in his life great Mother Nature feared defeat and in his death she feared herself to die.’

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