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Raphael and everyone: 7 stories about the artist's relationship with his famous contemporaries

Who was Raphael’s friend, and who was his enemy? And what did the artist have to do with those for whom he designed chapels, painted loggias and whom he depicted in his paintings and frescoes?
Raphael and everyone: 7 stories about the artist's relationship with his famous contemporaries
We can count Raffaello Santi’s self-portraits, excluding the questionable ones, on one hand. But what is surprising here is that in his single mature self-portrait (if we can speak of maturity, considering that he died at 37), Raphael painted himself in the background, depicting someone else in the foreground. Someone, on whose shoulder he friendly puts his hand and whom he pushes towards the viewer: look at him, not at me!

To this day, two things remain unclear. The first one — who is this person? And the second one — what is going on? What kind of inexplicable creative whim made Raphael, one of the three renaissance
The Renaissance is the period that began around the 14th century and ended at the late 16th century, traditionally associated primarily with the Italian region. The ideas and images of the Renaissance largely determined the aesthetic ideals of modern man, his sense of harmony, measure and beauty. Read more
titans, debase himself to the point where he put another person in the center, to the forefront of his own portrait (considering that the self-portrait is always an attempt at self-discovery)?

There were a lot of hypotheses as of who it could be, and each of them is worth considering. Was it Raphael’s friend and author of the scandalous erotic sonnets Pietro Aretino? Rich numismatist and collector Branconio dell’Aquila, a papal chamberlain (executive) and later — executor of Raphael’s will? Architect Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, whom Raphael met in Rome? His talented but self-willed apprentice Giulio Romano? His fencing teacher? Who?..

There are many versions, but little or no evidence at all. And the painting began to be called: Self-Portrait with a Friend.

In fact, "Raphael and friendship" is almost the same indisputable equivalence as "Raphael and harmony". No artist in the history was more people-friendly than Raphael. "It is said that if any painter who knew him, and even any who did not know him, asked him for some drawing that he needed, Raffaello would leave his own work in order to assist him. And he always kept a vast number of them employed, aiding them and teaching them with such a love as might have been the due rather of his own children than of fellow craftsmen," confirms Vasari.

Fortunately, we know much more about some of Raphael’s friends, customers, patrons, disciples and even foes than about a mysterious figure from his self-portrait. Arthive has prepared an article about people, who played such an important role in Raphael’s life that the artist wouldn’t be able to create his most significant masterpieces without them.

Pope Julius II, born Giuliano della Rovere (1443-1513)

Who was he for Raphael? Authority, employer, patron.

What does history tell us about him? He was the Pope, who presented himself as the successor of Julius Caesar, and restored the reputation of the Church, which was badly damaged under his predecessor from the Borgia clan.

Relationship with Raphael. Despite the fact that in Raphael’s portrait Julius II looks decrepit, sickly and humble, he appeared to be one of the most combative popes on the Roman throne. The time of his pontificate stood out for an endless series of wars. Rome was constantly at war with either Venice or France, and as a result significantly expanded its borders. Julius II was personally involved in some battles, carrying the Blessed Sacraments in front of him and inspiring others to heroism.

Raphael was introduced to Pope Julius II by the Vatican architect Donato Bramante, who was from the Duchy of Urbino, just like Raphael, and may even have been Santi’s distant relative. Back then, young Raphael was far from being the most famous Italian artist, but he was lucky to become the Pope’s favourite artist. As they say, he was just at the right place at the right time.

After ascending the papal throne, Julius II first of all wanted to get rid of everything that reminded of the previous Pope Alexander VI (Rodrigo de Borgia), who befouled Rome by debauchery, corruption, and even, they said, incestuous relationship with his daughter Lucretia. Julius II stated: "All paintings made of the Borgias or for them must be covered over with black crepe. All the tombs of the Borgias must be opened and their bodies sent back to where they belong — to Spain." The new Pope decided to completely change his palace, so that nothing would remind him of his odious predecessor. Therefore, worthy, famous artists from all over the Apennines were asked to redecorate the papal apartments.

One morning, Pope Julius II, being quite annoyed about something, was looking at the works done in his palace. He didn’t enjoy looking at everything that the invited masters had already painted on the walls. And suddenly he stopped in front of Raphael’s lunette, depicting The School of Athens. The amazed Pope stared at it for a long time, and then ordered to take other frescoes off the walls and dismiss all other artists. He told Raphael: "Keep working, my boy. I see that only you know what you are doing."

Since then, Julius II called Raphael only "our dear son". The artist not only painted the Vatican stanza (It. Stanza — room) for Julius II, but also, according to a legend, designed uniforms for soldiers when the combative Pope founded the Swiss Guard (which has been responsible for Vatican’s security and the personal security of the Pope for more than five centuries now).

Pope Leo X, born Giovanni de' Medici (1475 – 1521)

Who was he for Raphael? A new authority.

What does history tell us about him? He was the Pope who "blew" the emergence of Protestantism in Europe because of his love for entertainments and amusements.

Relationship with Raphael. In 1513, Pope Julius II died, and Leo X replaced him. The new authority made a lot of personnel changes and placed his own people in key positions, it had always been like that, but the 30-year-old Rafael was safe: he remained the main artist of the Vatican. After all, the new Pope was the son of the famous patron of the arts, Lorenzo de' Medici the Magnificent — he understood the value of Raphael’s work.

They say that as soon as Giovanni was elected Pope, he told his brother Giuliano de' Medici: "God gave us the papacy; now let us enjoy it!" The era of Julius II, with its pathos of seizing Italian lands under the auspices of Rome, was replaced by the era of squandering and idleness. In this regard, Raphael had even more work. He was either designing the papal hunting lodge, or spent day and night painting the magnificent Vatican loggias, then Pope Leo X decided to decorate the Vatican palaces with golden trellis pattern — and Raphael set to sketch it. Every time the Pope planned to have spectacular performances, the scenery had to be designed by Raphael. In 1514, the King of Portugal presented an elephant to the Pope. The giant’s name was Hanno (Italian: Annone). Leo X loved the elephant and ordered for a special enclosure to be made only for Hanno right under the windows of his bedchamber. When the poor thing, unable to endure the nervous atmosphere of the eternal carnival, died, the Pope requested Raphael to paint the beloved dead elephant on one of the outer walls.

The Cardinals, as in the times of Borgia, kept competing in luxury. Not a trace was left from the wealth that contributed to the Vatican treasury under Pope Julius II. Under Pope Leo X, the lifestyle of the Vatican authorities changed to the point that once, when two visitors to the Raphael’s workshop noticed that the faces of the saints in his painting were all red, the artist replied: "They are blushing, looking at you — Roman Cardinals." However, Raphael also couldn’t complain: under Pope Leo X, he became very rich and built himself a palace of his own design. Vasari wrote that Raphael began to live "not like a painter, but like a prince".

When Raphael died, Leo X mourned his death as if he was his own son.

Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564)

Who was he for Raphael? A rival.

What does history tell us about him? He is known as the greatest artist and sculptor of the Renaissance
The Renaissance is the period that began around the 14th century and ended at the late 16th century, traditionally associated primarily with the Italian region. The ideas and images of the Renaissance largely determined the aesthetic ideals of modern man, his sense of harmony, measure and beauty. Read more
and, partly, the Baroque
The baroque style replaced the Renaissance, and it sought to shock the soul, in contrast to the Renaissance art, which kept the distance between an artwork and the audience. It surely succeeded: the pictorial pearls of those times are the true treasures. Read more
era (thanks to Michelangelo’s long life, who lived to be 89).

Relationship with Raphael. Raphael first heard about Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci in Siena, where he came to work as Perugino's pupil. He was younger than 20. Leonardo was 31 years older than him, and Michelangelo — 8 years older; both lived in Florence and were already legends at that time. After hearing about their unsurpassed "new style", Raphael rushed to Florence. He first met Michelangelo there, and a little later, both geniuses were in Rome. However, they didn’t have any fellow feeling, let alone friendliness.

The relationship of Raphael and Michelangelo always remained strained. Was it jealousy? Rivalry? Envy? Semen Briliant, who wrote the biographies of both artists, believed: "They could never become friends. There was no reason for the young, happy with an excess of youthful power, perfectly accepted at the papal court Raphael to envy the sickly, broken and dejected by angry sorrow Michelangelo… On the other hand, Michelangelo, despite disliking Raphael, partly instinctively, fearing diminishing his own fame, partly as a sick person, finding it difficult to look at strength and health, was too noble to harm Raphael and cast a blur upon his reputation."

Michelangelo was a rebel and a loner, while Raphael was always accompanied by an enthusiastic crowd of followers and admirers. They tried to avoid each other, but it was not easy: the Vatican was the co-working open-plan space of both of them. Once, having met Raphael, accompanied by a princely retinue of pupils, Michelangelo reproved him, saying, "You go about with a suite, like a general," to which Raphael replied, "And you go about alone, like a hangman."

Soon, the cross-grained Michelangelo would quarrel with Pope Julius II, who stopped funding the Sistine Chapel due to another military adventure, and would flee Rome. He also demanded that the chapel with its almost finished paintings would be locked before he returned, so that Raphael would not see the frescoes or use them in his work.
Having returned to the Vatican in 1511, Michelangelo found out that in the foreground of his School of Athens, Raphael portrayed him as Heraclitus of Ephesus — and among the other five dozen characters of the grandiose fresco, only Michelangelo-Heraclitus was absolutely, totally alone. But why being offended by the truth? He was offended by something else. Judging by his rival’s improved skills, Michelangelo realised that Bramante illicitly opened the Sistine Chapel for him…

Agostino Chigi (1465-1520)

Who was he for Raphael? The richest commissioner.

What does history tell us about him? He was a banker who used to lend huge sums of money to Cesare Borgia, the de' Medici family and the popes; the entrepreneur from Siena Agostino Chigi got into the history of art through "prime real estate" - the frescoes of Villa Farnesina painted by Raphael.

Relationship with Raphael. Unfortunately, Raphael did not paint Agostino Chigi’s portrait, so we don’t know what the Vatican’s "shareholder" looked like. But there is an assumption that in his famous fresco The Triumph of Galatea for Villa Farnesina, Raphael portrayed Chigi as a brutal Triton (a merman), while the image of the half-naked sea nymph was based on Agostino Chigi’s mistress — Imperia, the most famous courtesan of Rome.

According to the memoirs of contemporaries, Raphael and Agostino Chigi were friends, which is not surprising: Raphael was not only friendly and appealing, but also extremely secular.

However, friendship is one thing and work — another. Once Raphael painted several frescoes for Chigi. Having finished his work, the artist unexpectedly demanded to double the payment. At first, Agostino Chigi’s cashier Julio Borghese refused to do that: what kind of a crazy whim was that? But Raphael would not budge. "Call on the experts and you will see how moderate I am in my demands," he argued.

Knowing the strained relations between Raphael and Michelangelo, Borghese chose the latter to be an expert. Buonarroti came, slowly and silently examined the frescoes of his rival and gave Borghese a sinister glance. Pointing to the head of one of the sibyls, he said, "That head alone is worth 100 ducats, the others are worth not less." He disliked Raphael, but would never allow himself to be biased. Having found out about Michelangelo’s opinion on the work, Agostino Chigi ordered the manager to immediately pay Raphael the required amount of money.

Vasari wrote about one very delicate detail in the relationship between the rich man and the artist: "when his dear friend Agostino Chigi commissioned him to paint the first loggia in his palace, Raffaello was not able to give much attention to his work, on account of the love that he had for his mistress."

Raphael was so exhausted by lovesickness (presumably, caused by his passion for the young La Fornarina, the baker’s daughter), that he refused to continue working. Chigi appealed to his mind and conscience, reminded that he had already paid him in advance, but nothing helped: the amorous toxin paralyzed the artist’s will. Vasari wrote: "Agostino fell into such despair, that he so contrived by means of others, by himself, and in other ways, as to bring it about, although only with difficulty, that this lady should come to live continually with Raffaello in that part of the house where he was working; and in this manner the work was brought to completion."

Baldassare Castiglione (1478–1529)

Who was he for Raphael? Confidant, close friend.

What does history tell us about him? He was a talented diplomat and writer who created one of the main literary portraits of the era — the treatise The Book of the Courtier.

Relationship with Raphael. Long before both Baldassare and Raphael committed themselves to Rome (which Castiglione visited on his diplomatic missions), both of them belonged to the same secular circle, to the same "clubbish set" in Urbino.

At the end of the 15th century, quite a refined society developed at the court of Guidobaldo da Montefeltro, the duke of Urbino and his wife, Elisabetta Gonzaga. Based on the witty conversations that he often heard there, and under the impression of the most exquisite lifestyle of Urbino, Baldassare Castiglione wrote his famous treatise The Book of the Courtier — a collective portrait of the perfect Renaissance
The Renaissance is the period that began around the 14th century and ended at the late 16th century, traditionally associated primarily with the Italian region. The ideas and images of the Renaissance largely determined the aesthetic ideals of modern man, his sense of harmony, measure and beauty. Read more
man. "Everything about the courtier should be beautiful," Castiglione believed. Mind, beauty, grace, if they are not given by nature, can be fostered by exercising: swimming, dancing, horse riding. The ideal courtier is at the same time a warrior and a knight, he must be knowledgeable in literature and history, understand music and art and — perhaps most importantly -behave in society as if everything is extremely easy for him. Some people are convinced that, creating his Book of the Courtier, Castiglione kept in mind Raphael — a secular, noble, graceful, and to be sure, perfect.

A relationship of trust between Raphael and Baldassare is indicated by the frank tone of their correspondence. In his letter to Castiglione, Raphael wrote: "In order to paint one beautiful woman I’d have to see several beautiful women, always on the condition that I had your Lordship at my side in making the choice. But since there is a shortage both of good judges and of beautiful women, I make use of a certain idea which comes into my mind."

The portrait of Baldassare, painted by Raphael and now placed in the Louvre, is considered the pinnacle of the artist’s portrait art. Going to England on a long diplomatic mission, Baldassare Castiglione took with him the Portrait of Elisabetta Gonzaga by Raphael. He was platonically in love with the duchess, sophisticated and deeply unhappy in marriage (here you can read more about this) and hid her portrait under the mirror to mentally connect himself with her while looking in it.

Giulio Romano (1492-1556)

Giulio Romano. Self-portrait
1540, 55×41 cm
Who was he for Raphael? A troubled pupil.

What does history tell us about him? He became an artist in the brief epoch of the High Renaissance
The Renaissance is the period that began around the 14th century and ended at the late 16th century, traditionally associated primarily with the Italian region. The ideas and images of the Renaissance largely determined the aesthetic ideals of modern man, his sense of harmony, measure and beauty. Read more
and drastically turned into the crisis art of Mannerism.

Relationship with Raphael. Raphael’s numerous students adored their master, there were a lot of "good specialists" among them, but no one surpassed the teacher. Perhaps Raphael’s most famous disciple was Giulio Pippi, nicknamed Romano, which meant "the Roman."

Raphael trusted Giulio the most serious capital works in the Vatican. Romano helped him designing the Vatican stanzas di Eliodoro and del’Incendio, some of the frescoes in the Villa Farnesina owned by the banker Agostino Chigi were also created by him. Raphael even entrusted his resilient pupil to paint the dead elephant of Leo X (quite a hard row to hoe!). When Raphael suddenly died, Giulio Romano was also entrusted to complete his unfinished works. For example, he completed Raphael’s last painting Transfiguration and was later reproved for it: the over-agonistic gesticulation of a blind boy painted by Romano disrupted Raphael’s calm harmony (this detail is believed to be added by Romano).

But then it seemed that the devil got into the disciple of the "divine" Raphael.

The poet and philosopher Konstantin Kedrov explains that it all began with the fact that Raphael’s best student Giulio Romano had a quarrel with Pope Clement VII and in revenge for non-payment painted pornographic illustrations in The Hall of Constantine at the Vatican Palace. Can you imagine what would happen if someone painted similar illustrations in the marble hall of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior?

The frescoes were quickly painted over, but another student of Raphael — Marcantonio Raimondi — managed to copy them and replicate them as engravings, and the poet and Raphael’s friend Pietro Aretino created sonnets to accompany each sexual position (you've probably heard of Arentino’s I Modi (The Ways). The authorities didn’t allow a violation of public morals to go unpunished: Marcantonio was imprisoned, while Romano fled from Rome to Mantua and had to hide for a long time.

But still, in spite of his "deeds, disgusting in all respects" (as Vasari states with the look of a devotee), Giulio Romano was a talented person. In the Pushkinr Museum in Moscow, there is a female portrait by Romano, which supposedly depicts Raphael’s legendary lover La Fornarina, not bound by strict morals. No one knows whether Romano imitated only Raphael’s art, or also tried to "follow in the footsteps of his teacher" when it came to love.

  • Raphael Santi. La Fornarina
  • Giulio Romano. Portrait of a Lady (La Fornarina ? )

Pietro Bembo (1470-1547)

Who was he for Raphael? "A counterpart".

What does history tell us about him? He was one of the best writers of his time, the author of Gli Asolani. During his middle age, he became a cardinal.

Relationship with Raphael. For a long time, and this fact is fixed in the old catalogues, the portrait of Pietro Bembo was considered Raphael’s self-portrait. And indeed, there is so much in common with the artist’s famous early self-portrait: the pose, a calm probing look, a beret, brown shoulder length hair, a long elegant neck, a somewhat feminine type of beauty.

And the number of similarities in the biographies of the artist Raffaello Sanzio and the poet Pietro Bembo is overwhelming. Both of them were richly endowed by nature with grace, beauty, charming courtesy and talents. Both were not only noble people, but also "hereditary intellectuals": Raphael’s father Giovanni Santi was an artist who also organized court festivals in Urbino; Pietro’s father Bernardo Bembo was an enthusiast of Italian literature who initiated the installation of the monument of Dante Alighieri in Ravenna. In the 1500s, both of them were in Urbino, in the highly-cultured atmosphere of Montefeltro’s court, and in the 1510s came to Rome and almost simultaneously received high posts from Pope Julius II: Raphael — the title of the papal clerk, and Pietro was responsible for the papal bulls (in simpler terms, he was a secretary). Both improved their education in Florence. Both wrote poems. Both committed themselves (in their own ways) to the glories of the sublime Neoplatonic love. Both tried on the cardinal hat and gown: just before Raphael’s death, there were persistent rumours that he was about to be made a cardinal, and the poet Bembo became a cardinal in 1539.

It is widely known that an elegiac distich on Raphael’s sarcophagus in the Pantheon was written by Pietro Bembo: "Here lies that famous Raphael by whom Nature feared to be conquered while he lived, and when he was dying, feared herself to die."

But why did Raphael die? Vasari says — because of love: "It happened that, having on one occasion indulged in more than his usual excess, he returned to his house in a violent fever. The physicians, therefore, believing that he had overheated himself, and receiving from him no confession of the excess of which he had been guilty, imprudently bled him, in so much that he was weakened and felt himself sinking; for he was in need rather of restoratives. Thereupon he made his will: and first, like a good Christian, he sent his mistress out of the house, leaving her the means to live honourably. Next, he divided his possessions among his disciples."

Fifteen years before Raphael’s death, in 1505, in his famous Gli Asolani, Pietro Bembo, without even knowing it, would make a gloomy prediction, issuing his own literary verdict to the feeling which would kill Raphael: "So, donnas, it is beyond argument that no indignation of the soul is so annoying, so heavy, so persistent and frantic, so thrilling and giddy, as something we call love: writers sometimes call it fire, for, just as fire devours things which it touches, we are devoured and destroyed by love… "
Epilogue. We still do not know for sure whom Raphael put in the foreground of his self-portrait with a friend. Yet, it’s not the name that matters here, but the principle. Self-portrait is always an attempt at self-discovery. This is what the artist thinks about himself. 2 years before his death, 35-year-old Rafael left a pictorial statement — very personal and honest. Having painted himself on the periphery of the self-portrait, he seems to say: here I am, Raffaello Santi, a man for whom friendship and love (that is, the ability to put others in front) were above anything else.

Author: Anna Vchorashnia