Italia • 1483−1520
Raphael Sanzio (Raphael Santi), born in Urbino in 1483, died and buried in Rome in 1520, the legendary Italian painter, one of the old masters of High Renaissance period, most known for grace and sublime nature of his artwork on religious and mythological themes. Raphael Sanzio was called the “divine painter” and “perfect draftsman”, and ease and simplicity that he achieved in his most famous works are unprecedented in the art history. Raphael was also an architect – he proceeded with works on the basilica of St Peter in Rome after Bramante’s death, and also designed several distinctive Roman palaces.

Famous Works of Raphael Sanzio

The basic Renaissance interest in classicism is frequently reflected in Raphael’s subjects – the Vatican’s Stanza della Segnatura paintings - The School of Athens, and in The Dispute of the Holy Sacrament, together with Parnassus and Theological Virtues on smaller walls, finished around 1510, praise the Neoplatonism ideals of truth, kindness, and beauty. The Stanza di Eliodoro murals, also at Vatican, that prolific artist painted between 1511 and 1514, show more dynamics in the structure, more light contrast, and greater use of vivid, powerful colours, specifically in The Expulsion of Heliodorus from the Temple, The Mass at Bolsena, The Liberation of St Peter, and The Meeting of Pope Leo I the Great with Attila. Raphael Sanzio’s famous works include his paintings of Mary Mother of God – Madonna Granduca (1504), A Great Gardener Madonna with the Child and John the Baptist (1507), Alba Madonna (1508), and perhaps the most recognised one - The Sistine Madonna (1513). He was a prominent portrait artist of his time, and his well-known pieces of this kind are Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione (1515), Portrait of a Young Man (1519), and Pope Julius II from 1512. Also, Pope Leo X commissioned Raphael to design 10 tapestries for the walls of Sistine Chapel, and the whole work was successfully presented in 1519.

The High Renaissance Period

In the 16th century, Italian Renaissance reaches its high peaks with the appearance of such artist as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Donato Bramante, and the youngest of them all - Raphael Sanzio. It was the time of great political and social unrest among the Italian city-states, the time of unease following the protestant reformation movement, but also the stage for unique intellectual and cultural rise. Giorgio Vasari, in his famous book Lives of the Artists describing the period and its main participants, stated that the era was marked by spontaneity that transcended strict order, and brought many outstanding inventions – the richer composition, the colourful characters with more real-life attributes, the effortless style and sfumato painting technique. After the Laocoon sculpture had been discovered, the reappearance of the antique art and classical proportions and harmony, became a new and exciting challenge to the painters and sculptors. Rome turned to be the central spot for everyone who thrived to succeed in the art field, just as it was for the blooming Raphael Sanzio, and the competition was so huge that Vasari even wrote that occurrence of such an exquisite artist was due to the fact that he would starve if he didn’t overcome his rivals’ work.

Raphael Sanzio was thrown into the race with two of the supreme masters of the art world – Leonardo and Michelangelo. Considering that he had just finished his apprenticeship and was still very young, he absorbed the elements of their style and modus operandi (there was even a rumour that Bramante secretly took him to the Sistine Chapel and that Michelangelo’s work influenced the young artist enormously). Another art historian, Jacob Burckhardt, named Stanza della Segnature paintings by Raphael Sanzio, the perfect embodiment of the whole history, from ancient to modern days, with impeccable refinement and coherence that reveal the philosophical, poetical and religious truths. It was in this piece that Raphael Sanzio attained his mastery at the highest level and revealed the style of his own – the purity of form, the ease of flow, the peaceful calm. The illusion of the depth is gracefully achieved with long horizontal lines that are gathered in the central point, and this sophisticated use of perspective will become one of the trademarks of Raphael Sanzio’s artwork.

Personal Life of the Artist

Raphael Sanzio or Raphael Santi, as his surname is written in Italian, was born in the town of Urbino, to the family of Giovanni Santi and Magia di Battista Ciarla. His father was a painter, of no great merit, as Vasari claims in Raphael’s biography, but none the less, the man of cultural ambition and inclination towards philosophy. Raphael Sanzio was a child prodigy, and already at the age of 17 considered to be an exceptional artist. Young Raphael became an assistant to Pietro Perugino, first in Perugia, and later in Florence. However, his most fruitful time was after he settled in Rome, under the patronage of Pope Julius II, and later under Leo X, and it was said that Raphael Sanzio became so influential and dominant as no artist has ever been before. There was even a story about his appointment to the cardinal position, before his sudden illness and death. Raphael Sanzio died when he was just 37 years old, and he was buried in St Peter basilica in Rome.
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