Raphael

from The New Book of Knowledge®

ART HISTORY ON DEMAND > Artists

Raphael was one of the greatest artists of the Renaissance. His full name was Raffaello Sanzio. Raphael was born in the small town of Urbino, Italy, on April 6, 1483. His father, who was a court painter and a poet, taught Raphael to paint.

By the time Raphael was 12, both his parents had died. Soon after, he was working in Perugia, in the shop of the painter Pietro Perugino. Raphael's early works, many painted for churches in the area, were influenced by his master's sweet but conservative style.

In 1504, Raphael went to Florence, then the center of the classical style of the Italian Renaissance. It was an exciting time to be there. Leonardo Da Vinci was painting the Mona Lisa, and Michelangelo had just completed the statue David. Leonardo's color techniques and Michelangelo's forceful figures had a lasting effect on Raphael. His most impressive works from this period are a series of gentle yet strong figures of the Madonna and Child, painted in jewel-like colors.

Pope Julius II heard of the brilliant work of Raphael and summoned him to Rome in 1508. By that time, Rome had become the art center of the Renaissance. Michelangelo was painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and Leonardo would come to Rome in 1513. The Pope had frescoes by older painters destroyed so that Raphael could decorate entire Stanze (rooms) in the Vatican Palace. Raphael's work in the Stanze was done from 1509 to 1517. It shows a number of religious, mythological, and historical scenes. He was also asked to decorate a great loggia (porch) in the Vatican.

In 1514, Raphael was made chief architect of the rebuilding of St. Peter's Basilica. A year later, he became guardian of the ancient ruins of Rome. He was also asked to design ten large tapestries for the Sistine Chapel. These tapestries represent the story of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. Raphael also painted and designed for private patrons during this time. To accomplish all his commissions, he had to have more and more help from his students. But in spite of their help, he was overworked. He died of a fever in Rome on April 6, 1520, at the age of 37.

Reviewed by S. J. Freedberg
Harvard University

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