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Raphael Biography

    Birth Year : 1483
    Death Year : 1520
    Country : Italy

Raphael Sanzio, the last of the three greatest painters of the Renaissance, was born Raffaello Sanzio in Urbino, in the province of Umbria. It is likely that he took his first lessons from his father, a provincial painter named Giovanni di Santi, before arriving at Florence, where by 1500 he worked in the studio of Perugino, an artist well known for his beautifully colored works. Under the influence of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, both of whom were in Florence during this time. Raphael, whose early work already surpassed his master's works, soon lost any provincial tendencies as he began to adopt Michelangelo's vigorous energy and Leonardo's sfumato and spiritualism. Raphael's artwork became luminous in atmosphere, rich in color, harmonious in movement, sculpturally 3D, and balanced in composition. Throughout Raphael's short life, his abilities as a consummate artist never ceased to show growth of intelligence and vision. Raphael went to Rome in 1508, where his many talents and his personality brought him friends, honor, and success.

Before he died, Raphael had painted the monumental and idealistic frescoes for Pope Julius II's private rooms in the Vatican, worked as an architect on the plans for St. Peter's, drew cartoons for tapestries for the Sistine Chapel, and had been appointed superintendent of the excavation of ancient Rome. Raphael had also painted classical frescoes for private villas, religious works, and many brilliant portraits. Raphael lived an active life, the center of a group of artists and intellectuals. In spite of the fact that he had a large studio with many assistants and students, the numerous architectural and painting commissions Raphael received caused him to overwork. Raphael died at the age of 37, leaving behind an unfinished Transfiguration, indicative of a further artistic maturation which was all too abruptly ended.

Continue on to the Raphael Biography The Early Years

Raphael Biography: The Early Years

The date of Raphael’s birth is commonly debated. Giorgio Vasari, who wrote the biographies of many artists, claims that Raphael was born and died on Good Friday. In 1483, the year of his birth, this would have fallen on March 28, but in 1520, when he died, Good Friday was on April 6. However other biographies state that Raphael died on his 37th birthday. Since the date of his death is definite, this would place his birth on April 6, 1483, and so historians argue over which date of birth is true.

The place he was born, however, is not disputed. He was born and raised in the tiny town of Urbino, an artistic town which tended to focus more on literature than visual art. During his youth, his father, who was an amateur painter, taught him basic technique until his death when Raphael was still only 11. Since his mother had died several years earlier, this orphaned Raphael. He might have then been cared for by his stepmother and his paternal uncle, but some sources put him into the apprenticeship of Pietro Perugino as early as the age of 8. In any case, Raphael showed great promise under his master, developing a style almost identical to his, and completed his training in 1501, becoming a “master”.

Continue to Raphael Biography Part 2 - The Middle Years

Raphael Biography: The Middle Years

Once he had finished his training, Raphael took a job in Città di Castello working on an altarpiece at the church of San Nicola da Tolentino. Very little of this work remains, but over the next few years he worked on several more paintings for other churches there and in Perugia. He began getting more and more commissions for different works, and so began painting a wider range of paintings, from large frescoes to smaller “cabinet paintings”, Madonnas, and portraits.

From 1504 to 1508, he spent a lot of time in Florence, where he absorbed even more influences. Not only did he take from the works of Fra Bartolomeo and Leonardo da Vinci, he also began to add more of the general Florentine style into his paintings. His figures began to gain more elaborate positions and expressions, making them more and more lifelike as he combined the influences of the masters he met as well as the cities he passed through.

Raphael may have taken some inspiration from the other great master of his period, Michelangelo, except Michelangelo was paranoid and disliked his younger peer, so any sway Michelangelo might have had over Raphael’s style likely came solely from Raphael viewing his paintings. Such inspiration might be detected in an odd work of Raphael, called Deposition of Christ, which is a far cry from his usual style.

Continue to Raphael Biography - The Later Years

Raphael Biography: The Late Years

After he had earned a name for himself in Florence, he was summoned to Rome by Pope Julius II to work on the Pope’s new private library. In it, he painted four frescoes depicting different themes, including The School of Athens. The Pope was so impressed by his work that he fired several other artists, including Raphael’s former master Perugino, so that Raphael could paint the rooms he had assigned them to. Raphael and his workshop worked on these rooms until right after the death of Raphael in 1520, completing the walls and ceilings of four rooms in total. Meanwhile, Raphael had no shortage of work. He did portraits of both of the Popes he worked under and of the humanist writer Baldassare Castiglione, worked on projects in villas and chapels of smaller churches, created many altarpieces including his Transfiguration, which was not yet finished when he died, and created a set of ten tapestries referred to as the Raphael Cartoons, of which only seven remain, for the Vatican.

Luckily, Raphael did not have to do all the work on his own. Due to his great talent and fame, he had assembled a workshop with over 50 students to help him, a number far larger than the norm. Among these were masters and novices alike, but of them only several names have survived. Raphael died unmarried at the age of 37 on April 6, 1520. Although he had never married, he was apparently very popular with women. He became engaged in 1514 to the niece of Cardinal Medici Bibbiena, but Raphael did not seem interested, as he never went through with the actual marriage. One rumor as to the cause of his death, suggested by Vasari, is that the night before he died he had had a great deal of sex with his mistress, Margherita Luti. He then fell ill from his exhausting night and was not given the right treatment by the doctors, too embarrassed to admit the actual cause of his weariness. Others suggest that he was simply overworked, or that the materials he worked with may have contained mercury and lead. Whatever the cause, it is a tragedy that such a master died at so young an age. Who knows what he may have accomplished had he lived as long as Leonardo or Michelangelo. His funeral was held at the Vatican and attended by thousands. He received honors usually reserved for Princes and Popes as he lay before his unfinished Transfiguration.