RAPHAEL: The Renaissance Artist Without Parallel

The School of Athens by Raphael - photo by artnet

Raphael, also known as Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, was a renowned Italian painter and architect of High Renaissance. He was born on March 28, 1483. The work of Raphael was highly appreciated and well-liked for its ease of composition, simplicity of form, and visual accomplishment of the Neoplatonic model of human magnificence. He formed the traditional trinity of great masters of that era with Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.

Raphael was one of the three highest Old Masters of the High Renaissance era. In addition, he was popularly called The Divine One (‘Il Divino). Raphael was motivated by the likes of Leonardo da Vinci, Masaccio, Pietro Perugino, Michelangelo, and Fra Bartolommeo.

The Sistine Madonna by Raphael – photo by Wikipedia

This great man was renowned for the spatial geometry and perfect grace of his High Renaissance drawing and painting. Most of his notable works are Frescos in the Raphael Rooms situated at the Palace of the Vatican, which was long considered as one of the greatest Renaissance paintings. Others are The Transfiguration and The Sistine Madonna, altarpiece compositions.

Furthermore, Raphael was a significant contributor to Renaissance architecture in works such as the Palazzo Pandolfini, Church of St Maria, and Villa Madama.

Operating an extraordinarily big workshop, Raphael was very much productive. Despite the fact that he died at the age of 37, he left a huge body of work. Quite a lot of his works are deposited in the Vatican Palace. The largest and the central work of his career were the frescoed Raphael Rooms, while The School of Athens was his best-known work.

A large amount of his work including his drawings was performed by his workshop with considerable loss of quality after his early years in Rome. Raphael was just too dominant in his lifetime, even though his work was mostly known from his collaborative printmaking outside Rome.

Raphael Early Days in Umbria and Florence

In the final years of the early Renaissance, Raphael was born Raffaello Santi in Urbino, central Italy. Giovanni Santi, his father happened to be a court painter to Duke Federigo da Montefeltro at that time, but he offered his son his primary painting lessons. When Raphael was a teenager, he was sent to do apprentice under Pietro Perugino, who happened to be a foremost painter of that time. In 1501, Raphael was trained and fully qualified as a Master.

La Belle Jardinière by Raphael – photo by Totally History

His career was divided into three segments. His early year in Umbria under Peyruigino was the first phase. It was during this period he created works such as The Coronation of the Virgin, The Spozalizio, and The Marriage of the Virgin.

His second phase was from 1504 to 1508 when Raphael painted in Florence and crafted works such as La Belle Jardiniere and The Entombment.

Raphael third and final phase were the subsequent 12 years when he worked for two Popes in Rome and created works like The Madonna di San Sisto, St Cecilia, and The Transfiguration.

However, in the Florentine era, Raphael was enticed and motivated by the works of Leonardo da Vinci who happened to senior him for 30 years. This influence was noticeable in his work of figure drawing of a young woman who used the 3-quarter length pyramidal composition used by Da Vinci in the just-finished Mona Lisa. Also, Raphael made perfect of the Da Vinci’s Sfumato method to give refinement to the flesh of his figures.

The Roman Period

Raphael relocated to Rome in 1508, the place he spent the rest of his short life. He gained recognition as one of the most exceptional artists of the High Renaissance in Rome and it was there he created a number of his most attractive frescos on the wall of the Vatican.

In 1511, he began the painting of the Stanza Della Segnatura, which was regarded as the first of his most celebrated ‘Stanze’ or ‘Raphael Rooms’ at the Palace of the Vatican. He was nominated to paint 3 other rooms with religious art, and began to depend increasingly on his team of skilled assistants headed by Giulio Romano to assist him in finishing some of the works. He was powerfully influenced by the religious paintings of Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel, which was painted in the same period.

Transfiguration by Raphael – photo by TripImprover

In addition, Raphael painted decorative frescos at the churches of Santa Maria del Popolo and the villas of rich patrons. Raphael also did extremely well at tapestry art. For example, he got a commission from Pope Leo X to produce a series of 10 cartoons for tapestries regarding the life of Saint Paul and Peter for Sistine Chapel in 1515.

Raphael drew the cartoons, which were later sent to Brussels for weaving. It is not likely that he saw these works before he gave up the ghost. His last work was a painting referred to as The Transfiguration, which was finalised by Giulio Romano, his student after his death. This work showed that his work was actually moving towards a more Mannerist style, demonstrated by drama and magnificence.

On April 6, 1520, Raphael died at the age of 37. Going by the report of Giorgio Vasari the art historian, the sudden death of Raphael was as a result of a night of too much romance, which made him fell into a fever and died 15 days later.

Raphael left a legacy of a huge amount of works and masterworks and a reputation as one of the most naturally talented painters as far as the history of art is concerned, in spite of his few years on Earth. Till today, Raphael remains one of the most famous exponents of renaissance art.


In the history of Western art, Raphael was among the finest draftsmen, and he used drawings comprehensively for the planning of his compositions. When starting to plan a composition, Raphael would lay out a huge number of stock drawings of his own on the floor and start drawing rapidly. More than forty sketches endured for the Disputa in the Stanze, as there may still be a lot more. In the beginning, more than four hundred sheets survived altogether.

Disputation of the Holy Sacrament by Raphael – photo by Wikimedia Commons

This creative man used diverse drawings to improve his compositions and poses, apparently to a greater degree than most other painters. As far as inventiveness is concerned, Raphael was extremely wealthy. As a matter of fact, his art marked a shift of resources far away from mere production to research and development.

Moreover, Raphael made extraordinarily wide-ranging use, on both plaster and paper of a blind stylus, scratching lines which leave just a pockmark, but no mark. These are noticeable on the wall in The School of Athens, as well as in the originals of a lot of drawings. The Raphael Cartoons were entirely coloured in a glue distemper medium, as they were forwarded to Brussels to be followed by the weavers.

The drawings were frequently more attractive than the paintings in later works painted by the workshop. Nearly all Raphael drawings are quite accurate—even preliminary sketches with stripped outline figures were cautiously drawn and later working drawings always come with a high level of finish, with shading and highlights in white at times. They lack the autonomy and energy of a number of Michelangelo’s and Leonardo’s sketches but are virtually always aesthetically satisfying.

When talking of artists who are using metalpoint very well, Raphael was one of the last artists to use this sharp-pointed piece of silver or another extensively, despite the fact that he also made fantastic use of the freer medium of red or black chalk. He was one of the first artists to make use of female models for preparatory drawings in his final years—garzoni (male students) were usually used for studies of both sexes.


Triumph of Galatea by Raphael – photo by Raphael-Sanzio.com

Raphael didn’t make prints of his own, but he entered into a partnership with Marcantonio Raimondi to create engravings to the designs of Raphael, which produced a lot of the most well-known Italian prints of the century and was essential in the increase of the reproductive print. His curiosity was atypical in such a major artist; from his colleagues, it was shared by Titian alone, who had worked with Raimondi much less successfully.

A total of around fifty prints were produced; a number of them were copies of the paintings of Raphael, while the remaining designs were actually produced by Raphael solely to be twisted into prints. Raphael created preparatory drawings, of which a lot of them survived, in order for Raimondi to transform or convert them into engraving.

The Massacre of the Innocents and Lucretia, the Judgment of Paris were the most famous original prints to be achieved from the partnership. Part of the prints of the paintings equally popular was the Galatea and The Parnassus. Reproductive prints by Raimondi and other artists were the major ways Raphael’s art was experienced outside Italy until the twentieth century.

Baviero Carocci ended up managing most of the copper plates after the demise of Raphael and had a flourishing career in the new career of a publisher of prints.


Apart from an assortment of paintings credited to Raphael but are not really by him, the Altarpiece of St Nicholas of Tolentino was the first recorded commission of Raphael. This work was painted for the Church of Sant’Agostino and was ordered on 10 December 1500. Three remains of this painting survive, and a number of other striking drawings, now deposited in the Musee Vicar, Lille.

Crowning of the Virgin by Raphael – photo by Vatican Museums

An investigation into the early years of the working life of Raphael must be based on the examining a group of paintings which, can’t be given a precise date, were indeed painted in the formative years prior to the visit of Raphael to Florence in 1504.

This group comprised of the following:

  • The Altarpiece of the Coronation of the Virgin
  • The Resurrection
  • Trinity in the Pinacoteca
  • The Marriage of the Virgin
  • The Solly Madonna
  • The Mond Crucifixion
  • St Sebastian

The credit of these paintings to Raphael is away from reasonable doubt; his vocabulary and his mind are discovered in them with great clearness and simplicity.

Raphael and His Critics

Raphael’s theories and works make up one of the most composite chapters, as far as the history of art is concerned. His activity was recognised all over literature and arts during his lifetime, but the situation changed considerably after his death. Michelangelo, who was his biggest contender, lived for many years and this was what place Michelangelo right on top of the artistic tree, bringing the stock of Raphael down completely.

Self-Portrait (1506) – photo by Wikipedia

In the seventeenth century, a very tough stimulus to the restoration of Raphael in the Parnassus of painters was offered by the Bolognese Accademia, and later by the Roman Accademia. These people considered Raphael as one of their safest strangleholds against the attack of the ornate; they were the people that founded the ‘classical ideal’ archetypal of the seventeenth century. This particular classical ideal was to be a point of exit for theorists like Bellori, and as well for painters, such as Poussin.

These mindsets against Raphael continued and were invariable in painting, most especially in the Bolognese and Roman school all through the seventeenth century, and they turned out to be one of the fundamental components so-referred to as neoclassicism in the eighteenth century. Appeals to the pattern and design of Raphael can be discovered in the works of artists and writers like Reynolds, Mengs, Albarotti and Winckelmann, finishing in the praises of Goethe.

The arrival of romanticism obviously brought about an unexpected turnaround of estimation on the part of critics and artists. The careful idea and measurement which remained an integral part of Raphael’s work were in disagreement with the idealistic search for spontaneity which eventually resulted in the rediscovery of the Italian ancient painters. Raphael’s childlike works, where the premeditation is least noticeable, remained in favor. Raphael’s works are available and can be seen in the best art museums all over the world.

Without doubt, Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino (Raphael) was a man to be reckoned with as far as work of art is concerned. Despite his short life, he contributed immensely to the development of art in Italy and the whole world.