Thursday, October 4, 2007
Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio) (1483-1520)
Raphael paints wisdom; Handel sings it, Phidias carves it, Shakespeare writes it, Wren builds it, Columbus sails it, Luther preaches it, Washington arms it, Watt mechanizes it. - Ralph Waldo Emerson quotes (American Poet, Lecturer and Essayist, 1803-1882)
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Raphael or Raffaello (Urbino, April 6, 1483 - Rome, April 6, 1520), also called Raffaello Sanzio, Raffaello Santi or Rafael Sanzio de Urbino, was a painter and architect of the Florentine school in the Italian High Renaissance. Born in Urbino, he studied in Perugia under Pietro Perugino. But after leaving Perugino and moving to Florence he soon adopted the styles of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. Raphael is best known for his Madonnas and Holy families and for his large frescos in the Vatican Palace. In 1510 indeed, he was called to Rome to decorate the Vatican Stanze (rooms), for Pope Julius II. The best known of these works are the School of Athens and the Disputation on the Blessed Sacrament, two large, arch-shaped frescos, the first depicting the pagan philosophers of Antiquity grouped around Plato and Aristotle and the second depicting Christian theologians grouped under Christ. Under Pope Leo X he was chief architect of Saint Peter's Basilica in 1514 and he was named as a sort of supervisor for Roman archaeology research. He died at the age of 37, on his birthday. [The material above is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License and uses material adapted in whole or in part from the Wikipedia article on Raphael.]
The most famous name in the history of painting, b. at Urbino, 6 April (or 28 March), 1483; d. at Rome, 6 April, 1520. He belongs to the Umbrian School. Raphael is only a Christian name, the full name being Raphael (Raffaele) Santi (Sanzio is an absolutely incorrect form). His father, Giovanni Santi, held an important but indefinite post at the Court of Urbino. He was the artistic factotum of Duke Frederick, one of the most intellectual princes and most enlightened art-lovers of his age. The best painters, Piero della Francesca, Melozzo, and Justus of Ghent, were in his service and had made Urbino one of the most prominent art centres of the time. The ducal palace is still one of the wonders of Italy. Nor was the social and worldly life less advanced; at this Court was written the "Cortegiano" of Baldassare Castiglione, the complete handbook of the man of the world, according to the ideal of the Renaissance. The relations which Raphael formed in these early surroundings (especially about 1506), the serene and pure moral atmosphere which he breathed and which is characteristic of his genius, followed him throughout his life.
Giovanni Santi died on 1 August, 1494. The orphan, placed under the guardianship of his maternal uncle, entered the studio of a charming painter, Timoteo Viti, a pupil of Francia, who had just returned to take up his residence in the country. Probably to the beginning of this apprenticeship, perhaps somewhat previous to it, belongs Raphael's famous sketch-book of the Academy of Venice. This book was discovered in 1803 by Bossi and purchased by Cicognara for the City of Venice. It is a small portfolio, now mutilated, consisting of a hundred pen-and-ink drawings; the author copied, in particular, the "Savants" and the "Philosophers" attributed to Justus of Ghent, which were then in the palace of Urbino (half of them are now at the Louvre and the other half at the Barberini Palace). Morelli (Lermolieff) thinks he recognizes in these drawings the hand of Pintoricchio, but the old opinion has prevailed over his criticism. These are rather the first studies and attempts of Raphael between his twelfth and fifteenth years. Though childish, they already reveal the masterly genius of the artist, his singular, divine sentiment of beauty. In Timoteo's studio and under his influence were painted the earliest pictures of his illustrious pupil which have reached us, four small exquisite pictures, of the shape and value of miniatures, the "Dream of the Knight" (National Gallery), "St. George and St. Michael" (Louvre), and the most charming of the four, the "Three Graces" of the Tribune of Chantilly.
In June, 1499, Raphael had not yet left Urbino. In May, 1500, he must have been at Perugia, but could not have entered Perugino's studio prior to that date, for the latter, who had been away for twelve years, returned then to paint the Cambio frescoes. Therefore, Vasari's story of Raphael's education by Perugino is not to be believed, being pure fable. Perugino's influence was important to a young man of eighteen, and, in fact, with his wonderful faculty of assimilation, Raphael had soon succeeded in mastering the suggestions and methods of the older painter, his poetic sense of light and space, his harmoniously symmetrical system of composition. He shortly became a sort of foreman, or head of the studio, supervising the making of those countless Madonnas for which Perugino's "workshop" was the best patronized in Italy. This period of somewhat commercial production is the least interesting of Raphael's life. The "Virgin of the Book" at the Hermitage and the "Virgin between St. Jerome and St. Francis" (Berlin) are among his most insignificant works. The "Crucifixion" of 1502 (National Gallery) shows an archaic and "primitive" dryness. But his genius soon threw off its half slumber. The "Coronation of the Virgin", painted in 1503 for the Franciscans of Perugia (Pinacoteca of the Vatican), shows qualities apparently borrowed from Perugino, but vivified by new imagination and youth, the three panels of the predella especially displaying great progress. A very important work, unfortunately lost since the Revolution, seems to have been the "Triumph of St. Nicholas of Tolentino". But the pearl of this period is the "Espousal of the Virgin", preserved at Milan (1504). A similar picture in the Museum of Caen is not the model wrongly ascribed to Perugino, but a copy of Raphael's picture, the work of the mediocre Spagna. This masterpiece worthily ends the period of Raphael's youth. The final word of Umbrian art of the fifteenth century was spoken in this page of youth and divine modesty.
FLORENTINE PERIOD (1504-08)
After a short visit in the summer at Urbino, Raphael went to live at Florence towards the end of 1504. The four years he spent there were a new and decisive stage in his career. At that date Florence was the most intense and active centre of the Renaissance (and the period was pregnant with artistic development). Leonardo da Vinci and the young Michelangelo, the two leaders of the movement, revealed (1506) in their rival "cartoons" (now lost) of the Signory perfect models of historical composition. In the stimulating atmosphere of a perpetual contest dominated by an impassioned love of beauty and fame Raphael found fresh incentive. The knowledge and skill of the least of the Florentine painters were calculated to amaze the young provincial and sharpen his ideas, which proved most profitable to his talent. At Florence he began his education over again; he resumed his studies and in a few years learned more about form than he had acquired from Timoteo and Perugino. His earnings were still modest. During his stay in Florence Raphael was a young, unknown artist with a good future. He had few acquaintances and not many commissions. He was only given small pictures to paint, portraits of middle-class people, such as Angelo and Maddalena Doni (Uffizi, 1506) and the "Donna Gravida" (pregnant woman) of the Pitti Palace, and an especially large number of Madonnas which he executed for private oratories. But nothing could show more advantageously the progress he had made since his Umbrian period. He had found a model of a more regular type, a fuller oval and a richer form than was Perugino's usual model. His sense of life became more natural without losing any of its poetry. Raphael's Madonnas are all his own; they have not the melancholy affectation of those of Botticelli, nor the mysterious smile of those of Leonardo da Vinci. They are all near to us, material and human. Their familiarity, of a thoroughly Franciscan grace, is expressed with the greatest tact. They retain the easy good-humour, sometimes excessive, indulged in by the painters of the North. They are not intended to be "edifying", properly speaking, but in these matters degree is a matter of taste. As Burckhardt has said, for the first time since Phidias, art reached those heights where human beauty by its nobility and perfection of form undertakes to call forth the divine.
The Madonnas of the Florentine period may be divided into three groups according to the nature of the motif and the composition. The oldest and most simple are those which represent the Madonna with the features of a young Italian woman, standing and at half length, holding the Christ Child in her arms. The masterpiece of this class is the "Madonna of the Grand Duke" (Florence, Pitti Palace, 1505). Despite a trace of timidity in the arrangement the Virgin is so charming that one cannot prefer even the more perfect Madonnas of the next period. This simple composition has given rise to many variations, such as the little "Cowper Madonna" (Panshanger), so tenderly pensive, and the charmingly spirited, sweet, and impassioned "Madonna Casa Tempi" (Munich). The second group does little more than modify the first by the introduction of new elements, such as interior decoration or landscape, for example the "Virgin of Orleans" (Chantilly), the "Bridgewater Madonna", the "Colonna Madonna" (Berlin), and the great "Cowper Madonna" (Panshanger), the two last-named being contemporaries (1506 or 1507) and to a certain extent twins. The third group, however, shows a new stage, a superior type of composition and style. Raphael was then under the influence of the great Dominican painter, Fra Bartolommeo, one of those who did most in the sixteenth century to organize the truly Florentine pictorial tradition. This learned painter who was gifted to a high degree with a sense of balance and beautiful composition, greatly influenced the young Umbrian, the influence becoming apparent as early as 1505, when Raphael executed at San Severino, Perugia, a fresco of which he painted only the upper part (it was completed in 1521 by the aged Perugino). This fresco, which was important inasmuch as it contained the germ of the "Disputa", merely reproduces the arrangement of Fra Bartolommeo's "Last Judgment". To him Raphael owes the methods by which he produced the Virgins of the third group, in which the Madonna appears at full length in a landscape with the Infant and the young St. John. The sublime trio in such compositions as "La Belle Jardiniere" (Louvre, 1507), the "Madonna of the Meadow" (Vienna), or the "Madonna of the Goldfinch" (Uffizi, Florence) is an idea directly derived from the teachings of the artist-monk. Here Raphael detaches himself from the external symmetry of Perugino's art, attaining a harmony at once more complex, intimate, and living.
From this period date several more important works in which the young man practised painting in the "noble" style. He began to receive orders and to gain a reputation. On setting out for Rome he left unfinished the "Madonna of the Baldacchino" (Pitti Palace, 1508), and it is not known when it was completed, but it is without originality and might pass for a picture by Fra Bartolommeo. Preferable to it is his "Madonna Ansidei" (National Gallery, 1507), less "modern" and more "Peruginesque", but one of the loveliest things conceivable in this traditional style. From 1508 dates the "Entombment" of the Casino Borghese. This work, ordered by Atalanta Baglioni for the chapel of her son Griffonetto at Perugia, is Raphael's first attempt in the historic manner. His client was important and he had an opportunity to gain distinction; it is evident that he spared no pains. Prepared for by an extraordinary number of drawings, the work is nevertheless one of the artist's least fortunate ventures. It is spoiled by excessive labour. Raphael wished to display all his knowledge and resources, uniting on the same canvas the qualities of the two masters of the "cartoons" of the Signory, the men whom he most admired and who tantalized him most, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. Too many contradictory ambitions injured the result and the great attempt ended in failure. But his contemporaries judged otherwise, and the "Entombment" ranked Raphael among the foremost of the Florentine painters. Thenceforth all eyes were on him. The period of beginnings and attempts was over. In the summer of 1508 the young man went to Urbino. Julius II had just ascended the papal throne. Duke Guidobaldo recommended Raphael to the pope who was having the Vatican repainted and redecorated. In October, 1508, Raphael reached Rome.
ROMAN PERIOD (1508-20)
The twelve years of Raphael's life in Rome are unparalleled. In this short space of time the young master multiplied masterpieces and left behind him the most complete, serene, and harmonious expression of the Renaissance. The painter of the Madonnas and of the little pictures of the Florentine period underwent the most surprising transformation, becoming all at once a most productive decorative painter on a vast scale. His genius set itself to the most exalted as well as the most diverse tasks, his inexhaustible resources permitting him to conceive of and complete within a few years the Stanze or Chambers of the Vatican, the "Acts of the Apostles", the Farnesina, and the Loggie, not to mention other undertakings as architect, archaeologist, and sculptor, and fifty pictures or portraits, nearly all of which are masterpieces. It is a metamorphosis without precedent or explanation. When we consider that his vast and immortal work was accomplished in less than twelve years by a young man who was twenty-six when he began and who died at thirty-seven, we must question whether the world has twice beheld the wonder of such a genius.
Julius II, the reigning pope, was one to whom modern speech willingly accords the title "superman" or "hero". He was one of the first to conceive of and pursue the policy of Italian unity. Beyond doubt this warrior pontiff, who entered the citadel of Mirandola through the breach, had a somewhat temporal idea of his power, but through art he endowed the Church with an intellectual importance which it seemed to have lost since the Great Schism. In his powerful hands Rome became what it only recently ceased to be, the capital of the civilized world. Space does not permit adequate treatment of this point; but when face to face with the chief problems of the sixteenth century; when the question arose as to whether the Church would absorb or reject and condemn progress, whether or not it would associate itself with the humanistic spirit, Julius II deserves the credit for having taken sides with the Renaissance and prepared the stage for the moral triumph of the Church. The great creations of Julius II, Bramante's St. Peter's and Raphael's Vatican, are inseparable from the great ideas of humanity and culture represented by the Catholic Church. Here art surpasses itself, becoming the language of something higher, the symbol of one of the noblest harmonies ever realized by human nature. At the will of this extraordinary man Rome became at the end of the sixteenth century the meeting place and centre of all that was great in art and thought. With the infallible sense and discernment of great judges of men, the pope had immediately called to his service those who would do most honour to his reign. He did not make a mistake, and posterity can only ratify his choice. But his infallible divination is best shown in his selection of Raphael. There was nothing in the young man's work to presage the wholly new genius he was to display nor the unequalled powers of composition, nobility, and beauty which slumbered in that privileged soul. It is probable that Bramante who, like Raphael, was a native of Urbino, actively furthered his young townsman's interest with the pope, and caused him to be received among the inner circle of artists whom Julius II had engaged for the works in his palace. It must have been chiefly to the great architect, whose magnificent frescoes were at the Castle of Milan, to the conversations, the example, and familiar intercourse with this powerful genius, that Raphael owed the sudden broadening of his ideas and the unforeseen maturity of his style; the young Umbrian became worthy of the grandeur of Rome. But nothing completely explains this singular metamorphosis; it remains the miracle of Raphael's existence.
The pope, weary of dwelling in the apartments of his predecessor (the famous Appartamento Borgia, decorated by Pinturicchio), decided to remodel the lower chambers which had already been used by Nicholas V. A whole colony of painters, including the aged Signorelli and the aged Perugino, Sodoma and Bramantino, Peruzzi, Lotto and the Fleming Ruysch, in 1502 took up their residence in the Vatican and once more Raphael worked beside his former master. But his first attempts showed such mastery that the pope dismissed all the others and unhesitatingly confided to the youngest and the latest comer (1509) the vast task of decorating the Chambers. The first of these was called the Stanza della Segnatura, it being that of a tribunal of the Roman Curia. It is a somewhat irregularly vaulted hall with two windows on each side which are not on the same axis. These unfavourable conditions (which were repeated in the other chambers) the young artist turned to his advantage. This hall contains a plenitude of art and an intellectual harmony which will never be surpassed. On the four triangles of the ceiling he painted four large circular medallions representing, in the guise of young women crowned and surrounded by genii, Theology, Law, Science, and Poetry. In the spaces between these four circles he painted as many bas-reliefs representing a scene or "story" typical of the four disciplines: Original Sin (Theology), The Judgment of Solomon (Law), Apollo and Marsyas (Poetry). Unable to find a similar subject for Science, he gracefully depicted Astronomy in the form of a beautiful young woman leaning over the celestial sphere and by a gesture signifying the discovery of the stars. These figures on the ceiling sound the keynote of the paintings on the walls, which have always been regarded as the most perfect expression of the genius of the Renaissance, the harmonious agreement of all the human faculties, reason, and faith, justice and poetry, the balancing of all the forces and needs of our nature, and the joy resulting from the peaceful and happy exercise of all our activities. It is difficult to believe that Raphael himself conceived so extensive and complicated a design. The theme was certainly set by a cleric, a Humanist, or man of letters, such as Phaedrus Inghirani or Sigismondo de' Conti (for whom Raphael painted the "Foligno Madonna" as a thank-offering). Furthermore, the ideas which he had to represent were not new in art. To go back no further than the fourteenth century painting had been endeavouring to express ideas. The frescoes at the Spanish Chapel of Andrew of Florence (c. 1355), that of Giusto at Padua, Traini's picture at St. Catherine's of Pisa, or the fresco of Filippino Lippi at the Minerva representing the "Triumph of St. Thomas Aquinas" are well-known examples of what may be called philosophic painting. Raphael was largely inspired by these models. His work, novel in the style and spirit of its forms, merely takes up again on a larger scale, and with consummate art brings to perfection ideas which had been a national tradition in Italy since the Middle Ages.
Lack of space forbids a detailed description of these celebrated frescoes, permitting only a general outline of the principal ones. One of their most remarkable characteristics is the incomparable clearness of the composition, the faculty of adapting it to one order of ideas and so placing the spectator, previous to any analysis on his part, in a mood appropriate to each scene represented. That is, a spectator standing before the "Disputa" or the "School of Athens", even though he did not know the names of the persons and the meaning of the subject, would nevertheless immediately receive from the combination of forms and the general arrangement, an informing impression of the things represented. With its two and even three planes, its hierarchical aspect, its regular movement descending from the Father to the Holy Ghost, from the Son to the Host placed vertically below Him, to rebound in concentric waves through the two parallel hemicycles of the celestial and the terrestrial Church, the "Disputa" is stamped with theological majesty. In contrast to this presentment of august solemnity, in which everything follows an emphatically Scholastic method--the deduction from principles of a rigorous chain of reasoning like that of ontology--the "School of Athens" displays the most varied action, effervescence, scattered groups, and the agitation of a scientific congress. Ideas, methods, everything is changed; we pass from one world to another. No other painter could sensibly express the most delicate nuances by the pure language of forms. On the other hand, in such subjects it was allowable for the artist to make abundant use of allegory. There existed for the personification of abstract ideas a whole body of figures characterized by complicated attributes; often long inscriptions, streamers, phylacteries, completed the explanation. Pinturicchio proceeded in this manner in the Borgia apartments, as did also the author of the magnificent tapestries of Madrid. With better taste Raphael forbore this confusion of kinds, the mingling of fiction with reality, of personifications with persons. For the representation of ideas he made use only of real and historical persons, philosophy being represented by Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Democritus.
Thus this chamber of the Vatican became a sort of mirror of the tendencies of the human mind, a summary of all its ideal history, a sort of pantheon of spiritual grandeurs. Thereby the representation of ideas acquired a dramatic value, being no longer, as in the Middle Ages, the immovable exposition of an unchangeable truth, but the impassioned search for knowledge in all its branches, the moral life of humanity. Finally these historic figures conceived of as portraits for which the artist made use of all the documents possessed by the iconography of his time, blended in heroic familiarity with contemporary persons, the very circle of Julius II and Raphael. There are found Bramante, the Duke of Urbino, Raphael, Sodoma, and twenty others named by Vasari. Thus abstract ideas became animated, and we are afforded the magnificent spectacle of the world of the spirit, the society formed of the harmonious concert of the highest intelligences. Nevertheless these frescoes, which are so full of life, are perhaps the most highly decorative ever imagined. It is wonderful to see how the artist's thought adapts itself to the law of architecture, readily inventing simple and monumental motifs which endow his ideas with imperishable grandeur. Berenson is perhaps mistaken in reducing Raphael's genius to the incomparable mastery of the language of extent which he calls "composition in space". This is to cheapen his unique and enchanting qualities as designer and painter, plastic gifts which no other mortal ever possessed in the same degree. It is none the less true that the ease with which Raphael moves about in space, the aerial, spacious qualities which characterize his frescoes, is one of the essential parts of his particular magic. He is the greatest decorator who ever lived.
[It is worthy of note that the titles of these two famous frescoes are a later and incorrect invention of the eighteenth-century engravers. The "Disputa" is really a picture of the life of the Church and an affirmation of the dogma of the Real Presence. The title of the "School of Athens" is due to mistaking the figures of Aristotle and Plato, although they are designated, by the titles of their writings, for those of St. Paul and Dionysius the Areopagite. Moreover, the whole of this second scene is but a new illustration of the traditional theme of the seven liberal arts or the seven disciplines of the trivium and quadrivium].
The paintings on the other two walls were, as has been said, obstructed by a window. Raphael easily found a most ingenious solution of the difficulty. The painting of "Law" was divided into three parts: on the lintel he painted the three theological virtues (they are among his most exquisite creations), to left and right of the window he depicted in two symmetrical scenes "Civil Law" (Justinian bestowing the Pandects; this scene is imitated in Mellozo's fresco in the Vatican Library) and "Canon Law" (Gregory IX, with the features of Julius II, publishing the Decretals). These two frescoes are unfortunately much damaged. On the opposite wall Raphael painted Parnassus. This shows a mountain-top crowned with laurel where Apollo, surrounded by the Muses, his divine daughters, plays on the lyre; Homer sings, and about the inspired blind man is gathered his ideal family: Virgil leading Dante, Petrarch conversing below with Anacreon, Alcaeus, and the wonderful Sappho. Thus on the poetic mount beside the source of Helicon the dream of Humanism is fulfilled in the joy of living and intellectual pleasures. The whole code of classic art is formulated in these unrivalled pictures. In them beauty, nobility of posture, purity and grace of form, the sense of rhythm and life--all combine to form one joyous whole. The serenity of Greek art is recovered without effort, and the noblest harmony is the result. It is the most complete expression of the magnificent ideal which for a time was believed realizable in the Church and which was called Humanism.
The decoration of the second Chamber or Stanza of Heliodorus is quite different. The pope was not one to be satisfied for long with impersonal allegories. He was eager for glory and greatness and his own apotheosis or rather the papacy personified by Julius II, forms the subject of the new chamber. His portrait was to appear on all sides, and in fact it is found in two out of every four of these frescoes. They were begun in 1511 and completed in 1514 under Leo X, whose countenance appears in the last fresco, "St. Leo halting Attila". This picture, which was done by pupils, shows, despite the beauty of the picturesque idea, inferior execution. The "Deliverance of St. Peter", with its night effects, its various lights (the moon, torches, and the nimbus or radiance of the angel) is one of the most famous but not the most beautiful or purest of the artist's works. But the frescoes of the other two walls, "The Expulsion of Heliodorus from the Temple" and the "Mass of Bolsena" are among his finest creations. The "Heliodorus" (an obvious allusion to the despoilers of the Papal States and the war-cry of Julius II, Fuori i barbari!) is a splendid work of dramatic art wherein everything is simultaneously composed and expressed with startling clearness and energy. The "Mass of Bolsena" is perhaps still more beautiful. Raphael never produced a richer or more profound composition; never was he more picturesque and noble, more dramatic and strong. Furthermore, as regards colouring, it is impossible to imagine anything more beautiful than the portrait of the pope or the Swiss Guard grouped kneeling at his feet. In this instance the always-impressionable artist was influenced by the Venetian, Sebastiano del Piombo. With his usual genius and rapidity of assimilation he added the Venetian palette to his art.
Julius II died on 21 Feb., 1513. His successor, Leo X, lost no time in restoring or assuring to Raphael all his commissions and duties. But the work in the Chambers was almost neglected. In the third in point of time Raphael painted only one fresco, the "Incendio del Borgo" (1514). The other three are all by his pupils and are very poor. The "Incendio" itself is one of his least happy and personal works. Michelangelo had just uncovered the ceiling of the Sixtine Chapel, and this masterpiece was obviously in Raphael's thoughts. He sought only to assemble nude bodies in sculptural attitudes. Though it displayed more skill and beauty in detail, it repeated the mistake made six years previous in the "Entombment". The entire fourth Chamber, that of Constantine, was painted after the death of Raphael, under the direction of Giulio Romano, and it is very difficult to state precisely what remains of the spirit and original ideas of Raphael.
The frescoes of the Hall of Constantine were painted to convey the impression of immense tapestries. Tapestries were the fashion, after Raphael, by command of Leo X, had painted the cartoons for the "Acts of the Apostles" which were to be copied in the studio of Pieter van Aelst at Brussels. Ordered in 1514, the hanging, composed of ten pieces, was suspended on the walls of the Vatican in 1519. Stolen in 1527 during the sack of Rome, these tapestries were not restored to the Vatican till 1808, and then in a ruined condition. Seven of the original cartoons, discovered by Rubens at Brussels in 1630, are now preserved at the South Kensington Museum in London. This work de luxe, woven of threads of silk and gold, is the most robust and easily intelligible of all Raphael's productions. In it is found after an interval of a century the epic inspiration of Masaccio. Many of the details are textual reminiscences of the frescoes of the Carmine. At the same time Raphael's genius rarely manifested itself so freely or with such happiness in so beautiful a story. This happiness, the joy of creating, ease, and fertility are the beneficent characteristics of all the later works of Raphael's life. It is evident that the artist profoundly enjoyed the beauty of his inventions and the feeling is communicated to the spectator, lifting him above himself. Once more Antiquity and Christianity, the profane and the sacred, were mingled but in a new and properly "historic" form. To revive the Temple with its twisted columns (two of which are preserved at St. Peter's and which Bernini imitated in the baldacchino in the following century), to reproduce according to a bas-relief a scene of sacrifice (Sacrifice of Lystra) to imagine an agora, a sort of Athenian forum, surround ed by porticoes and temples in which all Antiquity lived again, and to set in this scene the "Preaching of St. Paul" was to Raphael an uninterrupted pleasure.
Such works have remained the unsurpassable models of historic composition, each of them begetting for more than two centuries a lengthy posterity and stirring many echoes in art. The "Death of Ananias" inaugurated the series of lurid miracles. Without such examples as the "Sacrifice of Lystra" and the "Preaching of St. Paul" Poussin's art would hardly be understood. The "Conversion of St. Paul" is a marvel of noble and luminous composition in a subject which seventeenth-century art often treated with vulgarity. But the finest examples of this splendid series are the first two scenes which form the evangelical prelude or prologue to the "Acts"; the "Calling of the Apostles" and the "Pasce Oves" are works in which the Umbrian soul, the serene and poetic sensibility of Raphael could not be surpassed. Here the artist has given us the true colour of things, the pastoral charm and original atmosphere of the preaching of Christ. The idyllic and confident sense of life as it is expressed in the catacombs or on the tomb of Galla Placidia, in the type of the Good Shepherd, the moral perfume so long vanished or evaporated were successfully revived by the wonderful divination and tact of a great artist. Raphael's genius would seem to have been bestowed by Providence to restore lost feelings to Christianity.
This same poetry as of a higher kind of eclogue characterizes the second of the great works undertaken by Raphael at the command of Leo X, the decoration of the Loggie, known as the Loggie of the Vatican. This was a story added by Raphael to the two stories of the facade built by Bramante. It comprised three arcades and as many little cupolas, each of which received four small pictures. In the decoration of this gallery RaphaelÕs idea was to rival the Therm&alie;g of Titus, the recent discovery of which had stirred artistic and literary Rome. The walls were covered with charming stuccoes by John of Udine; trellises painted so as to deceive the eye framed the pictures on the vaulted ceilings. Nothing equals the gaiety and grace of this aerial portico, flooded with sunlight and completed by the horizon of the Roman Campagna. The ceiling was painted from 1513 to 1519, but Raphael had not time to make it his own handiwork, executing only the designs, and those of the last three cupolas are not at all worthy of him. Here he delineates sacred history from the Creation to the Last Supper. The first "scenes" illustrate the same subject from Genesis which Michelangelo had just painted on the ceiling of the Sixtine Chapel. But Raphael does not outshine his rival, being only spirituel and charming where the latter is magnificent. In the succeeding compositions often occurs a reflection of the lovely pictures which Pietro Cavallini had painted about 1280 in the basilica of S. Lorenzo, reproduced in a MS. of the Vatican still extant. But the pastoral scenes are wholly original with Raphael, especially those in which landscape figures largely. Nothing could be more nobly graceful than the "Angels received by Abraham", the "Meeting of Jacob and Rachel", or "Moses saved from the waters". "Raphael's Bible", as it is often called, is a series of epic miniatures, the clearness of interpretation of which rivals their simplicity, perfect equilibrium of arrangement, charm of motifs, and grace of style.
But the service of Leo X did not stop here. The artist had to respond to the most unforeseen whims; now it was the decoration of the theatre which he had to plan, again his holiness desired the life-size portrait or an elephant and again there were the baths of Cardinal Bibbiena to be decorated. But neither these nor many other tasks exhausted the activity of Raphael. In 1512 the desire to compete with Michelangelo caused him to consent to paint at S. Agostino for the Luxemburger John Goritz a figure of Isaias which is almost a plagiarism, and in 1514 for the Sienese banker, Agostino Chigi, the four celebrated "Sibyls" of S. Maria della Pace. By their divine elegance the latter recall the sublime qualities of the Camera della Segnatura. For Chigi were also painted in 1516 the cartoons for the mosaics which were to adorn Santa Maria della Popolo, his funeral chapel, but only the figures of God the Father and the planets were finished. Finally this Maecenas conceived the ostentatious idea of having the pope's favourite painter decorate the villa which he was building in the Trastevere and which in the seventeenth century was called the Farnesina. This delightful summer palace, one of Peruzzi's most charming creations, is a perfect type of country house, a patrician dwelling of the Renaissance period, and was decorated by the most popular masters of of the age. Sodoma decorated the first story with subjects from the "Marriage of Alexander" which form an heroic and voluptuous epithalamium. Raphael had to decorate the large gallery on the ground floor. The first fresco was the "Triumph of Galatea". Raphael took as his theme the celebrated verses from Politian's "Giostra" which had already inspired Botticelli. But what is the mythology of this charming artist beside the resurrection of an immortal and chaste paganism? Zeuxis and Apelles did not do otherwise. It is curious that Raphael made the purest profession of faith in idealism with regard to this figure of a woman which arouses all the veneres cupidinesque of painting. "With regard to the "Galatea" he writes to his friend Castiglione, "I should consider myself a great master if it had only half the merits of which you write. I know that to paint a beautiful woman I should see several and should have you also to assist me in my choice. But as I have few good judges or good models I work according to a certain idea which presents itself to my mind. If this idea possesses any perfection I do not know it, though this is what I endeavour to attain." Plato might recognize himself in these exquisite lines, or they might be a recovered fragment of the "Ion" or "Phaedrus".
The "History of Psyche" on the ceiling of the large gallery was painted in 1518 when Raphael, overburdened with work, had no leisure and confided to his pupils, chiefly to Giulio Romano, the task of executing his sketches and designs. His original sketches are marvels, and the composition of the frescoes, despite their rather heavy and vulgar colouring, is calculated to charm an artist's eye. With his spiritually inclined imagination Raphael feigns that the loggia opening on the garden is a large trellis, an arched and vine-covered pergola through which appear in mid-heaven the winged whiteness of the goddesses. Two or three figures fill these azure triangles. These ideal and floating figures are a very festival. But the middle of the pergola is covered with a velum formed by a double tapestry which depicts in two scenes the "Entrance of Psyche to Olympus" and the "Marriage of Psyche". Giulio Romano's coarse execution and the still more regrettable retouching of Maratta could not wholly dishonour these incomparable works.
Pictures and portraits of the Roman period
Together with these vast decorative works Raphael continued to produce as though for pastime works of small size but great importance, for they are the sole means whereby his art could be known outside of Italy, and Raphael become more than a name to the great European public. Moreover, there are many masterpieces among these works of small compass. The Madonnas of the beginning of the Roman period still retain somewhat of the relative timidity of the preceding period. The lovely little "Virgin of the Casa Alba" (St. Petersburg, 1510), the Leonardo da Vinci-like "Madonna Aldobrandini" (National Gallery), the charming "Madonna of the Veil" of the Louvre (1510), still preserve a remnant of the Florentine grace and simplicity. The "Foligno Madonna", painted in 1511 for Sigismundo Conti after the Camera della Segnatura, marks the transition to a new manner. The graceful figure of the Virgin seated amid clouds on a sunlit throne with her Child in her arms recalls the celestial figures of the "Disputa"; the three saints and the donor kneeling below on the earth before the beautiful landscape, the Child with a cartel on which was formerly written the ex-voto, show brilliant and scholarly painting, but perhaps too evident symmetry. The "Virgin of the Fish" (Madrid, 1513), the "Virgin of the Candlesticks" (London, 1514), the "Virgin of the Curtain" (Madonna della Impannata, Pitti, 1514) are unfortunately among his pupils' works. There is a coldness, a lack of the artist's personal qualities and peculiar sensibility, which chills works otherwise charming in conception. Execution is a part of art which seems material but which is in reality quite spiritual; through it the artist betrays his emotion, gives us his confidence, and communicates his impressions. The work of another hand always lacks the most valuable qualities of style. Raphael was therefore not sufficiently careful of his reputation when he confided his most original inspirations to his pupils, for they lost in being expressed by others. The division of labour which has but few inconveniences in decorative works becomes fatal in works of a "lyric" or familiar nature, and which are only valuable in so far as the artist endows them with his personality. It is this which injures or spoils irreparably some of his most famous works, such as the "Spasimo" of Madrid, the "Madonna of the Rose" (or "La Perla") of the same museum, the "St. Michael" of the Louvre, and the "Holy Family" known as that of Francis I (all these belong to the years 1516-18). A thought of Raphael's translated even by such a master as Giulio Romano or Francesco Penni has nevertheless only the value of a shadow or a copy. Translation in such a case too often means betrayal.
Some works of this period are nevertheless by the artist himself and are rightly numbered among his most popular works. The "Madonna of the Chair" (Pitti Palace) is perhaps the best liked by women. No other links so happily the familiar charm of the Florentine period with the maturity of the Roman period. She is only a peasant in the costume of a contadina with the national kerchief on her hair, but Raphael never found in such simple materials a more profound and natural combination of forms, such curving lines, such an expressive, enfolding arabesque. The whole of maternal love seems to be enclosed within the perfect circle of this picture. It is the perfection of genre pictures, wherein the most ordinary human life reaches its noblest expression, a universal beauty. Art has lived for four centuries on this sublime idea. Though from Giulio Romano to Ingres it has been imitated a thousand times, no one has discovered the secret of its perfection. Among tableaux de grace must be mentioned together with the little "Vision of Ezechiel" of the Pitti Palace, the splendid picture of St. Cecilia of Bologna (1515). This canvas, as well as its contemporaries the "Madonna of the Chair" and the "Sistine Madonna", coincides with the appearance of a new model whose portrait we have in the famous "Donna Velata" of the Pitti Palace. It was she who posed for the St. Cecilia as for the Dresden picture. These two pictures, especially the second, occupy a place apart in Raphael's works. Here the artist directly attempts the expression of the supernatural. The Dresden picture is the most beautiful devotional picture in existence. The impression is obtained not only by the idealism of its form, but by the vision-like representation of space, by the scheme of clouds on which the Virgin is upheld, and the solemnity of the drapery. An almost forbidding mystery fills this majestic canvas, truly unequalled in Raphael's work. It would perhaps have had a companion had not death interrupted the "Transfiguration" (Vatican Gallery, 1520). The upper part, which is all Raphael had time to complete, is one of his highest inspirations. In uniting this "glory" with the earthly and agitated scene below, he was confronted with a problem which it required all his genius to solve. The devotion of his pupils, who assumed the task of completing this well-nigh unrealizable task, produced only a cold and confused work.
This is why we often prefer Raphael's portraits, which the taste of those days neglected, to his most talked-of works, his most famous Virgins. It is now the fashion to praise the portrait painter at the expense of the painter of the Madonnas and even of the decorator. It is truly said that in the first two Chambers the beauty of the portraits adds much to the life of the whole. Later, starting with the Chamber of the Incendio, Raphael, doubtless following Michelangelo's example, ceased to introduce portraits into his historical works; he no longer represented individuals, but only the general species. Nevertheless he continued to paint portraits and even here, though he has equals, no one excels him. The half-dozen portraits he has left, the Julius II of the Uffizi, the Leo X of the Pitti Palace, the portrait of Phaedrus Inghirami (Boston, Fenway Court), and that of Castiglione (Louvre) are rivals of the most perfect work of Titian, Velazquez, and Rembrandt. There is no doubt that the original of the splendid "Donna Velata" of the Pitti Palace, who so often inspired him, played a part in his life, but she keeps her secret and no one has ever succeeded in piercing her incognito. It is only certain that she was not the Fornarina, who seems to be an invention of a romance dating only from the end of the eighteenth century. The rather indecent portrait of a woman in the Barberini Palace, which bears on a bracelet the name of Raphael, is the work of Giulio Romano, and the signature is a forgery of the seventeenth century.
Raphael's fame, after three centuries of unclouded splendour, has been violently attacked during the last century. The progress of historical criticism and the discovery of the "Primitives" were the beginning of a reaction as violent as it was unjust. It was asserted that the Renaissance, instead of furthering the progress of art, was a source of decadence. A school was founded bearing the standard of the Pre-Raphaelites. This school, whose herald was John Ruskin, did much good, but without denying it its due, it is time to reject some of its narrow and prejudiced judgments. There is no doubt that Raphael, like other men of genius, had no pupils worthy of him. It would be strange to reproach him with the fact that his art was quite personal to himself. It may be that compared with Leonardo da Vinci and especially with Michelangelo, Raphael seems less great or less original. He made no discoveries in nature like those of his great rivals, he added nothing to our knowledge of anatomy, of modelling, or construction; he is not a colourist like Titian, nor even a draughtsman in the absolute sense of the word, such as was Derer or Pollaiuolo. It is probable that Raphael will never recover the singular position ascribed to him in the schools as the faultless master and the professor whose instructions are always to be consulted. On the other hand, he appears more and more the most exquisite and perfect expression of an age and a society which will never return. Nevertheless the fact remains that if there have been rarer or more learned painters than he, he excels them all in his incomparable sense of beauty. No other has shown us so much nobility in nature, no one ever had or led us to form a better opinion of human nature. No other painter handled so completely all the resources of his art. He has never been equalled as a portrait painter and decorator. No one has known so well how to invest the highest and most precious ideas with plastic forms. He has given form to our dreams. [The detailed biography above is adapted from the Catholic Encyclopedia (1911).]
Books from Alibris: Raphael