Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino was born March 28 or April 6, 1483 in Urbino in central Italy. Known as Raphael, he was a prolific Renaissance painter. His father Giovanni Santi was court painter to the Duke. His mother Màgia died in 1491 when Raphael was eight. His father soon remarried, but succumbed to death on August 1, 1494, when Raphael was eleven. His father’s workshop continued and, together with his stepmother, Raphael helped manage it from a very early age.


The Self-Portrait Raphael drew as a teen.

He had already shown talent, according to Giorgio Vasari, an Italian painter and historian, who says that Raphael had been “a great help to his father.” (A self-portrait drawn while a teenager shows his skill.) Vasari records that Raphael’s father placed him in the workshop of Pietro Perugino as an apprentice. The influence of Perugino on Raphael’s early work is apparent. Vasari wrote that it was impossible to distinguish between their hands at this period. Apart from stylistic resemblances, their techniques were very similar as well, probably due to Perugino’s instruction.



Raphael’s first documented work was part of the Baronci altarpiece for the church of Saint Nicholas of Tolentino in Città di Castello, a town halfway between Perugia and Urbino. In the following years he painted works for other churches there, including the Mond Crucifixion. These are large works, some in fresco, which Raphael executed in the style of Perugino. He also painted many smaller paintings in these years, probably mostly for the connoisseurs in the Urbino court, like the Three Graces, and he began to paint Madonnas and portraits.

359px-Mond CrocefissioneRaffaello

The Mond Crucifixion.

Raphael led a nomadic life, working in various cities in Northern Italy, but spent a good deal of time in Florence from about 1504.

Raphael was able to assimilate the influence of Florentine art while developing his own style. His greatest influence during those years was Leonardo da Vinci, who returned to the city from 1500 to 1506. Raphael’s figures began to take more dynamic and complex positions, and he drew studies of fighting nude men, one of the obsessions of the period in Florence. He borrowed the three-quarter length pyramidal composition of the just-completed Mona Lisa while retaining his own style.


By the end of 1508, Raphael moved to Rome, where he lived for the rest of his life, invited by the new Pope Julius II, perhaps at the suggestion of his architect Donato Bramante, then engaged on St. Peter’s Basilica, who came from just outside Urbino and was distantly related to Raphael. He was immediately commissioned by Julius to fresco the Pope’s private library at the Vatican Palace.


Study for The Three Graces.

This first of the famous Stanze or “Raphael Rooms” to be painted, now known as the Stanza della Segnatura, was made a stunning impact on Roman art, and remains generally regarded as his greatest masterpiece, containing The School of AthensThe Parnassus, and the Disputa. Raphael was then given further rooms to paint. He completed a sequence of three rooms, each with paintings on each wall and often the ceilings too, increasingly leaving the work of painting from his detailed drawings to the large and skilled workshop team he had acquired, who added a fourth room after his death.


The School of Athens

Raphael was clearly influenced by Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling in the course of painting the room. Vasari said Bramante let him in secretly. (Michelangelo disliked Raphael, claiming the younger man was conspiring against him.) The first section was completed in 1511 and the reaction to the genius of Michelangelo was the dominating question in Italian art for decades. Raphael, who had already shown his gift for absorbing influences into his own personal style, rose to the challenge perhaps better than any other artist. Michelangelo accused Raphael of plagiarism and years after Raphael’s death, complained in a letter that “everything he knew about art he got from me.”


Madonna of the Pinks by Raphael


The Vatican projects took most of Raphael’s time, although he painted several portraits, including Pope Julius II, considered one of his finest. Other rulers desired Raphael’s work, and King Francis I of France was sent two paintings as diplomatic gifts from the Pope. For Agostino Chigi, a banker and Papal Treasurer who was one of the wealthiest people in his world, he painted the Triumph of Galatea.


The Triumph of Galatea by Raphael.

Raphael built a workshop of fifty pupils and assistants, many of whom became significant artists in their own right. This was arguably the largest workshop team assembled under any single old master painter, and much higher than the norm. Most of the artists were later scattered, and some killed, by the violent Sack of Rome in 1527.


Portrait of Pope Julian II by Raphael.

Raphael was one of the finest draftsmen in the history of Western art, and used drawings extensively to plan his compositions. When beginning to plan a large painting or fresco, he would lay out a large number of stock drawings of his on the floor, and begin to draw rapidly, borrowing figures from here and there. Over forty sketches survive for the Disputa in the Stanze, and there may well have been many more originally. He used different drawings to refine his poses and layouts.


The Parnassus by Raphael.

When a final composition was achieved, scaled-up full-size cartoons were often made, which were then pricked with a pin and pounced with a bag of soot to leave dotted lines on the surface as a guide. He also made use, on both paper and plaster, of a blind stylus, scratching lines which leave only an indentation, but no mark.

Raphael died on April 6, 1520, at age 37. He is remembered as one of the trinity of masters of the Italian High Renaissance, together with Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci.

Information for this article came from Wikipedia.

About Andrea R Huelsenbeck

Andrea R Huelsenbeck is a wife, a mother of five and a former elementary general music teacher. A freelance writer in the 1990s, her nonfiction articles and book reviews appeared in Raising Arizona Kids, Christian Library Journal, and other publications. She is currently working on a young adult mystical fantasy novel and a mystery.

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