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Giovanni Santi (c. 1440—1494)

Michelangelo (1475—1564)

Perugino (c. 1450—1523)

Giulio Romano (1499—1546)

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Raphael

(1483—1520) Italian painter and architect


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(b Urbino, 28 Mar or 6 Apr. 1483; d Rome, 6 Apr. 1520).

Italian painter, draughtsman, architect, and designer, the artist who most completely expresses the ideals of the High Renaissance. He was the son of the painter and writer Giovanni Santi, through whom he must have gained early familiarity with the humanist court of Federico da Montefeltro in Urbino. This cultured background stood him in good stead throughout his career, for unlike many artists he was renowned for his social poise. Vasari says that ‘Raphael came to be of great help to his father in the numerous works that Giovanni executed in the state of Urbino’, but Santi died in 1494, when Raphael was only 11, and nothing is documented about his training. Presumably he did receive his first lessons in art from his father, and it has been suggested that he was subsequently a pupil of Timoteo Viti (1469–1523), a local painter, but the overwhelming influence on his early work was Perugino. He took from him not only general qualities such as sweetness of expression and elegance of drawing, but also such characteristic details as daintily crooked little fingers and wispy background trees. According to Vasari, Raphael was Perugino's pupil, but this is perhaps not strictly true. He was highly precocious and is documented as an independent artist (described as ‘magister’ or master) in 1500, when he was only 17; his personal contact with Perugino seems to have come a little later (c.1502–3), when he was probably his colleague rather than assistant. By the time he was 21 he had already outstripped Perugino, as is clearly seen by comparing Raphael's Marriage of the Virgin (1504, Brera, Milan) with Perugino's slightly earlier painting of the same subject (Mus. B.-A., Caen). The two compositions are closely similar in many ways, but Raphael far surpasses Perugino in lucidity and grace.

In his early career Raphael had commissions from various places in Umbria. From 1504 to 1508 he spent much of his time in Florence, and these years are usually referred to as his Florentine period, although he never took up permanent residence in the city. The experience of Florence greatly affected his art: he moved away from Perugino's style and his work became grander and more sophisticated under the inspiration of Leonardo, Michelangelo, and also Fra Bartolommeo (whose ‘pleasing manner of colouring’ is cited by Vasari as an influence). To this period belong some of Raphael's most celebrated depictions of the Virgin and Child (Madonna of the Meadow, 1505, KH Mus., Vienna). In these and his paintings of the Holy Family he showed his developing mastery of composition and expression (from Leonardo he particularly learned how to group figures fluently and compactly). He paints the sacred figures as splendid, healthy human beings, but with a serenity, a sense of some deep inner integrity, that removes any doubt as to the holiness of the subject. This sense of well-being distinguishes Raphael's art from the more disturbingly intellectual work of Leonardo or the overwhelmingly powerful creations of Michelangelo, and evidently reflects his own balanced nature. Unlike his two great contemporaries, he was not a solitary genius but a sociable and approachable figure, whom Vasari describes as ‘so gentle and so charitable that even animals loved him’. He must, however, have had considerable toughness to produce the large amount of work he did in a short lifetime.

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