Renaissance Painter Raphael

The great painter Raffaello Sanzio or Raphael came into this world on April 6, 1483, in Urbino, Italy. He lived and created art during the period known as the High Renaissance and was both a painter and an architect. Raphael had a workshop with 50 students and assistants. A great deal of this work was done for the Vatican. His artworks have been categorized in three phases – that of his early career, the Florentine period and his final years in which he produced some of his best artwork

Family of Artists

You could say Raphael came into this world with talent because he was born into a family of artists. His father was a court painter to Frederico Il da Montefeltro, the Duke of Urbino. Raphael helped his father paint some of the artwork for the court. Growing up at the court he learned a lot about proper manners and social skills. His mother died when he was only eight and his father remarried but then died four years later. Now that he was orphaned Raphael lived with this Uncle Bartolomeo, who was a priest. His uncle soon saw how talented Raphael was and at the age of 15 or 16, he painted a self-portrait, which is the earliest example of his artwork. He started his apprenticeship under Umbrian master Pietro Perugino and by 1501 he, himself was already looked upon as a Master of Art. At this time his style and technique were similar to Perugino’s and both applied thick paint and used varnish that made the finished artwork crack.

First Artwork

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Raphael’s first real artwork is the Baronci Altarpiece created for the Church of St. Nicholas of Tolentino in 1502. He went to Sienna with another assistant of Perugino’s Pinturicchio. Together they worked on a fresco series at the Piccolomini Library and Sienna Cathedral. From 1504 – 1508 Raphael traveled to Florence where he was acquainted with the artwork of Michelangelo and found it inspiring. It is interesting to know that Michelangelo didn’t like Raphael and thought that he was conspiring against him. Most likely together they could have created some amazing artworks. While in Florence for some reason Raphael became obsessed with drawing naked fighting men but the only result was a group of drawings.

Commissioned by the Pope


Raphael went to Rome in 1508 and stayed there for the rest of his life. He was commissioned by Pope Julius II in 1510 to paint the Pope’s personal library. Altogether there were four frescoes – philosophy, law, poetry, and theology. The best known of these is “The School of Athens” which represents Philosophy. On this fresco, many well-known people have been portrayed among them Michelangelo as a brooding, crouching figure in the front, in the center, Plato and Aristotle and Athena on the right. This artwork represents the Renaissance as the new classical age and even though Pope Julius II died in 1513 this artwork was completed.  Pope Medici Pope Leo X closed  friendship with Raphael and gave him some more  work.

Painting Mythological Characters

Raphael painted “Galatea” in 1513 and this artwork was based on several mythological characters showing Polyphemus, a one-eyed consort (Cyclops) to Galatea, fleeing. This particular artwork includes DaVinci’s triangular composition. Two years later Raphael completed another artwork titled “The Sacrifice at Lystra”. In this painting, you can see two men, Paul and Barnabas, going around preaching the word of God. When they come to the town of Lystra they heal a crippled man and the townsfolk think that they are gods.

Painter and an Architect

Raphael was not only a painter he was also an architect. Being best friends with Pope Leo X he was commissioned to design St. Peter’s Cathedral, however, this didn’t work out. He also worked on some villas but only one is in existence today. During his lifetime he was made Groom of the Chamber meaning that he just waited for the Pope to help him or as in Raphael’s case, receive “favors” from Pope Leo. Raphael was knighted by the Papal Order of the Golden Spur. It was these titles that helped increase his income.

Love and Tragedy

It was thought that Raphael would marry his fiancee, Maria Bibbiena, but he never did. It was not known why, perhaps he just didn’t love her enough but it was thought that he wanted to become a Cardinal so within the Catholic Church marriage was not allowed. He did have a mistress and gave her the nickname “La Fornarina” even though her real name was Margherita Luti.

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The last painting done by Raphael is titled “The Transfiguration” in 1502. He died on April 6, 1520, on the same day that he was born 37 years ago. His death was a tragedy to the art world and came unexpectedly. Supposedly after a long night of excessive sex with his mistress, he fell into a fever. His doctors gave him the wrong cure and he passed on. Being only 37 his funeral was very grand and he was interred at the Pantheon.

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