Religious paintings by Raphael
Raphael is an Italian High Renaissance painter and architect of the Florentine school, celebrated for the perfection and grace of his art. His work is admired for its clarity of form and ease of composition and for its visual achievement of the Neoplatonic ideal of human grandeur. Raphael is one of the most famous artists of High Renaissance and one of the greatest influences in the history of Western art.
Paintings by Raphael
- Angel (Fragment of the Baronci Altarpiece) (1501)
- Angel (Fragment of the Baronci Altarpiece 2) (1501)
- St. Sebastian (1502)
- Crucifixion (Citta di Castello Altarpiece) (1503)
- The Crowning of the Virgin (Oddi Altar) (1503)
- Allegory (The Knight's Dream) (1504)
- Spozalizio (Detail 2) (1504)
- Spozalizio (The Engagement of Virgin Mary) (1504)
- St. Michael and the Dragon (1505)
- St. George Fighting the Dragon (1505)
- The Three Graces (1505)
- St. George and the Dragon (1506)
- The Blessing Christ (1506)
- The Entombment (1507)
- The Holy Family with a Lamb (1507)
- St. Catherine of Alexandria (1508)
- The Triumph of Galatea (Detail) (1511)
- The Triumph of Galatea (1511)
- St. Cecilia (Detail) (1514)
- St. Cecilia (1514)
- The Sibyls (Detail) (1514)
- St. Paul Preaching in Athens (1515)
- The Miraculous Draught of Fishes (1515)
- Saint Michael Vanquishing Satan (Detail) (1518)
- The Vision of Ezekiel (1518)
- The Transfiguration (1520)
Angel (Fragment of the Baronci Altarpiece) (1501)
Get a high-quality picture of Angel (Fragment of the Baronci Altarpiece) for your computer or notebook. ‣ The study for the Baronci Altarpiece shows only a single angel, but a partial copy of the altarpiece from the 18th century in Citta di Castello, and a description written in 1789, prove that pairs of angels stood on either side of the main figure. The angel shown here was on the right and was not looking at the saint in the center, but at a figure on the edge of the picture.
Angel (Fragment of the Baronci Altarpiece 2) (1501)
Get a high-quality picture of Angel (Fragment of the Baronci Altarpiece 2) for your computer or notebook. ‣ This angel is a fragment from the Baronci Altarpiece. The first recorded commission of Raphael - dated 10 December 1510 - is for an altarpiece in Andrea Baronci's chapel in the church of Sant'Agostino in Citta di Castello, a small town near Urbino. The altarpiece was dedicated to Nicholas of Tolentino, a 13th-century Augustinian hermit who was not canonized until 1446, though his cult reached an early highpoint of popularity, especially in Citta di Castello, around 1500. The altarpiece was badly damaged in an earthquake in 1789, and from 1849 onwards the surviving sections have been kept in various collections.
According to Raphael's preliminary study the figure stood on the lower left, next to St. Nicholas of Tolentino. The powerful modelling of the angel's head, and the emphatic expression on his face as he gazes upwards, indicate that it is an early work by Raphael.
St. Sebastian (1502)
Get a high-quality picture of St. Sebastian for your computer or notebook. ‣ In this painting graceful Peruginesque poses and the hazy transparency of colour characteristic of Francesco Francia, are fused together in a way that clearly indicates Raphael's presence. His ability to compose clear and balanced forms becomes typical from this work on, as does the discreet and harmonious distillation of the formal elements of other painters in the clear, serene vision which seems characteristic of his artistic temperament.
Sebastian is holding an arrow, the symbol of his martyrdom, his little finger held up elegantly. Wearing a gorgeous red cloak and a gold embroidered shirt, with his hair elegantly arranged, there is nothing about this figure that recalls the torments St Sebastian suffered for his faith. This is a typical early work unanonimously attributed to Raphael and, in its ornamental beauty and elegiac mood, it is very reminiscent of the works of Perugino.
The picture represents slight variations of Perugino's motives. Here, graceful Peruginesque poses and the hazy transparency of colour characteristic of Francesco Francia, are fused together in a way that clearly indicates Raphael's presence. His ability to compose clear and balanced forms becomes typical from this work on, as does the discreet and harmonious distillation of the formal elements of other painters in the clear, serene vision which seems characteristic of his artistic temperament.
Crucifixion (Citta di Castello Altarpiece) (1503)
Get a high-quality picture of Crucifixion (Citta di Castello Altarpiece) for your computer or notebook. ‣ The presence of Peruginesque motifs in Raphael's work is still quite evident in the Crucifixion of 1502-1503, now in the National Gallery in London. This painting, showing the crucified Christ with the Virgin, St Jerome, Mary Magdalene, and John the Evangelist, originally formed the central part of an altarpiece commissioned for the Church of San Domenico in Citta di Castello. It is the first work that Raphael signed. The signature, "Painted by Raphael of Urbino," documents his full artistic autonomy and indicates his background.
The composition derives from other panels on the same subject painted by Perugino; for example, the imposing Chigi Altarpiece for Sant'Agostino in Siena. But the rigorous correspondences of gesture that distinguish Raphael's figures from the sentimental and obvious poses of the master, clearly set the young pupil apart. The faces are treated with a subtler chiaroscuro and the volumes are, as a result, more slender than those of Perugino. Thus Raphael - even though he is unwilling and, perhaps, unable to break away from Perugino's influence - shows his true temperament in this painting. This temperament includes an extraordinary feeling for proportion and an acute visual sensibility. It is even more evident in the two predella compartments - one in the Cook Collection in Richmond and the other in the Lisbon Gallery - with Stories from the Life of St Jerome.
The Crowning of the Virgin (Oddi Altar) (1503)
Get a high-quality picture of The Crowning of the Virgin (Oddi Altar) for your computer or notebook. ‣ The commission of this painting, originally intended for the Church of San Francesco al Monte in Perugia, was first awarded to Perugino, who entrusted it to his pupil.
The altarpiece combines two scenes common in Quattrocento iconography: the Coronation (which occupies the upper part of the picture) and the Giving of the Girdle to St Thomas (in the lower part), an episode traditionally associated with the Assumption. The two scenes remain separate from one another, and this clear division of the composition may indicate the painter's uncertainty of his compositional abilities. Nevertheless, the forms are already mature and certain innovations in perspective - such as the diagonal representation of the Madonna's tomb - constitute a departure from traditional Quattrocento compositional types.
Extant drawings demonstrate the tremendous amount of thought which Raphael put into the panel's realization and some details, notably the highly individual faces of the Apostles and the serene landscape in the background, are quite masterful. But the most meaningful passages are found in the predella scenes: the vast space which opens out beneath the colonnades of the Annunciation; the highly animated Adoration of the Magi; and the free quality of the atmosphere in the Presentation in the Temple, which foreshadows the extraordinary spatial intuition of some of the artist's future Vatican compositions.
Allegory (The Knight's Dream) (1504)
Get a high-quality picture of Allegory (The Knight's Dream) for your computer or notebook. ‣ The figurative powers which Raphael developed in Florence led to a more synthetic conception of form, a refinement of intellectual expression, which are visible in the Knight's Dream in the National Gallery, London, and the Three Graces of Chantilly. Critics believe that the two panels may have formed a single diptych presented to Scipione di Tommaso Borghese at his birth, in 1493. The theme of the paintings may by drawn from the poem, Punica, by Silius Italicus, which was well known in antiquity and which humanistic culture restored to fame. In the first panel, Scipio, the sleeping knight, must choose between Venus (pleasure) and Minerva (virtue); in the second, the Graces reward his choice of virtue with the Golden Apples of the Hesperides. The classical origin of this theme brings us back without doubt to the Florentine environment. The composition, which is dominated by a sense of great harmony, is a figurative consequence of the literary theme.
A young knight is asleep in front of a laurel tree that divides the picture into two equal parts. There is a figure of a beautiful young woman in each half on the left the personification of Virtue is holding a book and a sword above the sleeping figure, while the figure on the right is presenting a flower as a symbol of sensual pleasure. The probable meaning of the allegory is that the young man's task is to bring both sides of life into harmony.
Spozalizio (Detail 2) (1504)
Get a high-quality picture of Spozalizio (Detail 2) for your computer or notebook. ‣ The polygonal temple in the style of Bramante establishes and dominates the structure of this composition, determining the arrangement of the foreground group and of the other figures. In keeping with the perspective recession shown in the pavement and in the angles of the portico, the figures diminish proportionately in size. The temple in fact is the centre of a radial system composed of the steps, portico, buttresses and drum, and extended by the pavement. In the doorway looking through the building and the arcade framing the sky on either side, there is the suggestion that the radiating system continues on the other side, away from the spectator.
Spozalizio (The Engagement of Virgin Mary) (1504)
Get a high-quality picture of Spozalizio (The Engagement of Virgin Mary) for your computer or notebook. ‣ The panel (signed and dated: "RAPHAEL URBINAS MDIIII.") was commissioned by the Albizzini family for the chapel of St Joseph in the church of S. Francesco of the Minorities at Citta di Castello. In 1798 the town was forced to donate the painting to General Lechi, a Napoleonic army officer, who sold it to the Milanese art dealer, Sannazzari. Sannazzari bequeathed it to the main hospital of Milan in 1804. Two years later it was acquired by the Academy of Fine Arts and was then exhibited at the Brera.
Critics believe the painting to be inspired by two compositions by Perugino: the celebrated Christ Delivering the Keys to St Peter from the fresco cycle in the Sistine Chapel and a panel containing the Marriage of the Virgin now in the Museum of Caen.
By painting his name and the date, 1504, in the frieze of the temple in the distance, Raphael abandoned anonymity and confidently announced himself as the creator of the work. The main figures stand in the foreground: Joseph is solemnly placing the ring on the Virgin's finger, and holding the flowering staff, the symbol that he is the chosen one, in his left hand. His wooden staff has blossomed, while those of the other suitors have remained dry. Two of the suitors, disappointed, are breaking their staffs.
The polygonal temple in the style of Bramante establishes and dominates the structure of this composition, determining the arrangement of the foreground group and of the other figures. In keeping with the perspective recession shown in the pavement and in the angles of the portico, the figures diminish proportionately in size. The temple in fact is the centre of a radial system composed of the steps, portico, buttresses and drum, and extended by the pavement. In the doorway looking through the building and the arcade framing the sky on either side, there is the suggestion that the radiating system continues on the other side, away from the spectator.
Caught at the culminating moment of the ceremony, the group attending the wedding also repeats the circular rhythm of the composition. The three principal figures and two members of the party are set in the foreground, while the others are arranged in depth, moving progressively farther away from the central axis. This axis, marked by the ring Joseph is about to put on the Virgin's finger, divides the paved surface and the temple into two symmetrical parts.
A tawny gold tonality prevails in the colour scheme, with passages of pale ivory, yellow, blue-green, dark brown and bright red. The shining forms appear to be immersed in a crystalline atmosphere, whose essence is the light blue sky.
The structure of Raphael's painting, which includes figures in the foreground and a centralized building in the background, can certainly be compared to the two Perugino paintings. But Raphael's painting features a well developed circular composition, while that of Perugino is developed horizontally, in a way still characteristic of the Quattrocento. The structure of the figure group and of the large polygonal building clearly distinguish Raphael's painting from that of his master. The space is more open in Raphael's composition, indicating a command of perspective which is superior to Perugino's.
St. Michael and the Dragon (1505)
Get a high-quality picture of St. Michael and the Dragon for your computer or notebook. ‣ In a bleak landscape with the silhouette of a burning city in the distance, Michael has just forced the Devil to the ground and is about to kill him with a blow from his sword. The monsters crawling out from all sides are reminiscent of those created by Hieronymus Bosch, while the figures in the centre recall those from the Inferno of Dante's epic poem the Divine Comedy. On the left are the hypocrites in leaden coats, condemned to follow their torturous path, while on the right are the thieves being tormented by serpents.
The St Michael and St George and the Dragon in the Louvre, and the St George of the National Gallery in Washington are bound together both by their subject - an armed youth fighting a dragon - and by stylistic elements. All three are assigned to the Florentine period and echo those stimuli which Raphael received from the great masters who worked in Florence or whose paintings were visible there. The influence of Da Vinci - whose fighting warriors from the Battle of Anghiari (1505) in the Palazzo della Signoria provided an extraordinary example of martial art (the painting deteriorated very rapidly because of shortcomings in Leonardo's experimental technique and so is no longer visible) - predominates in these works. But references to Flemish painting suggest the environment of Urbino, where Northern influences were still quite vivid.
Raphael's imagination which is particularly developed in the details of the St Michael, is more balanced in the figure of the Archangel, the focus of the entire composition. This sense of balance and composure is developed further in the other two panels, where the landscape, still of Umbrian derivation, accentuates the serenity of the figures, notwithstanding the dramatic character of the subject. These small panels are indicative of a moment in which the painter gathers the stylistic fruits of what he has assimilated so far and, at the same time, poses pictorial problems which will be developed in the future.
St. George Fighting the Dragon (1505)
Get a high-quality picture of St. George Fighting the Dragon for your computer or notebook. ‣ Appointed to the order of the Garter in 1504 by Henry VII of England, Guido da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino, commissioned Raphael to paint a picture of Saint George as a gift for the King, and appointed Baldassare Castiglione, author of The Courtier, to bear it to England. Until recently, the composition of the same subject in the National Gallery of Art, Washington was identified as the painting sent to England. However, it is debated now which of the two paintings was really sent to England.
Saint George is one of the most popular of Christian saints and is the patron saint of England. He was also a favourite subject of Renaissance artists, who depicted him slaying the dragon. According to legend, this monster infested a marsh outside the walls of a city and, with his fiery breath, could poison all who came near. In order to placate the dragon, the city furnished him with a few sheep every day. But when the supply of sheep was exhausted, the sons and daughters of the citizens became the victims. The lot fell one day on the princess, and the King reluctantly sent her forth to the dragon. Saint George happened to be riding by and, seeing the maiden in tears, commended himself to God and transfixed the dragon with his spear.
St George's lance has been broken in the struggle, but the proud knight is about to vanquish the dragon with the sword, and so free the princess, who is fleeing on the right. By the middle of the 16th century this panel formed a pair with Raphael's St. Michael. Even though the latter was painted somewhat earlier, the fact that they are the same size and have a comparable iconography implies that Raphael intended that the saints should belong together.
The Three Graces (1505)
Get a high-quality picture of The Three Graces for your computer or notebook. ‣ The figurative powers which Raphael developed in Florence led to a more synthetic conception of form, a refinement of intellectual expression, which are visible in the Knight's Dream in the National Gallery, London, and the Three Graces of Chantilly. Critics believe that the two panels may have formed a single diptych presented to Scipione di Tommaso Borghese at his birth, in 1493. The theme of the paintings may by drawn from the poem, Punica, by Silius Italicus, which was well known in antiquity and which humanistic culture restored to fame. In the first panel, Scipio, the sleeping knight, must choose between Venus (pleasure) and Minerva (virtue); in the second, the Graces reward his choice of virtue with the Golden Apples of the Hesperides. The classical origin of this theme brings us back without doubt to the Florentine environment. The composition, which is dominated by a sense of great harmony, is a figurative consequence of the literary theme.
Three Graces are the personification of grace and beauty and the attendants of several goddesses. In art they are often the handmaidens of Venus, sharing several of her attributes such as the rose, myrtle, apple and dice. Their names according to Hesoid (Theogony 905) were Aglaia, Euphrosyne and Thalia. They are typically grouped so that the two outer figures face the spectator, the one in the middle facing away. This was their antique form, known and copied by the Renaissance.
The group has been the subject of much allegorising in different ages. Seneca (c. 4 B.C.-A.D. 65) (De Beneficiis l.3:2) described them as smiling maidens, nude or transparently clothed, who stood for the threefold aspect of generosity, the giving, receiving and returning of gifts, or benefits: "ut una sit quae det beneficium, altera quae accipiat, tertia quae reddat." The Florentine humanist philosophers of the 15th century saw them as three phases of love: beauty, arousing desire, leading to fulfillment; alternatively as the personification of Chastity, Beauty and Love, perhaps with the inscription "Castitas, Pulchritudo, Amor."
The Three Graces is Raphael's first study of the female nude in both front and back views. It was probably not based on living models, however, but on the classical sculpture group of the Three Graces in Siena.
St. George and the Dragon (1506)
Get a high-quality picture of St. George and the Dragon for your computer or notebook. ‣ The St Michael and St George and the Dragon in the Louvre, and the St George of the National Gallery in Washington are bound together both by their subject - an armed youth fighting a dragon - and by stylistic elements. All three are assigned to the Florentine period and echo those stimuli which Raphael received from the great masters who worked in Florence or whose paintings were visible there. The influence of Da Vinci - whose fighting warriors from the Battle of Anghiari (1505) in the Palazzo della Signoria provided an extraordinary example of martial art (the painting deteriorated very rapidly because of shortcomings in Leonardo's experimental technique and so is no longer visible) - predominates in these works. But references to Flemish painting - particularly that of Hieronymus Bosch (the glaring light and humanoid monsters which populate the St Michael are characteristic of Bosch) - suggest the environment of Urbino, where Northern influences were still quite vivid.
These small panels are indicative of a moment in which the painter gathers the stylistic fruits of what he has assimilated so far and, at the same time, poses pictorial problems which will be developed in the future.
The Blessing Christ (1506)
Get a high-quality picture of The Blessing Christ for your computer or notebook. ‣ Da Vinci's influence is particularly strong in the Blessing Christ in Brescia. Here Christ is shown emerging from the tomb. He is no longer an object of compassion, as in 14th and 15th century panels. Rather, he is depicted as the Resurrected Christ; he still bears the symbols of the Passion, the crown of thorns and the marks of the nails which bound his hands and feet to the Cross. Every element of the artist's experience with Perugino has by now been abandoned. The figure displays a smoothness of surface and a soft chiaroscuro modelling which clearly surpass the abilities of Raphael's master.
The Entombment (1507)
Get a high-quality picture of The Entombment for your computer or notebook. ‣ Among the figurative components which Raphael drew from his Florentine experience, those which derive from Michelangelo seem most prevalent in his last Florentine works. The work in which Michelangelo's importance to Raphael becomes most evident is the Deposition (Entombment). The panel was painted in 1507 in Perugia for Atalanta Baglioni as a votive offering in memory of her son, Grifonetto, killed in a piazza in Perugia in the course of a family feud.
The artist detaches himself both formally and iconographically from traditional representations of the scene. He does not depict the deposition itself, but the carrying of the dead Christ. The protagonists of the scene do not demonstrate their sorrow violently, but are reduced, through the Raphaelesque mode of feeling, to a sort of painful resignation. The vision of space is less geometric than the Florentine vision, and it appears freer and closer to nature. The influence of Michelangelo is strong, however, and can be perceived without doubt in the limp arm of Christ as well as in the female figure at the extreme right. The latter mirrors the figure of the Virgin in the Tondo Doni, which Michelangelo executed between 1504 and 1506. The formal vigour and sense of open space which characterize michelangelo's painting certainly must have had a profound effect on Raphael.
There are three compositions (Faith, Hope and Charity) of the predella executed in a delicate monochrome (today in the Vatican Museum). Both the main panel and the predella were carried from Perugia to Rome by Pope Paul V. They were replaced by copies in 1608. The painting was subsequently included among the works taken by the French troops and was exhibited in Paris in the Napoleonic Museum from 1797 to 1815 when, following the restitutions ordered by the Congress of Vienna, it was returned to Rome.
The Holy Family with a Lamb (1507)
Get a high-quality picture of The Holy Family with a Lamb for your computer or notebook. ‣ This small picture for private devotion belongs to Raphael's years in Florence, after he had moved from Umbria but before he went to Rome. There he was keen to absorb the style particularly of Da Vinci, and of other artists such as the young Michelangelo. But the miniaturist delicacy and serenity of this work recall his early formation under the influence of the Umbrian master Perugino, and there is definitely also a knowledge of Netherlandish painting, particularly clear in the landscape.
There are several versions of this picture, which all show the Virgin holding Christ riding on a lamb while the elderly Joseph presides over the family. This version, in Madrid, was later marked with the words RAPHAEL URBINAS MDVII on the Virgin's decollete. As Pedretti has pointed out, the version in Vaduz is dated 1504, and signed, so that it may be considered the original.
St. Catherine of Alexandria (1508)
Get a high-quality picture of St. Catherine of Alexandria for your computer or notebook. ‣ Half-way between a work of private devotion and a collector's piece, this picture was probably painted just before Raphael's move to Rome. Rather more evident than the influence of Perugino is that of Da Vinci, who perfected the `serpentine' pose in which the body twists about its axis, lending movement, grace and three-dimensional presence even to static figures. Characteristically, Raphael justifies this unnatural position through a narrative device: Catherine turns her head upwards and to her right in ecstatic communion with the divine light descending in thin gold rays from the sky.
St Catherine of Alexandria is portrayed in a marvellous, twisted pose. Her left arm is leaning on her attribute, the wheel, and her right hand is pressed to her breast while she gazes up at a sky flooded with light. The composition is as rich in harmonious movement as the coloration is full and varied.
The landscape is painted with particular care. Its light shading indicates a residual influence of Da Vinci, although the jagged mountains which often characterize Leonardo's landscapes are absent. The delicate modelling of the saint, the slight torsion of her body as she leans on the wheel of her martyrdom (whose spikes have been reduced to rounded knobs in order to tone down the element of cruelty) fully express the balanced character of Raphael's art. The panel clearly shows the intense formal research which underlies Raphael's figurative creations. He is always careful not to excite emotions which he considers too intense and to mitigate tones and thematic elements in search of a perfect balance between design, colour, pose and expression, and between the figurative and ornamental elements.
The Triumph of Galatea (Detail) (1511)
Get a high-quality picture of The Triumph of Galatea (Detail) for your computer or notebook. ‣ The painting combines the vitality of pagan narrative with his unusual compositional harmony. Galatea, the sea-nymph, rushes forward on a dolphin-drawn chariot. Her head is turned to one side and her glance is directed over her shoulder toward the amorini or cupids who fly above her, bows drawn. A crowd of sea-nymphs and Tritons - fantastic creatures, half man and half fish - surround her. The powerful nudes possess the energy of Michelangelo, but the soft modelling of the winged cupids is peculiar to Raphael.
The Triumph of Galatea (1511)
Get a high-quality picture of The Triumph of Galatea for your computer or notebook. ‣ The Sienese Banker, Agostini Chigi, played a very important role in the cultural and artistic activities which flourished around Julius II. His house was built on the outskirts of Rome in 1509-1510, and was designed as a model of luxury and elegance. He commissioned the most famous artists of the time, Baldassarre Peruzzi, Sebastiano Luciani (later called Sebastiano del Piombo) and Raphael himself to decorate it. All three painted frescoes based on classical mythology in Chigi's house (which was later acquired by the Farnese family and came to be known as "La Farnesina").
As subject Raphael chose a verse from a poem by the Florentine Angelo Poliziano which had also helped to inspire Botticelli's 'Birth of Venus'. These lines describe how the clumsy giant Polyphemus sings a love song to the fair sea-nymph Galatea and how she rides across the waves in a chariot drawn by two dolphins, laughing at his uncouth song, while the gay company of other sea-gods and nymphs is milling round her.
Raphael's fresco shows Galatea with her gay companions; the giant is depicted in a fresco by Sebastiano del Piombo which stands to the left of Raphael's Galatea. However long one looks at this lovely and cheerful picture, one will always discover new beauties in its rich and intricate composition. Every figure seems to correspond to some other figure, every movement to answer a counter-movement.
To start with the small boys with Cupid's bows and arrows who aim at the heart of the nymph: not only do those to right and left echo each other's movements, but the boy swimming beside the chariot corresponds to the one flying at the top of the picture. It is the same with the group of sea-gods which seems to be 'wheeling' round the nymph. There are two on the margins, who blow on their sea-shells, and two pairs in front and behind, who are making love to each other. But what is more admirable is that all these diverse movements are somehow reflected and taken up in the figure of Galatea herself. Her chariot had been driving from left to right with her veil blowing backwards, but, hearing the strange love song, she turns round and smiles, and all the lines in the picture, from the love-gods' arrows to the reins she holds, converge on her beautiful face in the very centre of the picture.
By these artistic means Raphael has achieved constant movement throughout the picture, without letting it become restless or unbalanced. It is for this supreme mastery of arranging his figures, this consummate skill in composition, that artists have admired Raphael ever since. Just as Michelangelo was found to have reached the highest peak in the mastery of the human body, Raphael was seen to have accomplished what the older generation had striven so hard to achieve: the perfect and harmonious composition of freely moving figures.
There was another quality in Raphael's work that was admired by his contemporaries and by subsequent generations - the sheer beauty of his figures. When he had finished the 'Galatea', Raphael was asked by a courtier where in all the world he had found a model of such beauty. He replied that he did not copy any specific model but rather followed "a certain idea" he had formed in his mind. To some extent, then, Raphael, like his teacher Perugino, had abandoned the faithful portrayal of nature which had been the ambition of so many Quattrocento artists. He deliberately used an imagined type of regular beauty. If we look back to the time of Praxiteles, we remember how what we call an "ideal" beauty grew out of a slow approximation of schematic forms to nature. Now the process was reversed. Artists tried to modify nature according to the idea of beauty they had formed when looking at classical statues - they "idealized" the model. It was a tendency not without its dangers, for, if the artist deliberately "improves on" nature, his work may easily look mannered or insipid. But if we look once more at Raphael's work, we see that he, at any rate, could idealize without any loss of vitality and sincerity in the result. There is nothing schematic or calculated in Galatea's loveliness. She is an inmate of a brighter world of love and beauty - the world of the classics as it appeared to its admirers in sixteenth-century Italy.
St. Cecilia (Detail) (1514)
Get a high-quality picture of St. Cecilia (Detail) for your computer or notebook. ‣ Vasari attributed this wonderful still life to Raphael's assistant, Giovanni da Udine. A close examination has shown, however, that the instruments are by the same hand as the rest of the painting, namely by Raphael.
St Cecilia became the patron saint of musicians, and as such she mastered several instruments so that she could accompany her songs of praise to God. Yet in this picture a number of instruments - a viola da gamba, flutes, cymbals, a tambourine and a triangle - lie at her feet, and she is holding a portative organ so that some of its pipes are falling out. (By the way, the pipes are depicted in reverse order; probably for the sake of compositional balance.) Did the patroness of music forsake the instruments? This is conceivable only if the tools of music in this painting represent sensual, profane music, which obviously cannot compete with the heavenly choir.
It can also be proposed that Cecilia silences her instruments so that the harmony of the heavens could, be heard unimpeded.
If this is the case, then this painting proclaims the superiority of vocal over instrumental music, since it is the singing of the angels that serves the praising of the Lord most directly. A few decades later, under the influence of similar thinking, Palestrina created his wonderful "a capella" works, which signaled the zenith of purely vocal musical composition.
Such a peculiar interpretation of the Cecilia theme was not entirely accepted even by the contemporaries. At least Marcantonio Raimondi disagreed, because in an engraving, copied from this Raphael painting, the pipes of the organ in Cecilia's hand are properly lined up, and the choir of angels is also equipped with a harp and a violin.
St. Cecilia (1514)
Get a high-quality picture of St. Cecilia for your computer or notebook. ‣ Raphael probably accompanied Leo X when he went to Bologna to meet the King of France, Francis I, in 1515. He may have passed through Florence, where Leo was welcomed with great enthusiasm by his fellow citizens. Da Vinci - who later accepted the French King's invitation to Paris - and Michelangelo - to whom Leo X commissioned the New Sacristy of San Lorenzo - also followed the Pope.
A letter which Raphael sent to the painter, Francesco Francia, provides proof of this journey. According to a legend, Francesco Francia died after seeing the St Cecilia which Raphael painted for the Church of San Giovanni in Monte in Bologna. The story is almost credible, for the Bolognese artistic environment still revolved around the style of Perugino. The painting was commissioned by Elena Duglioli dall'Olio of Bologna. She was famous for having visions and ecstatic fits in which music played a great part, which is probably why she asked for a picture of St Cecilia, the patron saint of music. Raphael decided on a painting in the style of a Sacra Conversazione, with St Cecilia in the centre surrounded by saints. The altarpiece, which is now in the Museum of Bologna, was placed in San Giovanni in Monte in 1515. It was painted some time before, however.
The glorification of purity is the central idea behind this painting. This is expressed by the figures seen on both sides of the principal figure: St John the Evangelist is the patron saint of the church, and St Paul symbolizes innocence, while St Augustine and St Mary Magdalene stand for purity regained through atonement after sinful aberration. The four saints who surround the protagonist form a niche which is strengthened by the poses and gestures of the figures (the glances of the Evangelist and St Augustine cross, St Paul's is lowered and the Magdalene turns hers toward the spectator). Only St Cecilia raises her face toward the sky, where a chorus of angels appears through a hole in the clouds. The monumentality of the figures, typical of Raphael's activity during this period, dominates the other figurative elements.
In the legend of St Cecilia, too, the painter emphasizes her desire to preserve her purity. As they were escorting Cecilia to the house of her betrothed, to the accompaniment of musical instruments, in her heart she called out only to God, beseeching Him to preserve the chastity of her heart and her body.
So runs the fifth-century legend, and accordingly in this picture Cecilia does not hear the profane music, her eyes raised toward the heavens connects her directly with the choir of angels. This much is in complete agreement with the story of the Roman martyr.
The Sibyls (Detail) (1514)
Get a high-quality picture of The Sibyls (Detail) for your computer or notebook. ‣ In 1514 Raphael executed another small but significant fresco cycle for Agostino Chigi. The frescoes represent the Prophets and Sibyls. They are located in the chapel at the left of the apse of the Church of Santa Maria della Pace in Rome. The Sibyls sit above the arch that leads to the second private chapel of the banker Chigi. The turning movements of the bodies are reminiscent of those of The Virtues in the Stanza della Segnatura, but the coloration suggests they were painted at a later date.
The figures occupy a trabeated loggia, on two levels. The structure of the loggia reflects the architecture of the chapel: its arches coincide with those of the window and entrance. The Prophets (Habakkuk, Jonah, David and Daniel, according to the most widely accepted interpretation) are generally attributed to a collaborator (perhaps Timoteo Viti) who must have based them on an original drawing by Raphael, for they are highly coherent. The Sibyls (Cumaean, Persian, Phrygian and Tiburtine) are attributed to Raphael. Like the Virtues in the Stanza della Segnatura, each of the figures is accompanied by an angel who indicates the divine spirit present in their prophecies. Between the Sibyls at the top of the arch is a small angel holding a lighted torch, the symbol of prophecy, which enlightens the darkness of the future.
St. Paul Preaching in Athens (1515)
Get a high-quality picture of St. Paul Preaching in Athens for your computer or notebook. ‣ The Acts of the Apostles say that Paul was enraged when he saw how many images of pagan gods there were in Athens. A group of philosophers asked him to explain his position in the Areopagus, the ancient court site in Athens. In the cartoon Paul is lending emphasis to his talk with dramatic gestures, while those listening are all reacting in very different ways. The man on the right at the front, with the ecstatic look on his face, is probably Dionysius Areopagita, who is said to have been converted to the Christian faith by this sermon.
In St Paul Preaching in Athens, the viewers become the listeners, joining the circle of those people the Apostle is addressing. In this scene Raphael succeeded in creating a classical mood by integrating into the composition motifs from Roman reliefs and classical figures, buildings, and statues.
The Miraculous Draught of Fishes (1515)
Get a high-quality picture of The Miraculous Draught of Fishes for your computer or notebook. ‣ By a miracle, one of the boats is suddenly full of fish, and the sailors in the other are pulling a full net out of the water. Jesus is sitting in the boat with Peter, asking him to give up being a fisherman and become a disciple.
A scientific examination using infra-red light has proved this cartoon to be by Raphael himself. Detailed underdrawings were found beneath the layer of paint, which are recognizably by Raphael's sure hand. The drop of paint running vertically down the cartoon shows that it was hung up for painting.
The scene The Miraculous Draught of Fishes is unique not merely for changing the iconography of tapestry weaving. Dawn is breaking over the lake, birds fly out from the depths of the picture and pass over the fishermen. These are powerfully built men dressed in simple shirts or tunics, and we can see their reflections in the water. An atmospheric light fills the whole composition. The arm of one of the fisherman extends into the depths of the picture and is shown 'contre jour', one side catching the red glow of the dawn. Glowing highlights accentuate the garments and model the muscular bodies. These painterly effects presented a great challenge to the tapestry weavers. In particular, the shirt of the Disciple who is so amazed by the miracle that he has jumped up in the boat in utter bewilderment tested the skills and resources of the Brussels weavers to their limits. Here, Raphael painted highlights shading into yellow together with bluish-gray shadows on a green half tint shot through with orange.
Saint Michael Vanquishing Satan (Detail) (1518)
Get a high-quality picture of Saint Michael Vanquishing Satan (Detail) for your computer or notebook. ‣ The painting was a gift from the pope to the French king, Francis I. It was generally accepted that the painting is the work of Giulio Romano with the contribution of Raphael. It is now debated whether the work may not in fact be by Raphael after all, the stylistic anomalies being attributable to poor restoration techniques.
The Vision of Ezekiel (1518)
Get a high-quality picture of The Vision of Ezekiel for your computer or notebook. ‣ This painting is a typical example how some elements deriving from Michelangelo are present in Raphael's works from the period after 1517. The origin of the subject is the Bible. But instead of describing the four Cherubim (inspired by Babylonian iconography) as the Prophet did, Raphael represents a classical divinity with the traditional symbols of the Evangelists. A centrally placed tree dominates the low, broad landscape and the sky is stormy and turbulent. The divine group hovers amid the clouds, surrounded by an aura of bright light. The angel, eagle, lion and ox which symbolize the Evangelists, together with two cherubs, spiral around the vigorous central figure.
The balance of this composition impressed Vasari. Ezekiel is so small he can scarcely be recognized in the bottom left of the background, the scenes being completely dominated by his vision.
The painting, now in the Pitti Gallery in Florence, is believed to have been painted in 1518. Like many other paintings by Raphael, it was removed to Paris by Napoleon's army and returned to Tuscany in 1815.
The Transfiguration (1520)
Get a high-quality picture of The Transfiguration for your computer or notebook. ‣ Cardinal Giulio de' Medici commissioned the Transfiguration in 1517 to Raphael for the French Cathedral of Narbonne. Bad health prevented Raphael from finishing it. The painting, however, remained in Rome in San Pietro in Montorio after 1523. Taken to Paris 1797, it was brought back in its present location in 1815.
The composition of the Transfiguration is divided into two distinct parts: the Miracle of the Possessed Boy on a lower level; and the Transfiguration of Christ on Mount Tabor, in the background. The transfigured Christ floats in an aura of light and clouds above the hill, accompanied by Moses and Elijah. Below, on the ground, are his disciples. Some are dazzled by the light of glory, others are in prayer. The gestures of the crowd beholding at the miracle link the two parts together: the raised hands of the crowd converge toward the figure of Christ. In this very grand composition Raphael has summed up all the elements present in the best of contemporary painting, including references to classical antiquity, Da Vinci (without doubt based on his recall of impressions garnered during his stay in Florence) and - not without a certain narcissism - himself. The works set the stage (just as surely as Michelangelo's Doni Tondo) for Mannerism.
The numerous drawings (both by Raphael and pupils) for the characters in the painting, together with the number of variants of the first draft which were revealed by restoration work in 1977, show just exactly how carefully meditated a composition it is. The restoration also dispelled any doubts as to the authenticity of the attribution to Raphael; the retouching and corrections are proof that the painting (although unfinished) is actually entirely in his hand.
The Transfiguration is the last bequest of an artist whose brief life was rich in inspiration, where doubt or tension had no place. Raphael's life was spent in thoughts of great harmony and balance. This is one of the reasons why Raphael appears as the best interpreter of the art of his time and has been admired and studied in every century.
On 6 April 1520, precisely 37 years after he was born, Raphael died in Rome, the city that he had helped make the most important centre of art and culture that had ever existed.
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