This Tuesday, April 6, Italy and artists around the world celebrate the 527th birthday of Raphael Sanzio, usually known by his first name alone. Together with Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, he forms the traditional trinity of Renaissance masters. Raphael got acquainted with art from his father Giovanni Santi, who was a court painter to the Duke of Urbino.
Ironically, this Monday was also an anniversary of Raphael's death - he died on his 37th birthday. Through his short life, Raphael was extremely productive and produced many paintings, frescos, and prints. His "Sistine Madonna" is considered one of the most famous and most loved paintings of High Renaissance.
To celebrate the 527th birthday of Raphael Sanzio show how Raphael's masterpieces would change if he created them these days. E.g. show how Raphael's would make a living nowadays by designing advertising for modern products and companies, include modern elements in his art works, etc.
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This contest is fueled by the following news: The first signs of the exhaustion of Raphael's classic style appear on cartoons for wallpapers with episodes from the lives of the Apostles Peter and Paul (Victoria and Albert Museum, London) painted in 1515 – 1516. One can trace the signs of cold perfection, a passion for a spectacular beginning, the showiness of poses and abundance of gesticulations. This is more peculiar to the frescoes of Vatican Stanza dell'Incendio (1514 – 1517), painted by Raphael's assistants Giulio Romano and Giovan Francesco Penni from Raphael’s drawings. Purely decorative paintings copied by Raphael’s students from his own drawings in the Loggia di Psiche in the Villa Farnesina (around 1515 - 1516) and in the so called "The Raphael Loggias" in the Palace of the Vatican (1518 – 1519) are characterized by lightness, grace and a richness of fancy.
The ceiling and the walls of the so called “Vatican Loggias” (a long gallery with arches, opening into Saint Damase courtyard, which was built by Bramante for getting from the "Hall of Constantine" to other rooms of the Vatican Palace) were embossed with various paintings painted from Raphael’s drawings in 1519.
There are 52 scenes from the Old and New Testaments surrounded by ornaments on the ceiling domes; the walls are all covered with extremely diverse arabesque and figure images, closely resembling decorative paintings of the ancient Romans. A little bit earlier Raphael painted ten big cartoons (in colour) to the subjects from the “Acts of the Apostles” which were remarkable for their beauty and patterns; these paintings served as originals for precious carpets weaved in Brussels to decorate the lower part of the walls in the Sistine Chapel of the Vatican Palace.
Among the paintings done by Raphael during the last period of his creative work the frescos painted in The Villa Farnesina in Rome are particularly worthy of attention. Subjects taken from classic mythology: here’s a series of images charming the audience with the beauty of their forms, tenderness and harmony of the colours, amazing power of the painter to penetrate into the spirit of the cheerful antic world view, one can see episodes reproduced from a lovely fairytale about Amur and Psyche (written by Apuleius) added in a big fresco, depicting the Triumph of Galatea nymph.
Moreover, during this period Raphael created many oil paintings, some very fine portraits such as the portrait of Pope Leo X with Cardinals (Musée du Louvre), the portrait of a famous young beauty with a veil on her head ("Donna velata"), a portrait of Duchess Joanna of Aragon (Musée du Louvre) and other portraits; the big painting of Christ carrying the Cross and finally the last painting of the Blessed Virgin, the universally famous “Sistine Madonna” – the creation has no match in the whole of West European art, the ideal of Christian art.
Raphael also left a noticeable trace in Italian Architecture. Among his buildings – a small church San’Eligio degli Orefici (foundations laid in 1509) with its strict interior, Chigi Chapel in Santa Maria del Popolo church (foundations laid in 1512) the interior of which is a rare example (even for Renaissance era) of integrity between architectural decision and decor designed by Raphael - paintings, mosaic, sculptures and an unfinished Villa Madama.
Meanwhile, Raphael’s fame grew increasingly together with his honors. In order to leave a trace after himself he built a palace in Borgo Nuovo (Rome), which was plastered according to the instructions of the Italian architect Donato Bramante. When the fame of these and many other creations of the famous artist reached Florence and even Flanders, Albrecht Durer, a remarkable German artist and engraver on copper plates, a creator of most beautiful prints, sent his works to Raphael including his head self-portrait, painted with gouache on a very thin fabric so that one can see the portrait equally well on both its sides. The lights on the painting did not have any whiting and were transparent and other light areas of the image were untouched relying on the transparent fabric, being only tinted with water colours. Raphael found this work admirable and therefore sent many pages with his own drawings to Albrecht Durer which Albrecht especially valued.
Indeed, Sanzio's creative work can be regarded as the supreme manifestation and combination of all the best acquisitions of human genius in the sphere of art, obtained by a joint effort of many painters during the Italian Renaissance.