Self-portrait by Raphael.

Self-portrait by Raphael.

Raphael or Raffaello (April 6, 1483 – April 6, 1520) was a master painter and architect of the Florentine school in the Italian High Renaissance, celebrated for the perfection and softness of his paintings. He was also called Raffaello Sanzio, Raffaello Santi, Raffaello da Urbino or Rafael Sanzio da Urbino.

// Biography

The surname Sanzio derives from the latinization of the Italian, Santi, into Santius (also, when signing solely using his baptismal name, "Raphael"). His father, Santi Giovanni, was also a painter in the court of Urbino.

In 1491 his mother Màgia died and his father then died on 1 August 1494. Thus orphaned at eleven, Raffaello was entrusted to his uncle Bartolomeo, a priest. He had already shown talent, as recounted by his contemporary Giorgio Vasari - he tells that since childhood Raphael had been "a great help to his father". Unfortunately it is not known precisely how Raphael assisted and, lacking any documentation on this part of his life, his formative phase remains unknown.

Nevertheless, in Urbino he came into contact with the works of Uccello and Signorelli. The most obvious influence on his early first works is that of Pietro Vannucci, aka Perugino. According to Vasari, on a trip to Perugia with his father, Raphael impressed Perugino.

His first documented work was an altarpiece for the church of San Nicola of Tolentino in Città di Castello, a town halfway between Perugia and Urbino. It was ordered in 1500 and finished in 1501 (it was later seriously damaged during an earthquake in 1789 and today only fragments of it remain). In the following years he painted works for other churches there (like the Wedding of the Virgin, today at Brera) and for Perugia.

In 1504 he went to Florence, where he learned lessons from Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. He spent almost four years there (the so-called "Florentine period"), but continued to travel to and work in other places (Perugia, Urbino and perhaps also Rome). He made friends with the local painters, particularly Bartolomeo, who influenced him to leave behind the thin, graceful style of Perugino for more grandiose and powerful forms.

At the end of 1508, he moved to Rome and was immediately commissioned by Julius II to paint some of the rooms at his palace at the Vatican. This marked a turning point - he was only twenty-five years old, an artist in formation, and had not received commissions of such importance and prestige. He well exploited the situation, and remained almost exclusively in the service of Julius and his successor Leo X

In 1514 he was named architect of the new St Peter's. Much of his works there were altered or demolished after his death, but he built other buildings and for a short while he was the most important architect in Rome, as well as the most important painter. In 1515 he was entrusted with the preservation and recording of the Vatican collections of ancient sculpture.

After his arrival in Rome, he devoted his efforts to the great Vatican projects, although he still painted portraits of his two main patrons, the popes Julius II and his successor Leo X, the latter being considered one of his finest.

One of his most important papal commissions was the series of 10 cartoons for tapestries with scenes of the lives of Saint Paul and Saint Peter, intended as wall decoration for the Sistine Chapel. The cartoons were sent to Bruxelles to be sewn in the workshop of Pier van Aelst; the first three tapestries were sent to Rome in 1519. It is possible that Raphael saw the finished series before his death — they were completed in 1520 for Leo X.

Sybils, fresco in the church of Santa Maria della Pace in Rome.

Sybils, fresco in the church of Santa Maria della Pace in Rome.

Raffaello, who in Rome lived in Borgo, never married, but it appears that in 1514 he was engaged to Maria Bibbiena (a cardinal's granddaughter); she died in 1520. The other woman in his life was "La Fornarina", a beauty named Margherita, the daughter of a baker (fornaro) named Francesco Luti from Siena who lived at via del Governo Vecchio 48. According to Vasari his premature death on Good Friday, 6 April, 1520, was caused by a night of excessive sex with her, after which he fell into a fever and, not telling his doctors that this was its cause, was given the wrong cure, which killed him. Whatever the cause, in his acute illness Raffaelo had the wit to receive the last rites, and put his affairs in order. He took the care to dictate his will in which he left sufficient funds for her care, entrusted to his loyal servant Bavera. Vasari underlines that Raphael was also born on a Good Friday, in 1483, on 27th or 28th March. As he had asked, he was buried in the Pantheon. Art historians and doctors debate whether the right hand on the left breast in La Fornarina reveal a cancerous breast tumour detailed and disguised in a classic pose of love.

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