Raphael (1483-1520) defined the artistic canons that would dominate Western painting for centuries. Synonymous with perfection, his genius was such that his contemporaries considered him to be of divine essence.
Known in French as raphael, Raffaello Santi – or Sanzio – was born on April 6, 1483 in Urbino, a city in central Italy that was then an important artistic center. He receives a double artistic inheritance: that of his hometown, capital of the dukes of Montefeltro, and that of his father Giovanni Santi, recognized painter who is at the head of a workshop in which collaborate on common works the master and his students.
His mother died on October 7, 1491 and his father on August 1, 1494. Raphael, then aged 11, found himself orphaned. In 1500, at the age of seventeen, his uncles sent him to Perugia in Umbria, where he apprenticed with Pietro Vannucci, known as the Perugino, a religious painter specializing in Madonnas.
Shortly after 1500, Raphael signed a contract of Magister – Head of workshop. Thanks to his many students and assistants, he will be able to realize simultaneously often impressive works.
In 1504, Raphael stayed in Florence. There he meets Leonard de Vinci who teaches him the sfumato technique – vaporous effect blurring the contours – and whose most famous example is The Mona Lisa, painted by Da Vinci from 1503 onwards.
This painting is considered as the culmination of Raphael’s work, which reaches perfection in terms of composition, perspective and light. Begins in 1517, this oil on wood of 405 x 275 cm, remains unfinished at the death of the painter.
In 1508, Pope Jule II entrusted to Raphael the decoration of several rooms – called “rooms” – of the Vatican, with the aim of restoring all its prestige to the Holy See. It is the largest building site of its time. The school of Athens, fresco of the House of the signature, is a major work of the Renaissance.
Succeeding the architect Bramante, Raphael directs from 1514 the site of the St. Peter basilica in Rome, which he draws the plans of the nave, choir and transept. These monumental works do not prevent him from answering many orders of portraiture and Madonnas.
Mythological subject inspired by an antique marble. The Three Graces, is one of the first non-religious paintings painted by raphael. Oil on wood of 17.8 x 17.6 cm dating from 1504-1508, it is kept in the Condé museum in Chantilly.
Blighted by malignant fever due to malaria, Raphael died on April 6, 1520, his 37th birthday. On the order of Pope Leon X, great funerals are organized. He is buried in the Pantheon of Rome. Cardinal Pietro Bembo writes his epitaph: “At his sight, nature feared to be conquered, but now that he is dead, she is afraid of dying.”
Through his work on perspective, the influence of Raphael is immense on the artists of the following centuries, until the emancipation of the preraphaelite painters, in the mid-nineteenth century.