Sanzio Raphael Blog

Raphael painting at the NGA

Feb 28 2012 09:04PM | by Staff Editor

It has to just be downright disappointing to be the patron saint of archery, arrows, soldiers and plagues. Not much fun at all, we’d venture. In fact, a rather painful endeavour and one that has no real benefits. We are, of course, talking about Saint Sebastian, who according to records or myth – whatever your view – died circa 268 as the Christian saint and martyr who opposed the Roman emperor Diocletian and his vicious persecution of Christians. Sebastian is often depicted in art and literature tied to a tree, post or some sort of vertical implement, riddled with arrows, his face contorted with pain. It is therefore fitting, as we alluded to in our previous post, to examine why Raphael chose to portray him in such angelic and graceful an appearance. The Raphael painting is only one of a very few depictions of Saint Sebastian that show the Christian martyr at peace. Raphael, the known purveyor of all things graceful, transforms a tale of woe into the divine. For those not in the know, art historians have speculated that Sebastian was probably a soldier of French origin, likely the province of Narbonne, who then travelled to Milan and was... Read more

Raphael’s Mona Lisa tribute

Feb 15 2012 10:56PM | by Staff Editor

Renaissance art from the 15th and 16th century continues to inspire us, even though they were painted more than 700 years ago. What is their allure? As the English poet W.B. Yeats put it: “Quattrocento put in paint, On backgrounds for a God or Saint, Gardens where a soul’s at ease.” Whether you find the art soul-easing is one thing, but the majesty and gracefulness of Raphael paintings is impossible to deny. Raphael, it should be known, was also a create imitator. As the younger master of the four (he was younger than Da Vinci, Donatello and Michelangelo), he naturally copied his progenitors to assimilate their style. But did you know he also produced a Mona Lisa copy? Circa 1506 Raphael started a portrait that was in homage to Da Vinci. He too chose to portray a wealthy Florentine woman, but this one was named Maddalena Doni. The subject has the same pose as the subject in the Mona Lisa and in many ways the subjects had other similarities. Art historians note Maddalena and her husband were art collectors, so perhaps they fancied a similar portrait, or perhaps it was at Raphael’s suggestion. Whatever the motivation, the subjects are remarkably... Read more

The Battle of Ostia – Raphael’s finest?

Jan 10 2012 05:38PM | by Staff Editor

This post is our final in the series about Raphael rooms in the Vatican, the work which forever immortalised Raphael as one of the greatest painters ever. The fresco Battle of Ostia, or Battaglia di Ostia in Italian, is featured in the Room of Constantine and takes its name from the naval battle of 849 between Saracen pirates and the city states of Papal, Neapolitan, Amalfitan and Gaetan, otherwise known as the Italian league. The battle ended with a win to the league, who managed to fend off the attack from the pirates – all, of course, with help from God as embodied through the Pope. The irony of the whole situation was that the pirates were mostly Muslim, and arguably, they all pray to the same God… so God choosing between Abraham’s differing offspring? Nevertheless, the painting is a beautiful example of classical High Renaissance artwork. The Raphael painting depicts the battle as it took place off the city of Ostia, which at the time was undergoing much needed regeneration of its defensive sea walls. The city, and much of southern Italy, had for years been under attack from an advancing Muslim-Arab force, with one famous instance being the... Read more

Raphael rooms – the fight for Ostia and a Fire in Borgo

Dec 27 2011 09:17AM | by Staff Editor

This post continues our running series of Raphael Rooms in the Vatican. Raphael completed four rooms in total during his short-lived employment in Rome, frescoes of which are considered the highlights of his oeuvre. This week we are examining the final two frescoes in the Stanza painted by Raphael’s workshop with the intended use as a music room for Julius’ successor, Leo X. Thus the paintings feature events from the lives of Popes Leo III and Leo IV. The frescoes in the Fire in the Borgo also have a unique standing: they were all based on designs made by Raphael, but were all completed by his protégés and assistants. Let us now examine the next fresco which grants the room its name, The Fire in the Borgo. The Fire in the Borgo is by far the most intricate of the four frescoes in the Stanza dell’Incendio di Borgo, packed with medieval architecture, references to myths and classical antiquity and also allusions to popular themes used by contemporary artists of the age. The fresco celebrates the intercession of Leo IV, who by popular account recorded in the Liber Pontificalis, a collection of early papal biographies, controlled a great fire which had... Read more

The Oath of Leo III and The Coronation of Charlemagne

Dec 25 2011 09:09PM | by Staff Editor

This post continues our series of the Raphael rooms, focusing on the Stanza dell'incendio del Borgo or Fire in the Borgo. To briefly recap, the room was originally prepared as a music room for Pope Julius’ successor, Leo X. The room itself holds the unfanciful distinction of being the Raphael room with the least painted frescoes by the Renaissance master’s hand: it is widely believed Raphael only painted The Oath of Leo III (and the actual amount is debated), while the other three frescoes were painted by his assistants, who we should not forget were celebrated masters in their own light! So what were the frescoes all about? The Oath of Leo III, the only one touched by Raphael’s brush, illustrates an episode that took place the day before the crowning of Charlemagne, when Pope Leo III responded to the alleged slander of the nephews of his predecessor, Hadrian I. The painting shows Leo III during his trial on December 23 AD 800, where he faced his accusers. True to convention the assembled bishops declared that they could not judge the Pope; this reaffirmed the principle that the vicar of Christ is responsible to God alone for his actions. In... Read more

Raphael’s Stanza dell’incendio del Borgo

Nov 30 2011 06:07PM | by Staff Editor

A theme throughout our series of blog posts about Raphael paintings and frescoes in the Vatican is that a large percentage of the actual painting was completed by a hand other than Raphael’s. The Italian master certainly planned, sketched and painted several frescoes, but a large part of the “heavy lifting” was done by his vast academy, which at the time was considered among the best, both in skills and numbers. Raphael, of course, was known for his diplomatic, negotiating and social skills, which no doubt led to his ability to retain so many good painters under him and secure commissions for them at the same time – feeding the ego and the mouth. This next room in the series, the Stanza dell’incendio del Borgo, is the room that features the least work of Raphael – though the actual fresco Fire in the Borgo was based on his design, that, and the other three paintings, were painted without him. Regardless of precisely who yielded the brush, the Stanza dell’incendio del Borgo is still a magnificent work of art to behold. The stories behind the frescoes are similarly fascinating, as is the history of the room itself, which was first used... Read more

Raphael and his Cardinal and Theological Virtues

Nov 28 2011 08:04PM | by Staff Editor

We’ll now continue our series examining the famous Raphael Rooms, considered the masterpieces of the Raphael oeuvre. The broad credit Raphael receives, it is worth noting, isn’t entirely fair to the rest of his vast workshop and other young painters he employed. For instance, the fresco that we are examining this week, Cardinal and Theological Virtues, completed in 1511 as the fourth part in the Stanza della Segnatura, was in fact painted by Lorenzo Lotto, although it was sketched by Raphael, and no doubt had to pass his checks. But that’s a topic for another blog post. What exactly is contained in this fresco, and why is it significant? As we stated earlier, the frescos in the Stanza della Segnatura concern the four areas of human knowledge: poetry, philosophy, religion and law. In this respect, the Cardinal and Theological Virtues (6.6 metres wide at the base, for the OCD) represents a combination of religion and law: on the left of the picture Emperor Justinian Receives the Corpus Iuris Civilis, while on the right Pope Gregory IX approves the Decretals. The two scenes are joined by the same background architecture. The scene with Emperor Justinian shows his acceptance of the Corpus... Read more

Raphael painting The Parnassus - the third fresco

Oct 30 2011 11:16AM | by Staff Editor

In continuing our series on the great Raphael stanzas, we now turn our attention to the last two remaining rooms of the Stanza della Segnatura in the Vatican Palace. For those who may have missed the previous blogs, Raphael Sanzio received the commission from Pope Julius II, who wanted him to decorate the room as his first project in the Vatican. The Stanza della Segnatura exemplifies the four regions of human knowledge: poetry, philosophy, religion and law. The Parnassus fresco in turn represents poetry – the painting features the Roman god Apollo, prominently seated on top of Mount Helicon with nine muses surrounding him. A brisk description of the painting reveals all that is needed for the casual passerby – Apollo and the muse of poetry, Calliope, are the source of inspiration for the poets. In fact, Apollo is surrounded by 287 people in total – the nine muses (goddesses who inspire the creation of literature and the arts), nine earthly and human poets from antiquity and nine modern poets. The window below the fresco of shows the view of Mons Vaticanus, believed to be Apollo’s favourite haunt. Scholars believe the inclusion of Albertini, Biondo and Vegio refer to the... Read more

Raphael fresco and the Stanza della Segnatura

Oct 18 2011 10:15AM | by Staff Editor

Our past two blog posts have focused on the iconic Raphael rooms, or the four Stanze di Raffaello. A fortnight ago we examined the Stanza di Eliodoro, or Room of Heliodorus. This week we look at the Stanza della segnatura, or Room of the Signatura. This room was actually the first to be painted by Raphael and his team: its name is derived from the Signatura of Grace tribunal, which was originally placed in the library of Julius II. Raphael’s driving themes concern knowledge and harmony: as the frescoes were painted in a library, motifs pertaining to jurisprudence, theology, poetry and the arts were frequently portrayed in tondi above the lunettes of the walls. Thus the overall theme is one of spiritual wisdom derived both from God and the Bible, and indeed more secular sources such as Greek and Italian philosophy. The first fresco is The Disputation of the Sacrament or, in Italian, La disputa del sacramento. The artwork was Raphael’s first of the four rooms, and was completed from 1509-1510, measuring an impressive 500 cm by 770 cm. Raphael creates an impressive scene featuring God the father at the very top in a seemingly golden and upper heaven; below... Read more

Raphael artwork continued: the Stanza di Eliodoro

Oct 02 2011 12:14PM | by Staff Editor

Our next Raphael room that we will examine in this series is the Stanza di Eliodoro, or Room of Heliodorus. According to church records, painting started in 1511 and finished in 1514, with the overarching theme centring on Christ’s protection of the church. The main Raphael paintings are The Expulsion of Heliodorus from the Temple, The Mass at Bolsena, The Meeting of Pope Leo I and Attila, and finally, The Deliverance of Saint Peter from Prison. The Raphael artwork in this room is also stylistically different from the room we examined two weeks ago, the Stanza della Segnatura. Here Raphael had vivid narrative to portray, so the High Renaissance master painted less figures in larger proportions with a greater emphasis on staging and light. Let’s take a look at the first Raphael painting in more detail. The Expulsion of Heliodorus from the Temple features Raphael’s interpretation from the book of Maccabees II, chapters 3, verses 21-28. The story concerns Heliodorus, a government administrator, who was sent to confiscate the treasure contained in the old Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. He was stopped when God answered the prayers of the temple priest: angels were sent to lash poor Heliodorus, who was also... Read more

Continued exploration of Raphael Rooms

Sep 18 2011 07:31PM | by Staff Editor

As we noted in the last blog post, our next couple of blogs will examine the rooms that made Raphael famous. The largest Raphael room in the Palace of the Vatican is known as the Sala di Costantino, or, the Hall of Constantine. The irony here is that the fresco paintings were painted by Raphael directly, and work only began after Pope Julius and Raphael died. As such, while the room was commissioned to Raphael and “his team”, it was his assistants Giulio Romano, Gianfrancesco Penni and Raffaellino del Colle who actually completed the work. The room itself is dedicated to the theme of Christianity’s victory over paganism, and contains four main paintings: The Vision of the Cross, The Battle of Milvian Bridge, The Donation of Constantine and The Baptism of Constantine. The fresco of The Vision of the Cross depicts the well-known story of an enormous cross appearing to Constantine as he marched into battle against his bitter rival, general Maxentius. The vision in the sky is painted with Greek words, which translated means “By this, conquer”. The phrase is better known as the Latin In hoc signo vinces, which is also written next to its Greek version in... Read more

Two little Raphael facts and then some frescoes

Sep 04 2011 09:49PM | by Staff Editor

The problem with dead people is that they can’t paint any more. The problem with brilliant painters who die young is that their potential number of artworks is tragically cut short. Hence, the topic of this post. Raphael. The High Renaissance genius kicked the bucket at age 37, leaving only a mere handful of Raphael paintings when compared to others such as Michelangelo and Da Vinci. But rest assured, plenty of intrigue still surrounds his work. Here are two little points of trivia for you, before we start an examination of the four Stanze di Raffaello, or Raphael's rooms. Our first point of trivia is linked to the famous theft of the Mona Lisa (who’s heard of that painting?) in 1911, when Italian house painter Vincenzo Peruggia walked into the Louvre and walked out with the painting underneath his arm. No, Peruggia is not a relative or descendent of Raphael. The interesting point here is that after the theft the empty space was replaced by a Raphael painting, a portrait of Baldassare Castiglione. The second interesting trivia point concerns a missing Raphael painting, Portrait of a Young Man. The painting was hidden in the Polish city of Kraków for safekeeping... Read more

Raphael and the Judgement of Paris

Aug 08 2011 10:07AM | by Staff Editor

It’s sometimes worth sitting back to consider just how influential one artist can be on painters and oil paintings that come after him or her. Raphael is one such painter, and one Raphael artwork illustrates this perfectly. Judgement of Paris is widely considered a masterpiece of High Renaissance printmaking and represented the peak of collaboration between Raphael and engraver Marcantonio. Raphael’s Judgement of Paris was drawn by Raphael specifically for Marcantonio to engrave – the drawing wasn’t an act of benevolence either. According to noted Italian historian Vasari, Raphael did the drawing to “please himself” and to explore and spread the ancient myth and motifs that he was interested in. The myth itself is important and worth considering quickly. The Judgement of Paris is a story from Greek mythology, which details one of the events that led up to the Trojan War. It was popular during the Renaissance because it allowed the portrayal of female nudes. It would take too long to summarise the actual plot of the myth, but basically it was your standard Gods wreaking havoc on poor humanity story. The emphasis on female forms, however, is the key artistic focus – it led to many painters, hundreds... Read more

Raphael: Plenty of Time

Jul 24 2011 10:01PM | by Staff Editor

Time has a tendency to slip through our fingers – whether it’s a conversation with a loved one that runs long, or sitting down to watch an episode of House, but end up watching the whole season instead (and subsequently have to go to work wearing the same clothes… or maybe that’s just me). When a person is born, the first year of her life represents 100% of her experience and growth, but each passing year becomes a smaller, smaller percentage of the total. And after a while she treats it as such, like when she recounts a story and can’t recall whether it happened in 1996 or 1998. Imagine someone telling you she will meet you at 9:00pm on Thursday, and she shows up 2 years later. Today, the average person lives about 70 years, depending on the region of the world, or various other factors like gunfire density and number of crazy exes. Back in the time of the Renaissance, people could expect to live roughly half of that time. Half. Imagine a life that ended at 35. Sanzio Raphael, one of the greatest names in Renaissance art died at 37 (He beat the odds!). During that relatively... Read more

Raphael prints and engrave, embracing technology and popularity

Jul 11 2011 11:49AM | by Staff Editor

Before tweeting, Facebook updates, goading the paparazzi or perhaps choosing to attend a red carpet event sans underwear (Raphael Sanzio, anyone?), a painter had to rely on more simple means to popularise himself. High Renaissance painter Raphael found himself in such a position. Engraved copper plates and the reproductive printing process were establishing themselves as technologies capable of printing multiple copies of his famous works. How should the great master embrace this tech? Unlike many great European painters who achieved recognition for their printmaking (most notably Titian), Raphael himself made no prints. Instead he worked together with Marcantonio Raimondi, an Italian engraver known as the first important printmaker. Raimondi’s work mainly consisted of copies of other artists; various Raphael paintings became Raimondi engravings, but Raphael also created designs with the express intent for them to be turned into prints. Art historians estimate about 50 prints were made in total. The ease of printing meant that Raphael was able to spread his oeuvre outside Italy – with no photography much less the internet, this was the best way for an artist to increase his reputation and financial earnings. Raphael’s most famous prints were the Judgement of Paris, Lucretia and The Massacre... Read more

Romano and Penni – not pasta varieties but painting extraordinaires

May 24 2011 10:19AM | by Staff Editor

It’s always hard to come after a good act. Why do you think the support bands are always “worse” than the headline act? One, they aren’t as popular, two, to make the headline act look good, of course. The same could be said for the dozens of painters left in Raphael Sanzio’s workshop after the early and untimely death of the High Renaissance master. Who would emerge from the ashes? Two most outstanding pupils, Giulio Romano and Gianfrancesco Penni, would eventually make a name for themselves, but they were forever overshadowed in varying degrees by their more famous teacher. Gianfrancesco Penni, also known as Giovan Francesco, was born either in 1488 or 1496 and died in 1528. Although a student of Raphael, he was also a Florentine master in his own right who worked on many rooms in the Vatican as well. His friend and compatriot Giulio Romano was an equal in many ways, although he would surpass Penni in popularity and artistic style. He was born about 1499 and died in 1546. Romano was most famous for fusing High Renaissance with Classicism that helped to define the 16th Century style known as Mannerism (but that is another post for... Read more

What Caused Raphael's Death?

May 03 2011 09:32AM | by Staff Editor

Sanzio Raphael, known simply as Raphael to most modern readers, died at age 37. Although people did not live to great ages during the Middle Ages, the death of a healthy person at age 37, particularly someone who was famous and hard at work at an important piece of art, was still remarkable. While the cause of Raphael's death has never been completely explained, some experts now say that Raphael may have been killed by the treatments used to cure him. By all accounts, Raphael was an attractive, social man. He had many affairs and girlfriends and was quite active sexually. One woman, Margherita Luti, was a constant in the life of Raphael. The two were romantically linked for years, although they did not formally recognize their relationship with marriage. In 1520, Raphael was hard at work painting the Transfiguration. He was working on a tight deadline, supervising many subordinate painters, and was under an extreme amount of stress. It's likely he wasn't eating well or sleeping adequately. He did find the time, however, to spend a long night in the arms of his lover. Perhaps this added exertion was too much for the painter, but he collapsed the next... Read more

A Raphael Madonna Painting is Restored

Apr 26 2011 12:06PM | by Staff Editor

When an arsonist set fire to a church in Ohio, the church's treasured oil painting reproduction of Raphael's Madonna of the Chair was significantly damaged. Layers and layers of black soot covered the image, and curators were unable to remove the grime without damaging the paint underneath. The Raphael painting was considered a total loss, until NASA researchers suggested that they might have an answer. Researchers at NASA's Glenn Research Center had discovered that an elemental form of oxygen, called atomic oxygen, could remove layers of organic dirt and debris from the space shuttle, while leaving the underlying paint intact. Researchers wanted to experiment with this new technology, and perhaps save the Raphael oil painting at the same time. Researchers cleaned the painting with the technique, and declared the cleanings a success in articles released in January of 2011. Atomic oxygen can be used to clean paintings in a global manner, or can be used to target specific areas of paintings that need a gentle touchup. The oxygen only reacts with materials on the surface, leaving the underlying paint untouched. Researchers are asking for new paintings to test, so the techniques can be further refined and knowledge of how the... Read more

The Difference Between Renaissance and High Renaissance

Apr 10 2011 06:17PM | by Staff Editor

Raphael is considered one of the masters of the High Renaissance. In fact, many experts claim that the Renaissance movement ended with the death of Raphael in 1520. But what makes the High Renaissance different than the Renaissance? And why is Raphael considered a master of the High Renaissance? The Renaissance movement began in Florence, although experts disagree on the exact date of its beginning. An emphasis was placed on the artist as a knowledgeable and valuable member of society, and artists worked to paint the world as it actually was. Painters such as Sandro Botticelli and Giotto di Bondone began to use perspective, to give the appearance of depth and space in their paintings. Proportions were determined mathematically, and were adhered to with strict rigidity. Spiritual themes were still popular, however, and divine figures were still portrayed with a stiff, formal technique. Haloes were still firmly in place, and the bodies were slightly less realistic. The Christ child, for example, often looks like a small, wizened old man, rather than a chubby baby. During the High Renaissance, the push to realism would grow to encompass holy figures as well. Consider The Madonna of Belvedere. Here, the figures contain only... Read more