The entire world celebrates the myth of Raphael, 500 years after his death.
And today, we also want to tell you about a little-known aspect of his extraordinary life: his relationship with his father.
It often happens that famous fathers tend to shadow over their children. A successful father may even limit their child’s career or adversely affect their personality.
However, in the case of Raphael – the “divine painter “ – exactly the opposite occurred.
Are you born or made?
How did Giovanni Santi, Raphael’s father, feel about his son’s talent?
We know that Giovanni was a painter, a poet, and stage designer, while also organising parties. His shop was among the most important in the town of Urbino, working in close relationship with the court.
However, his name and fame would soon be overshadowed by his son’s talent.
Importantly, he would work hard to properly direct his child’s talent.
Urbino was a stimulating court at the time, and it was the father, eclectic and inclined to the arts, from who the boy would learn these skills, as well as the ability to absorb information from everyone around him, continually renewing himself.
Certainly, it was his father who taught him to “read into” the solemn figures seen in sculptures by Piero della Francesca – a lesson that would not be forgotten.
In his father’s workshop he learnt how to relate to customers (who were often powerful lords of the court), as well as manage the numerous apprentices of the workshop, an experience that would be useful later in Rome where he organized efficient work sites.
Raphael was only 11 years old when his father died, but those few years of apprenticeship were enough. At the age of 17, he carried out his first autonomous works, and we hear an original voice where the imprint of Perugino, see as going against by his master’s tradition, is not very present. However, he would approach it again later in order to satisfy his clients’ tastes.
Raphael absorbed information from everyone, the artists of the past and present, even legends like Michelangelo and Leonardo. He did not let himself be crushed by anyone and created a unique style, but which is also the summa of the Renaissance, where we can easily recognize the influences of many other artists, albeit without clearly identifying any single artist.
At the beginning of the 16th century Raphael was an emerging artist in Urbino, Umbria and Tuscany.
In Florence, where he arrived in 1504, his works focusing on the Madonna were quite successful, destined for the private devotion of the wealthy Florentine bourgeoisie. They are paintings of small dimensions, however with great balance and harmony, sweet figures with tender gestures.
Madonna del Belvedere, 1506. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.
He then took flight, transforming his style. In 1506 he painted Pala Baglioni (The Deposition), a masterpiece offering fantastic emotional tension. It had been commissioned by Atalanta Baglioni to commemorate the violent death of her son. Here, the traditional composition of the Lamentation of Christ, initially designed, had turned into a dynamic Transport of Christ to the sepulchre, with a drama in Mary’s pain that echoes the Atalanta’s torment.
In 1508, Rome would bear witness the further transformation of this extraordinary artist, and a Renaissance that moved towards Mannerism.
This change saw the creation of the Portrait of Julius II (pontiff from 1503 to 1513), who, fascinated by Raphael’s talent, fired the painters who had begun the decoration of his new official apartments and entrusted the painter with the task of continuing the work of the Vatican’s famous “Raphael rooms” or “Le Stanze di Raffaello”.
These rooms formed part of the apartment located on the second floor of the Pontifical Palace chosen by Julius II as his residence and also used by his successors. The pictorial decoration was carried out by Raphael and his apprentices between 1508 and 1524.
This gave rise to the fresco “The School of Athens“, a celebration of the Renaissance and a tribute to Classical Culture. Within a grandiose Renaissance architecture that anticipates the Church of Saint Peter, Plato and Aristotle are surrounded by ancient scholars, discussing with each other. This is the translation into images of the rational search for the “Truth” through Philosophy and Science. Finally tested, this painter of the Florentine Madonnas showed he was one of history’s greatest artists, giving a universal and modern image to abstract concepts.
Two years later, the “Expulsion of Heliodorus from the Temple“ marked another change in style and a step towards Mannerism. Bright rational architecture disappeared, the rooms are not easily visible and there are strong contrasts of light. The figures in serene conversation have been replaced by trembling worshippers and avenging angels in a scene of overwhelming violence. The sweet hands of Raphael stage the unleashing of God’s anger.
In the meantime, he began to grow ill, although his work continued and his style was still evolving. In the “Fire in the Borgo“, we are now in full Mannerism – the use of a single space crumbles, leaving the architecture shattered like theatre wings.
Raphael died shortly thereafter, as young as his father but with greater talent and certainly with greater luck and opportunity. Raphael gave himself to history, while his father was to be soon forgotten.
Preparatory drawing for the “Pala Baglioni” (fase 1)
Anna Maria Calabretta