Key works you need to know by Raphael: The School of Athens in the Stanza della Segnatura (the Pope’s drawing room in the Vatican), Sistine Madonna and The Transfiguration.
Raphael is the final playing piece in the trinity of Renaissance superstars. While a great artist in his own right, Raphael is best remembered for his remix of the two Renaissance greatest hits—Michelangelo and Leonardo in his prolific oeuvre. To say he did it alone is hardly fair as Raphael had one of the largest workshops of the era, but unfortunately no one remembers the understudies.
Born in Urbino, he was orphaned by age 11, but still managed to kick it with the best of them, wriggling into the Urbino court of nobles and learning how to paint and make polite conversation. This skill (along with his artistic integrity) held him in good stead with Pope Julius II who summoned him to Rome to work on the redecoration of the Vatican (Julius also summoned Michelangelo who came a little more begrudgingly).
But before all this though Raphael found himself in Florence, the home of Leonardo da Vinci. Leonardo was about thirty years older than Raphael and while there is no evidence that the two ever met, there can be no denying Raphael saw his work. After his brief time in Florence, Raphael’s work took on the stylistic qualities of Leonardo faster than HRH Prince George’s blue dungarees sold out in Britain over the weekend. Raphael imitated the poses of Leonardo’s paintings and in particular began copying his technique of sfumato (smudgy blurred painting technique).
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In Rome, Raphael found his contemporary Michelangelo was also working under Pope Julius II in the Vatican. The shared experience did not go down well—Michelangelo hated Raphael even more than he hated Leonardo, so Friday night drinks were out. Raphael was not deterred and began assimilating aspects of Michelangelo’s classicism into his work at this time—Raphael even famously included a portrait of Michelangelo in The School of Athens after he snuck a look at Michelangelo’s awesome work on the Sistine Chapel ceiling.
Workplace bullying aside, Raphael had a frivolous time in Rome, enjoying many love affairs, great popularity and wealth until his death at age 37. As the scandalous tale goes, Raphael’s death resulted from a night of romping with his favourite mistress, which sent him down into a fever (don’t worry, she was well provided for in his will). Raphael was given the honour of being buried in the Pantheon and, in time, of not being overshadowed by Michelangelo and Leonardo.