Raphael is another of those enigmatic Renaissance painters that only needs a first name to know who one talking about. If Michelangelo or Leonardo is brought up in conversation as if speaking about an old friend, we know that it is the Italian Renaissance Masters that are being spoken about. The same is true of Raphael, who is sometimes given a back seat to the two giants, but is no less of an artist. Whereas Leonardo Da Vinci’s works can be painted in mostly dark tones, Raphael’s are light, bright and airy.
Originally from Urbino, Italy, Raphael traveled to Florence, the great art capital of the world at the time. The early 16th century was filled with great artists and in Florence Raphael was in good company. It wasn’t long before Raphael’s creative genius was realized. Pope Julius II commissioned Raphael to paint several frescoes in the papal apartments. The most famous of all of these is School of Athens, a work much copied and punned even today. In the center of painting Plato and Aristotle are deep in conversation, each one holding one of his books. The painting is populated by all manner of artists, politicians, scientists, philosophers, writers, astronomers, mathematicians, and geographers. All discuss their crafts with the Roman gods looking down on them from above. Portraits of Raphael’s contemporaries are carefully snuck in as the faces in the crowd. Da Vinci, Michelangelo and even Raphael himself are all depicted.
Raphael’s realistic style can also be seen in the painting Pope Leo X. Leo was Medici, as was the cardinal standing to his left. The other individual to the right was a cousin of the Medici’s. As much as this is a portrait of the pope, it is also a carefully constructed family portrait. The figures jump off the canvas with their red robes against the black background. The Pope, in darker red, creamy white, and gold, sits majestically at a table, book splayed open in front of him.Such as lucrative career as Raphael’s that led to world renown through the centuries is an amazing feat in and of itself. But Raphael did not have a long and illustrious life such as Leonardo Da Vinci. Raphael died very young at only 37 years old. Part of his success and large number of paintings was because of organized his studio was. He had many assistants who were learning from him, as did many master painters during those times. The studio was constantly receiving commissions which Raphael kept close track of. When times were busy, or when he felt a student was ready, Raphael would have them sketch the initial concept for a painting, or assist in painting main figures in one of his works, both of which were almost always reserved exclusively as the work of the master painter. Without this incredible amount of organization and the large number of students Raphael had we may not have had as many fine works of his as we do today.