Raphael was born the son of Giovanni Santi and Màgia di Battista Ciarla, who died in 1491. His father was a poet and a painter for the court of Mantua, and at the time of Raphael's birth, he was the head of a well known studio in Urbino. Giovanni instructed his son in painting and introduced him to the humanist court of Urbino, which at the end of the 15th century, was one of the most active cultural centres in Italy under the rule of Federico da Montefeltro, who had died seven months before Raphael's birth. There, Raphael could have encountered the works of Paolo Uccello, Luca Signorelli, and Melozzo da Forlì. Raphael showed an early talent, and by age 17, 1500, he was defined a "master".
In his biography of Raphael, Giorgio Vasari maintains that Raphael's father took the 11-year-old Raphael to Perugia to be apprenticed to Pietro Perugino. This is disputed by some authorities, although it is generally agreed that Raphael was in the Umbrian city from 1492, the year after his father died.
The first documented work by Raphael is an altarpiece for the church of San Nicola da Tolentino in Città di Castello, a town midway between Perugia and Urbino. The piece was commissioned in 1500 and completed in 1501. It was damaged by an earthquake in 1789, and today only fragments remain in the Pinacoteca Tosio Martenigo of Brescia.
Another important early commission was the Crowning of the Virgin for the Oddi Chapel in the church of San Francesco in Perugia. Raphael, probably as a member of Perugino's workshop, also worked on the frescoes of Collegio del Cambio.
The Marriage of the Virgin also known by some as the Engagement of the Virgin Mary (1504) is the main work of this period, inspired by Perugino's Giving of the Keys to St. Peter of 1481-1482. Shortly after which he completed three small paintings, Vision of a Knight, Three Graces and St. Michael all showing the great maturity and freshness typical of his style.
In 1504 Raphael moved to Siena with the painter Pinturicchio, whom he had supplied with designs and drawings for the frescoes in the Libreria Piccolomini in Siena; and then to Florence, led by the more reasonable rule of gonfaloniere Pier Soderini after the excesses of Savonarola's years, and where two great masters, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, were at work. Raphael's presence in Florence from autumn 1504 on is confirmed. There he lived for the following four years, even though he may have travelled to Perugia, Urbino and maybe Rome. In 1507 he was commissioned by a Perugian noblewoman to paint the notable Deposition (Galleria Borghese, Rome).
In Florence, Raphael befriended several local painters, notably Fra Bartolomeo, a proponent of the idealistic principles of the High Renaissance; the influence of the latter pushed him to abandon the thin and graceful style of Perugino and embrace more grandiose and powerful forms. However, the strongest influence on Raphael's works of the Florentine period came from Leonardo da Vinci's compositions, figure placements and gestures, as well as the innovative techniques, (chiaroscuro and sfumato).
Toward the end of 1508, Pope Julius II, advised by Raphael's townsman Donato Bramante, commissioned his services in Rome. At that time Raphael was a 25-year-old painter still forging his style; soon, however, he gained popular fame and the favor of the Pope. He was earning the nickname of "prince of painters." In the following 12 years Raphael never left what became his second mother country, working mainly for Julius and his successor Pope Leo X (son of Lorenzo de Medici) and painting a series of masterpieces. He became the most sought-after artist in the city.
At the end of 1508 he began decorating the apartments of Julius in the Vatican, which, in the pope's vision, were intended to glorify the Roman Church's power through the justification of humanism and neoplatonism. The best known of these frescoes are the Signature Room (Stanza della Segnatura), completed in 1511, with the famous Disputa and The School of Athens. Raphael continued to work on the rooms until 1513, under the reign of Leo X, but left the last sections almost entirely to his pupils. In the meantime he worked on other tasks, such as secular and sacred decorations for various buildings, portraits, altarpieces, cartoons for tapestries, designs for dishes and stage sceneries.
Some of the most renowned works of this period stem from his friendship with the rich Senese banker Agostino Chigi, who commissioned his beautiful fresco of Galatea in his Villa Farnesina and the Sibyls in the church of Santa Maria della Pace, along with the design and the decoration of the Chigi Chapel in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo (1513). This first architectural work earned Raphael the seat of architect of the new Saint Peter's Basilica (the construction of which began in 1506), left vacant by Bramante's death in 1514. Raphael changed the plan of the work from a Greek to a longitudinal design, but the project was again modified after his death. Two years later he drew the lines of the important Villa Madama in Rome. In 1515 he was also named as a sort of supervisor for Roman archaeology research, drawing up an archaeological map of the city.
Raphael’s prestige gave his works a role in the creation and strengthening of political alliances, as in the cases of the works now in the Louvre, which were sent to the French court, and in the Portrait of Lorenzo de Medici for the Florentine party.
Raphael never married, even though in 1514 he was betrothed to Maria Bibbiena, niece of a cardinal, but the engagement was ended by her premature death. According to legend his greatest love was one "Fornarina" ("the little baker"), but her existence is unconfirmed. According to Vasari, Raphael's premature death was due to the "excesses of love".
In his last years (1518-1520) the intervention of the workshop in Raphael’s works became more significant, as can been seen in works like Sicilia’s Spasimo for a church of Palermo and the Visitation now housed in the Prado of Madrid. Also, the decoration of the Constantine’s Room in the Vatican was executed entirely by his pupils based on the master’s drawings. His last autograph pictures are the Double portrait of the Louvre, the small but monumental Ezechiel's Vision and the Transfiguration.
Raphael's sudden death in Rome on his 37th birthday (reportedly just weeks before Leo was to invest him as a cardinal) was deeply lamented by all who recognized his greatness. His body lay in state in one of the rooms which demonstrated his genius, and he was honoured with a public funeral. The Transfiguration was carried before him in the funeral procession.
The unrelenting hand of death, says his biographer, set a limit on his achievement, and deprived the world of further benefit from his talents, when he had only attained an age at which most other men are but beginning to be useful. "We see him in his cradle (said Fuseli); we hear him stammer; but propriety rocked the cradle, and character formed his lips." — from The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, 1827
He was interred in the Pantheon, Italy's most honoured burial place.
Dates of birth and death
There is confusion about Raphael's birth and death dates. Sources variously state: (a) he died on his 37th birthday; (b) he died on the eve of his 37th birthday; (c) both his dates of birth and death were Good Friday; and (d) there have been mistakes in converting from the Julian Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar
The Gregorian calendar was introduced 62 years after Raphael's death, so the question of conversion between that calendar and the Julian calendar does not arise.
The facts seem to be that:
- he was born on Good Friday, 6 April 1483
- he died on his 37th birthday, Sunday, 6 April 1520
Critical assessment and legacy
Raphael was highly admired by his contemporaries. When compared to Michelangelo and Titian, he was sometimes considered inferior to those masters. At the same time, it was maintained that none of them shared all the qualities possessed by Raphael, "ease" in particular.
After his arrival in Rome portraits became a secondary task for Raphael as he devoted his efforts to the great Vatican projects. Among others, he portrayed the two popes Julius II and Leo X, the latter being considered one of his finest portraits.
One of his most important papal commissions was the series of 10 cartoons for tapestries with scenes of the lives of Saint Paul and Saint Peter, intended as wall decoration for the Sistine Chapel. The cartoons were sent to Bruxelles to be sewn in the workshop of Pier van Aelst; the first three tapestries were sent to Rome in 1519. It is possible that Raphael saw the finished series before his death — they were completed in 1520 for Leo X.
Chronology of main works
- Angel (fragment of the Baronci Altarpiece) (1500-1501) - Oil on wood, 31 x 27 cm, Pinacoteca Civica Tosio Martinengo, Brescia, Italy
- Angel (fragment of the Baronci Altarpiece) (1500-1501) - Oil on wood, 57 x 36 cm, Louvre, Paris
- St. Sebastian (1501-1502) - Oil on wood, 43 x 34 cm, Accademia Carrara, Bergamo
- The Crowning of the Virgin (Oddi Altar) (c. 1501-1503) - Oil on canvas, 267 x 163 cm, Pinacoteca Vaticana, Vatican, Rome
- The Annunciation (Oddi Altar, predella) (c. 1501-1503) - Oil on canvas, 27 x 50 cm, Pinacoteca Vaticana, Vatican, Rome
- The Adoration of the Magi (Oddi Altar) (c. 1501-1503) - Oil on canvas, 27 x 150 cm, Pinacoteca Vaticana, Vatican, Rome
- The Presentation in the Temple (Oddi Altar, predella) (c. 1501-1503) - Oil on canvas, 27 x 50 cm, Pinacoteca Vaticana, Vatican, Rome
- Portrait of a Man - Oil on wood, 45 x 31 cm, Galleria Borghese, Rome
- Madonna Solly (Madonna with the Child) (1500-1504)
- Oil on tablet, 53 x 38 cm, Staatliche Museen, BerlinMond Crucifixion (Città di Castello Altarpiece) (1501-1503) - Oil on wood, 281 x 165 cm, National Gallery, LondonThree Graces (c. 1501-1505) - Musée Condé, Chantilly, France
- St. Michael (c. 1501) - Louvre, Paris
- The Connestabile Madonna (1502-1503) - Tempera on wood, 17,5 x 18 cm, The Hermitage, St. Petersburg
- Madonna and Child (1503) - Oil on wood, 55 x 40 cm, Norton Simon Museum of Art, Pasadena
- The Marriage of the Virgin (1504) - Oil on roundheaded panel, 174 x 121 cm, Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan
- Portrait of Elisabetta Gonzaga (c. 1504) - Oil on wood, 52,9 x 37,4 cm, Uffizi, Florence
- Vision of a Knight (1504) - Egg tempera on poplar, 17.1 x 17.1 cm, National Gallery, London
- St. George (1504) - Oil on tablet, 31 x 27 cm, Louvre, Paris
- Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints, (1504-1505) - Tempera and gold on wood, 172,4 x 172,4 cm (main panel), Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
- Portrait of Pietro Bembo (c. 1504) - Oil on wood, 54 x 69 cm, Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest
- Portrait of Perugino (c. 1504) - Tempera on wood, 57 x 42 cm, Uffiz, Florence
- Self-portrait (1504-1506))
- The Ansidei Madonna (The Madonna between St. John Baptist and St. Nicholas of Bari) (c. 1505-1506) - Oil on poplar, 274 x 152 cm, National Gallery, London
- Young Man with an Apple (1505) - Oil on wood, 47 x 35 cm, Uffizi, Florence
- Christ Blessing (1505) - Oil on wood, 30 x 25 cm, Pinacoteca Civica Tosio Martinengo, Brescia, Italy
- Madonna Terranova (1504-1505) - Oil on wood, 87 cm, Staatliche Museen, Berlin
- The Madonna of the Goldfinch (c. 1505) - Uffizi, Florence
- Madonna del Prato (c. 1505) – Oil on wood, 113 x 88 cm, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
- St. George and the Dragon (1505-1506) - Oil on wood, 28.5 x 21.5 cm, National Gallery of Art, Washington
- Portrait of Agnolo Doni (1505-1507) - Oil on wood, 63 x 45 cm, Palazzo Pitti, Florence
- Portrait of Maddalena Doni (1505-1507) – Oil on wood, 63 x 45 cm, Palazzo Pitti, Florence
- Madonna of the Grand Duke (c. 1506) - Oil on wood, 84 x 55 cm, Palazzo Pitti, Florence
- Madonna of the Pinks (1506)
- Canigiani Holy Family (1507) - Oil on wood, 132 x98 cm, Alte Pinakothek, Munich
- La Belle Jardiniére (1507) - Louvre, Paris
- The Deposition of Christ (The Entombment) (1507-1508) - Oil on wood, 184 x 176 cm, Galleria Borghese, Rome
- Madonna with Beardless St. Joseph (1506) - Tempera on canvas transferred from wood, 74 x 57 cm, The Hermitage, St. Petersburg
- The Three Theological Virtues (tryptic) (1507) - Oil on wood, 16 x 44 cm (each), Pinacoteca Vaticana, Vatican, Rome
- The Tempi Madonna (Madonna with the Child) (1508)
- Madonna of Loreto (Madonna del Velo) (1509-1510) - Oil on wood, 120 x 90 cm, Musée Condé, Chantilly, France
- Aldobrandini Madonna (1510) - Oil on wood, 38,7 x 32,7 cm, National Gallery, London
- Madonna with the Blue Diadem (1510-1511) - Oil on wood, 68 x 44 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris
- Portrait of a Cardinal (1510-1511) - Oil on wood, 79 x 61 cm, Museo del Prado, Madrid
- The Alba Madonna (1511) - Oil on canvas, diameter 98 cm, National Gallery of Art, Washington
- The Prophet Isaiah (1511-1512) - Fresco, 250 x 155 cm, Sant'Agostino, Rome
- Portrait of Pope Julius II (1511-1512) - Oil on wood, 108 x 80,7 cm, National Gallery, London
- Portrait of Pope Julius II (1512) - Oil on wood, 108,5 x 80 cm, Uffizi, Florence
- The Madonna of Foligno (1511-1512) - Oil on wood, 320 x 194 cm, Pinacoteca Vaticana, Vatican, Rome
- The Triumph of Galatea (1511-1513) - Fresco, 295 x 224 cm, Villa Farnesina, Rome
- Portrait of Tommaso Inghirami (1512-1514) - Boston, Massachusetts
- Sistine Madonna (c. 1513-1516) - Oil on canvas, 265 x 196 cm, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden
- Madonna della Seggiola (Madonna with the Child and Young St. John) (1513-1514) - Oil on wood, diameter 71 cm, Galleria Palatina (Palazzo Pitti), Florence
- Madonna dell'Impannata (1513-1514) - Oil on wood, 158 x 125 cm, Galleria Palatina (Palazzo Pitti), Florence
- Madonna della Tenda (1514) - Oil on wood, 65,8 x 51,2 cm, Alte Pinakothek, Munich
- The Burning of Borgo (1514) - Fresco, width at base 670 cm, Vatican, Rome
- Portrait of Bindo Altoviti (c. 1514) - Oil on tablet, 60 x 44 cm - National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
- The Sibyls (1514) - Fresco, width at base 615 cm,Santa Maria della Pace, Rome
- The Ecstasy of St. Cecilia (1514-1516) - Oil on wood, 220 x 136 cm, Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna
- Portrait of Balthasar Castiglione (c. 1515) - Oil on canvas, 82 x 67 cm, Louvre, Paris
- Woman with a Veil (La Donna Velata) (1515-1516) - Oil on canvas, 82 x 60,5 cm, Palazzo Pitti, Florence
- Portrait of Tommaso Inghirami (1515-1516) - Oil on wood, 91 x 61 cm, Palazzo Pitti, Florence
- Portrait of Andrea Navagero and Agostino Beazzano (1516)
- Portrait of Cardinal Bibbiena (c. 1516) - Oil on canvas, 85 x 66,3 cm , Palazzo Pitti, Florence
- Double Portrait (c. 1516) - Oil on canvas, 77 x 111 cm , Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome
- Transfiguration (1517-c. 1520) - Oil on wood, 405 x 278 cm, Vatican Museum, Rome
- Portrait of Pope Leo X with two Cardinals (1517-1518) - Oil on wood, 155 x 118 cm, Palazzo Pitti, Florence
- Christ Falling on the Way to Calvary (1516-1517) - Oil on panel transferred to canvas, 318 x 229 cm, Museo del Prado, Madrid
- The Holy Family of Francis I (1518) - Louvre, Paris
- Ezechiel’s Vision (1518) – Oil on wood, 40 x 29 cm, Palazzo Pitti, Florence
- St. Michael Vanquishing Satan (1518) - Louvre, Paris
- Madonna of the Rose (1518)
- Self-portrait with a Friend (1518-1519) - Oil on canvas, 99 x 83 cm, Louvre, Paris
- Portrait of a Young Woman (La Fornarina) (1518-1519) - Oil on wood, 85 x 60 cm, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome
- Visitation - Museo del Prado, Madrid