Urbino and Perugia, 1483-1504

Raffaelle Santi (or Sanzio), known as Raphael, was born in Urbino.  His father, Giovanni Santi, was a minor painter who gave him a humanist education.  His father had access to the highly cultured court of Urbino under Federico II da Montefeltro, who died a year before Raphael was born.  In his youth, Raphael would have visited the court of Federico's son, Guidobaldo da Montefeltro, with his father.


Raphael was apprenticed to the leading painter of Perugia, Pietro Perugino, whose influence is evident in early paintings such as Marriage of the Virgin, which Raphael painted in 1504.


Florence, 1504-1508

In 1504 Raphael moved to Florence, where he was influenced by the work of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.  During his Florentine period he painted a number of devotional works of the Madonna and Child such as La Belle Jardinière (1507). He also painted portraits such as the Portrait of Angelo Doni.


Rome,  1508-20

After Raphael became famous in Florence, Pope Julius II invited him to Rome, where he received many major painting commissions from Julius II and his successor, Leo X. (See details under “PAINTING COMMISSIONS FROM POPES” below.)


Raphael was also in great demand from private patrons who wanted him to paint fresco decorations for palaces and villas.  At the Villa Farnesina, he painted the Triumph of Galatea (c.1512) and directed his assistants in painting the ceiling of the Loggia di Psiche.


Raphael also painted a number of portraits such as the Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione and Pope Leo X with Cardinals Giulio de' Medici and Luigi de' Rossi.


He also painted altarpieces, his most famous being the Sistine Madonna. (c.1512).


Stylistic Development

Raphael's style, more than that of any other painter, epitomized the wholeness and harmony characteristic of the High Renaissance.


In his final years, paintings like the Transfiguration reflected a stylistic change that anticipated some aspects of mannerism, and had he not died prematurely, his art would have probably developed along Mannerist lines as his architecture did.


Raphael's decorative style was inspired by ancient Roman decoration such as the grotesques of the Domus Aurea, which was discovered and excavated in his youth.  Raphael incorporated these forms on the vaults and piers of the Vatican stanzi.


Early Death

Raphael's premature death at age 37 was greatly mourned.  He was buried in the Pantheon as he had requested.  His tomb is visible today and bears the inscription in Latin written by the humanist Pietro Bembo:


"Ille hic est Raphael, timuit quo sospite vinci Rerum magna parens, et moriente mori."
"Here lies Raphael, by whom Great Nature feared to be outdone while he was living, and when he was dying, feared herself to die."





Commissions from Pope Julius II

In 1508, Pope Julius brought Raphael to Rome to decorate part of the Vatican Palace.


Beginning Stanze, Vatican, begun 1508.  Pope Julius commissioned Raphael to paint the Stanza della Segnatura, the first of the four rooms known as the Stanze, which are located on the third story of the Nicholas V Wing.  This room is especially famous for the School of Athens. Several likenesses of Pope Julius and other members of his family can be found in La Disputa and elsewhere.  Raphael's assistants on this project included Giovanni Penni and Giulio Romano.  This room's success led Julius to commission the Stanza d'Eliodoro.  


Portrait of Pope Julius II, 1511-12. The Pope commissioned Raphael to paint a portrait of himself in an armchair.  The beard signifies the pope's pledge not to shave until he had rid Italy of foreign occupiers.  The finials rising from the corners of the chair back are carved as cap-side-down acorns, which refer to the oak tree of the pope's family crest. 


Sistine Madonna, 1513-14. Pope Julius commissioned Raphael to paint an altarpiece for San Sisto in Piacenza, the main church dedicated to Saint Sixtus, the patron saint of the della Rovere family.  The painting was presented to the city of Piacenza as a token of Julius' appreciation for the city's help in driving the French out of northern Italy.  The painting is known as the Sistine Madonna because the figure on the left, whose face has Pope Julius' features, is Saint Sixtus.  


Commissions from Pope Leo X

After the death of Bramante in 1514, Leo X appointed Raphael to replace him as his architect in Rome and at the Vatican.  Many commissions were made to complete the decoration of previously built parts of the Vatican Palace.


Continuing Stanze. Leo commissioned Raphael to continue decorating the rooms on the third story of the Nicholas V wing.  Raphael completed the Stanza d'Eliodoro and began and completed the Stanza dell' Incendio.  The decoration of the Stanza dell' Incendio, which served as Leo X's dining room, included scenes of two of his namesake popes, Leo III and Leo IV, who are portrayed with his own features.  The depiction of architecture in Fire in the Borgo demonstrates Raphael's knowledge of ancient architectural forms.


Cartoons for Tapestries for the Sistine Chapel. In 1514 Leo X commissioned Raphael to paint cartoons for a set of tapestries for the Sistine Chapel.  The tapestries depict scenes from the lives of the Apostles St. Peter and St. Paul.  Raphael's cartoons were sent to tapestry workshops in Brussels to be woven of silk laced with gold and silver.  The borders framing these scenes boldly refer to Leo X by illustrating not only Medici family emblems but also the Pope's own life story.


"Raphael Bible" in Loggia. In 1517 Raphael was commissioned to decorate the third-story loggia of the Vatican Palace's entrance façade, which joined Leo's apartments, the Stanze, at a right angle on the Palace's northeast corner.  The loggia's thirteen square vaults were painted with 52 scenes, four per vault, from the Bible, which led to the loggia's popular name, "the Raphael Bible."  Twelve of the scenes are from the Old Testament, and many are subjects that Michelangelo had recently painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The scenes are set in a framework of grotesques and other designs based on the decoration in the recently discovered Domus Aurea.  Raphael's assistants Giovanni da Udine, Giulio Romano, Giovanni Penni, and Perin del Vaga played a major part in carrying out the decoration, which was executed in a combination of fresco and stucco.  


Transfiguration. Raphael was commissioned to paint the Transfiguration by Giulio de' Medici.  The painting, which represented a major change in style for Raphael, was essentially complete when Raphael died.  Although it had been commissioned for the Cathedral at Narbonne in France, Giulio had it installed in San Pietro in Montorio in 1523 because he was unwilling to part with it.  The painting came to be part of the Vatican collection in 1816 when it was returned from France after Napoleon removed it in 1797. 






Before becoming an architect in 1513, Raphael expressed an interest in architecture through his paintings.  Bramante's assessment of his painted architecture probably affected his recommendation to Pope Leo X that Raphael be named as the next architect of St. Peter's.


Raphael's architectural imagination was evident in paintings that date to all phases of his career.


Marriage of the Virgin

In the Marriage of the Virgin (1504), which was commissioned by the Albizzini family for their chapel in San Francesco in Città di Castello, the centralized temple depicted behind the wedding ceremony of the Virgin Mary and Joseph is a two-dimensional realization of the geometric ideal that many Renaissance architects aspired to build.


School of Athens

Much of the architectural background of the School of Athens is vague and unknowable in its upper and outer extents.  For instance, it is unclear whether the pendentives of the middle vault carry a dome or whether the most distant vault is part of the same structure.  It is also unclear whether the figures are standing within a building or on its porch or terrace.  Because of this lack of specificity, the setting suggests an indefinable, ideal realm.  Its huge scale anticipated Bramante's crossing piers for new St. Peter's, which Julius II had also commissioned.


Fire in the Borgo

In Fire in the Borgo, which was in the Stanza dell'Incendio at the Vatican, the architecture plays an important role in focusing attention on the Pope, who is far smaller and less dramatically posed than the panic-stricken figures in the foreground. Colonnade-fronted buildings frame the distant view from the sides, and the unusual loggia and bold rustication draw the eye further into the scene.





Raphael's Entry into Architecture

Raphael did not begin working as an architect until 1513, when he was thirty-years old.  At that time, Agostino Chigi commissioned him to design and decorate a family chapel at Santa Maria del Popolo.


Pope Leo X, who was acting on prior advice from Bramante regarding his successor at St. Peter's, appointed Raphael to the post after Bramante's death in 1514.  He was assisted by Fra Giocondo, who had been appointed to assist Bramante in 1513, and by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, who supervised the construction.


Bramante's Influence on Raphael

Raphael would have been acquainted with Bramante in Rome, where each was the leader in his respective field.  Raphael honored Bramante in the School of Athens (1510-11) by portraying him as the fourth-century BC mathematician Euclid, who is depicted drawing with a compass.


Raphael's early work was conceived in the High Renaissance style developed by Bramante, whose architectural influence on Raphael is most evident at the Chigi Chapel, which is similar to St. Peter's, and at the Palazzo Vidoni, which is similar to the Palazzo Caprini.


Evolution toward Mannerism

Instead of continuing along the strictly rational lines of Bramante's architecture, Raphael explored new possibilities that arose from his keen visual imagination.


This attitude is reflected by Raphael's combining classical components in a rule-breaking manner that anticipated Mannerism.


Raphael's Architectural Influence

Although Raphael's architectural career was relatively brief and his work as a painter took much of his attention, he designed several buildings whose influence was considerable.


Influential features introduced by Raphael's buildings include colored and veined marble for interior walls, topographically based villa plans, and the orders instead of rustication for the ground story of a palace façade.





Literary Sources

Raphael's humanist education equipped him to investigate the Classical past from Latin literature.  He read Vitruvius and the letters of Pliny the Younger, which included descriptions of his own villa at Laurentinum.



Raphael was an early proponent of antiquarianism. His interest in antiquities is especially evident on the façade of the Palazzo Branconio dell' Aquila, which was designed for a patron who was a fellow antiquary and an authority on antique coins.


Influential Roman Buildings and Ruins

Raphael found models in a later, more decorative phase of Roman architecture than had Alberti and Bramante, who focused on the simpler forms of the Republican (509-27 BC) and early Imperial era.  Raphael especially admired architecture from the reign of Nero (A.D. 54-68) and later.  The influence of a number of specific sites can be seen in his buildings.


Domus Aurea. The painted decorations at the Villa Madama and the Vatican Loggia reflect the influence of the Domus Aurea.  


Baths of Titus. The decoration of the Baths of Titus, which were uncovered around 1500, influenced Raphael's wall decoration.


Hadrian's Villa. The layout and selection of features planned for the Villa Madama reflect the influence of Hadrian's Villa at Tivoli.  


Pantheon. The use of colored and veined marble on the walls of the Chigi Chapel reflects the influence of the Pantheon and other well-preserved imperial sites.


Basilica of Constantine.  The vaulting at the Villa Madama reflects the influence of the Basilica of Constantine as well as of imperial baths like the Baths of Diocletian.  


Survey of Archaeological Sites

Due to Raphael's interest in excavations at ancient sites, Pope Leo X appointed him Rome's chief antiquarian and commissioned him to make a survey of ancient Roman sites. In a now-famous letter to Leo X, Raphael urged the conservation of ancient sites and called for recording them by making a ground plan, a section, and an elevation of all ancient buildings that remained in Rome.


Raphael oversaw the excavation of ancient sites and established an antiquities museum at the Belvedere Court.


Re-Using Ancient Roman Materials

Although he advocated the conservation of antiquity, Raphael continued the practice of removing materials from ancient buildings for use on new ones.  This practice began in the fourth century with the removal of columns from Roman temples for re-use in building new Christian basilicas.





Chigi Chapel, Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome, 1513-16. Around 1513, Agostino Chigi commissioned Raphael to design the Chigi Chapel, a funerary chapel at Santa Maria del Popolo.  Agostino also commissioned him to paint some of the fresco decoration for the Villa Farnesina, including the famous Triumph of Galatea.  


Continuing St. Peter's, Rome, 1514-20. Bramante, who had been the designer and supervisor of construction for the new St. Peter's from its inception in 1506, recommended that Raphael succeed him as the architect of St. Peter's.  After Bramante's death in 1514, the duties of designer and supervisor of construction were separated, and the responsibility for design passed to Raphael while that for construction went to Antonio da Sangallo the Younger.  At one point, Pope Leo X called for the addition of a nave, and Raphael worked out a plan that incorporated this feature with what is believed to have been Bramante's last design.


Continuing Vatican Palace façade and adding 4th story, 1514-19. Leo X continued building the entrance façade of the Vatican Palace and expanded the project by having Raphael add a fourth story. Like the other three stories, Raphael's addition is a loggia, but unlike them, it is trabeated and built as a colonnade instead of as an arcade.  Raphael's decoration of the third story, known as the "Raphael Bible", is much admired.


Palazzo Vidoni-Caffarelli, 1515-20? The Palazzo Vidoni-Caffarelli was originally designed as a seven-bay wide, two-story high palace.  In the eighteenth century, it was expanded to its present seventeen bays.  The design was patterned after Bramante's Palazzo Caprini in having a rusticated ground story that is subordinate to its more decorative piano nobile, which is articulated by pairs of engaged columns that support an entablature.  However, the one-to-one relationship between the five windows of the piano nobile and the five arches of the ground floor established by Bramante's palace is lost at the Palazzo Vidoni-Caffarelli due to the alternation of windows and doors on the lower story.  This palace also varies from Bramante's in details like pediment placement and the use of a single rather than two separate bases to support column pairs.  The latter is a Mannerist feature in that it creates ambiguity by grouping features from separate bays.  The attribution of the palace to Raphael is not accepted by all scholars; some believe the palace dates to the 1520s and is the work of one of Raphael's assistants. 


Villa Madama, Rome, begun 1518. Raphael's complete proposal included many features based on Roman imperial villas such as a Roman theater, a hippodrome, fish pond, a nymphaeum, a circular courtyard, terraces, and extensive gardens with parterres.  The ambitious conception was never more than half completed.  Of special significance to the evolution of villa layout was Raphael's Roman-inspired orientation of features according to the terrain.  Individual sections within the plan, however, adhered to axial alignment.  The shapes and arrangement of rooms in the main block were inspired by the Roman baths.  The use of the ground story for the main rooms increased the inter-relationship between building and landscape.  The most admired part, the garden loggia, is decorated with paintings by Giulio Romano and stucco work by Giovanni da Udine.  


Palazzo Branconio dell' Aquila, Rome, 1518-20. The Palazzo Branconio dell' Aquila, which was torn down in the seventeenth century, is significant for its stylistic departure from the tradition of Bramante.  Although it was like the Palazzo Caprini in its use of a classical vocabulary and its basic features, the Palazzo Branconio differed from it in not using rustication, in using the orders on the ground story, and in using ornament autonomously.  Classical norms were also violated by such devices as alternating triangular and segmental pediments over windows, placing niches above columns, and staggering columns of different sizes.  Richness was achieved using colored and veined marble and Roman inspired sculpture, which appealed to antiquarian tastes.


Palazzo Pandolfini, Florence, begun c. 1518. Although both have windows whose pediments are alternately triangular and segmental, the Palazzo Pandolfini is far simpler and more in keeping with Florentine tastes.  The Palazzo Pandolfini reflects the trend toward two-story palaces that was current in Rome, and because of its horizontal spread, it looks more like a villa than a palace.  The palace's unusual elevation combining one and two-story sections is probably a consequence of it not having been finished under its original patron, Giannozzo Pandolfini, who probably planned to complete a nine-bay palace.  Its main parts are a two-story block that is connected to a one-story three-room wing by a central entrance hall.  The resulting L-shape encloses a rectangular garden that is bounded by walls on the other two sides.  The decoration of the exterior is concentrated on architectural features like the string course, the entablature, and the window surrounds.  These features formed a new palace type that had just been introduced in Rome by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, whose later façade of the Palazzo Farnese was similar.  The Palazzo Pandolfini's rusticated entrance and quoins on the corners stand out prominently against the plaster walls.  The interior was decorated with painted stucco ceilings and illusionistically painted walls that imitate such forms as atlantes.  
















Raphael 1 of 3



Villa Madama, Rome, begun 1518 Go to a discussion of this topic.



Palazzo Branconio dell' Aquila, Rome, 1518-20 Go to a discussion of this topic.