Raphael: Biography, Life, Death, & Facts

Italian Renaissance painter Raphael

Born in Urbino in the Duchy of Urbino, Raphael was a renowned High Renaissance painter and architect who attained extraordinary achievements in the world of art. He is most famous for producing works of art with spectacular clarity, making him rank as one of the greatest artists to ever exist. With masterpieces such as The School of Athens, Sistine Madonna and Transfiguration, Raphael ranks up there with the likes of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, who together make up the trinity of great artists of the Italian High Renaissance era.

Worldhistoryedu.com succinctly explores the life, biography, major facts and famous paintings of the High Renaissance Italian painter and architect Raphael.

Birth, family and early life

Raphael was born on April 6, 1483 in the Italian city-state of Urbino, a place in central Italy. His full name was Raffeallo Sanzio da Urbino, and he was born to Giovanni Santi and Magia di Giovanbattista Ciarla.

The little that we know about the early life this immensely gifted artist is that his father Giovanni was a respected court painter and poet who worked for the ruler of the city of Urbino. It’s been stated by many, including Visari, that Raphael was a well-spoken and courteous young man. And for the rest of his life, this trait of his perfectly complemented his artistic brilliance.

Much of the things that Raphael learned in painting as young boy came from his father. This early interaction with art is what formed the basis of Raphael’s artistic prowess.

Following his father’s death, Raphael, then 11, stepped into his father’s shoes and began managing the family workshop. It was there that Raphael fine-tuned his artistic skill sets, making him one of Urbino’s best artists at the time.

Raphael’s time in the workshop of Perugino

Raphael Sanzio

Heinrich Wölfflin quote on Raphael

Determined to hone his skill sets even much further, Raphael, then 17, moved to the Italian city of Perugia, where he trained in the workshop of the famous artist Pietro Perugino. For about four years, Raphael meticulously soaked in the techniques and styles from Perugino while at the same time coming out with his own art style.

Time in Florence

Following his studies under Perugino, Raphael became a “master” artist capable of taking on commissions on his own. As a result, he moved to the famous Renaissance city of Florence in 1504. His time at Florence was very beneficial as he consistently received many commissions, including those from the church.

It’s been noted that Raphael painstakingly studied the styles and artworks of Renaissance and early Renaissance great artists such as Donatello, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. The styles of those greats spurred him on to come out with his own style. His friendly demeanor and astute social skills endeared him to art lovers and patrons in Florence. As a result, Raphael became a very well-respected young master.

Raphael’s years in Rome

Due to the huge waves Raphael made as an artist in Florence, the Vatican sent out an invitation to him in 1508. The head of the Church Pope Julius II commissioned Raphael to decorate a number of rooms (“stanze”) in the Vatican.

One of the famous decorations he made came in the beautiful masterpiece The School of Athens. Many art lovers and historians consider this particular work of his as one of his greatest artworks. The painting also ranks there as one of the most famous art paintings of all time.

Raphael’s artworks in the Vatican catapulted him to legendary status in the art world. His hard work and dedication finally paid off as many art patrons started revering him in the same elite category as the likes of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.

Raphael’s most famous paintings

The following are some of Raphael’s most famous paintings:

The Transfiguration

The Transfiguration

Raphael’s The Transfiguration

Raphael’s The Transfiguration holds the honor of being the artist’s largest painting on a canvas. The painting, which he began in 1517, constitutes one of Raphael’s last paintings before his early death at the age of 37.

The School of Athens

Raphael's The School of Athens

Raphael’s The School of Athens constitutes one of his most famous paintings

It is a fresco that in so many ways proved that Raphael was indeed one of the greatest of his era.  Started in 1510, the painting took about a year to complete. In the painting, Raphael tries to pay homage to a number of influential ancient Greek philosophers, including Aristotle, Euclid, Pythagoras, Plato, and Socrates. Raphael depicted Michelangelo as ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus. In The School of Athens portrait, Leonardo da Vinci is depicted as Plato.

Portrait of Pope Julius II

Pope Julius II's portrait

Raphael’s portrait of Pope Julius II

Raphael’s painting of the head of the Vatican Pope Julius II remains to this day one the artist’s most famous paintings. The Portrait of Pope Julius II was very much praised by art critics back then. It shows Julius II siting down in a red chair as he appears to be pondering intently about something. This painting of Raphael was so famous that future portraits of the Pope emulated the style.

The Sistine Madonna

The Sistine Madonna

In this masterpiece The Sistine Madonna, the great artist Raphael paints the Madonna with background images of two angels (cherubim). The Sistine Madonna was just one of Raphael’s many paintings of the Madonna.

Raphael’s contribution to Architecture

Unbeknownst to many people, Raphael was also a very successful architect. As a matter of fact, he was one of the most famous architects during his time, serving as the Vatican’s chief architect in 1514. He was famously involved in the design process of the famous St. Peter’s Basilica. The Italian genius also worked on other famous buildings in Rome, including the Chigi Chapel.

Characteristics of Raphael’s paintings

In addition to his charming personality, Raphael was well-beloved by art patrons of his time primarily due to his clarity of form and the serene and harmonious qualities of his paintings. He enormous fame and long-lasting reputation was because his artworks in some way embodied classical art and the spirit of the High Renaissance era. This, as well as many more other reasons, explains why many art historians and patrons of art regard him as one of the greatest artists that ever lived.

Baldassare Castiglione

Raphael’s Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione (1515) | Baldassare, a friend of Raphael, was an Italian diplomat and author

Death of Raphael

Compared to the other great artists of the trinity who lived to their old age, Raphael died suddenly at a young age of 37. Historian Vasari claims that his death came as a result of a night of passion with one of his mistresses. The master painter was ill for about fifteen days before dying on Good Friday, April 6, 1520. At the time of his death, he was undoubtedly among the greatest of his era. A grand funeral was held in his honor. Four very famous cardinals carried his body.

Per his wishes, the famous High Renaissance artist Raphael was buried in the Pantheon in Rome | Image: Raphael’s sarcophagus | The epithet on the tomb of Raphael reads as “Here lies that famous Raphael by whom nature feared to be conquered while he lived and when he was dying feared herself to die.”

Raphael’s contribution and impact

Regardless of the brief years that he lived, Raphael produced an enormous number of artworks. Historians state that Raphael’s ability to produce a wide array of works was supported by his large studio which had at least fifty assistants. His workshop was the largest at the time, allowing him to produce an astonishing number of paintings, sketches and commissions.

In the decades and centuries that followed Raphael’s death, his paintings have defined the art world in ways very few artists in history have done. Rumor has it that one of Raphael paintings even came unscathed as it survived a shipwreck. The painting, which was in a casing, is believed to have washed up on the shores of Genoa while all the cargo on the ship was lost at sea.

Raphael Sanzio

Raphael Sanzio quotes

Other interesting facts about Raphael

  • His birth place – Urbino – is in central Italy. The city-state of Urbino was renowned for producing many gifted artists during the Renaissance era. Urbino was also one of the most famous cultural centers back then.
  • Raphael’s father was a famous painter who worked in the court of Federico de Montefeltro, the Duke of Albino.
  • Raphael and fellow great Renaissance artist Michelangelo did not see eye to eye sometimes. Many art critics by then considered Raphael and Michelangelo as art rivals with different styles and philosophies. On numerous occasions, Michelangelo accused Raphael of plagiarizing his artworks.
  • He had a very strong connection with Rome. It’s been said that he developed a tight-knit working relationship with popes such as Pope Leo X and Pope Julius II .
  • Such was Raphael’s fame and prowess in art that some master painters and architects worked with him in his large workshop in Rome. At some point in time, Raphael had more than forty students and assistants working in his workshop.

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