Rome celebrates the Renaissance genius Raphael

March 04, 2020

On the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the death of Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, better known as Raphael, Rome is about to honor this extraordinary artist and architect, who together with Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, form the trinity of great masters of the High Renaissance.

Various events in Italy and exhibitions around the world will be celebrating the grandeur of Raphael, but the one to be held in Rome from 5th March to 2nd June at Scuderie del Quirinale, is likely to be the exhibition of the year. It will gather more than 200 of Raphael’s masterpieces, 40 of which will be arriving on loan from the Uffizi in Florence, the Louvre in Paris, the Prado in Madrid, the National Gallery in Washington, the Alte Pinakothek in Munich and the National Gallery in London. Never before has such number of Raphael’s chefs-d'oeuvres been gathered in the same place. The exhibition itself is a good enough reason for art lovers to come to Rome (again).

On the occasion of the 500th anniversary, Spotter Travel will be organizing a “Day in Rome with Raphael”, dedicated to the Roman legacy of this undisputed master. This specialist day tour will be guided by an art history expert and can be combined with a visit to the exhibition.

Life and work of Rafaello Sanzio

Self portrait 1506-1508

Raphael Sanzio (April 6, 1483- April 6. 1520) was born in Urbino, as a son of an accomplished local artist. Unfortunately, at the age of 11 he became orphan- his mother died when he was eight and his father 3 year later. After his first artistic period spent in the workshop he inherited from his father, he remained for some time under the influence of the artist Perugino.  After an apprenticeship in Perugia, and a period in Florence, Raphael moved to Rome where he resided for the rest of his life. He spent the last glorious decade of his life working for Pope Julius II and Pope Leo X.

Portrait of Leo X between cardinals Giulio de 'Medici and Luigi de' Rossi 1518-1519

He entered the circle of Vatican artist, with the help of Donato Bramante, who was his distant relative, but more importantly Pope Julius II’s architect. During the construction of the new Papal apartments, Bramante called Raphael to take on the decoration. The young artist was more than equal to the task and successfully satisfied the Pope’s expectations. As a result, we admire to this day the Raphael Rooms and the masterpiece of The School of Athens in what was originally the Pope’s Library.  After the death of Bramante, Raphael became the Vatican’s chief architect.

Other than for his work in the Vatican and the fresco cycles in the Papal apartments, Raphael remains famous for his portraits and his distinctive Madonnas.

Madonna della Rosa 1518-1520

In addition to his artistic talent, Raphael was very popular among the ladies. He was a good looking, successful young man, with refined manners, probably acquired at the Ducal Palace of Urbino where his father was employed as a court painter.

La Fornarina 1518 - 1519

Unfortunately, Raphael died young, at age of 37, after an extremely productive life and as an artist highly regarded by his contemporaries. His sudden death, however, remains unexplained. A high fever caused by an unknown illness (certainly not a predecessor of Corona virus!), took away this young soul who was mourned across Italy.

To the present day the cause of Raphael’s death remains unclear. One of the hypotheses is related to the young gentleman’s tendency to enjoy female company and so the explanation could be that he died of the “excess of love”. Shortly before his death he was working on, what was then considered a provocative, portrait of Margherita Luti named “La Fornarina”, today displayed in Palazzo Barberini. This young maiden was the daughter of a baker from a Trastevere neighborhood. Wicked tongues of that time didn’t attribute Raphael’s death to a broken heart but to the girl’s presumed and disreputable profession that was often accompanied by venereal disease.

Transfiguration 1516–1520

“The Transfiguration” is another masterpiece that Raffaele was working on before his death and it remained unfinished. This piece, today in the Vatican Pinacoteca, was a symbol of the outstanding fame and power that Rafael had achieved. The dark side of his enormous success was certainly the jealousy of his rivals that could have brought about his death. In fact, since the XVIII century, another hypothesis of poisoning has emerged among historians.

In accordance to his wishes, Rafael was buried in the Pantheon in Rome, a monument that according to the artist, was the symbol of the eternal glory of Rome.