Brushstrokes to eternity – 500 years of Raphael, the ‘divine painter’

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The cherubim, detail of Raphael’s painting “The Sistine Madonna”. Public domain

The “divine painter”, a sensible genius, prince of the arts, almost a mortal God. People from all over the world attribute these titles to Raphael Sanzio, one of the greatest Renaissance artists. Five hundred years after Raphael’s death, the celebrations in Italy have been suspended by the Covid-19 emergency. The works rest in dark, climate-controlled rooms, and is like everybody else, in an endless wait during this time of social distancing. The exposition “is a Sleeping Beauty waiting for a prince to awaken her”, as stated by the president of the Roman museum, Mario di Simoni. But in the end, it doesn’t matter if the prince wakes her up late because the works that Raphael has gifted us are eternal.

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Raphael’s self-portrait, 1505-06, Uffizi, Florence. Public domain

However, instead of all these titles, just saying ‘Raphael’, or ‘Raffaello’, as the exhibition at the Scuderie del Quirinale in Rome is called, seems already enough, given that he can be easily recognized in his work. The distinctive traces of his ‘madonnas’ with children, portraits of popes, cardinals and lords, frescoes in the Vatican’s rooms, and many other works that have made him famous worldwide lead us to the master of Italian painting born in Urbino in 1943.

Raphael,  son of the painter Giovanni Santi, was influenced by his father and soon learned basic artistic techniques. After his father’s death, when Raphael was only 11 years old, his uncle, the priest Bartolomeo, entrusted his training to the painter Pietro Vannucci, called ‘Perugino’. In 1504, Raphael went to live in Florence and wanted to meet Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti, painting in this period numerous portraits, most importantly the ‘Madonne with children’. At the end of 1508, he moved to Rome and was commissioned by Pope Julius II to finish the frescoes in the Vatican apartments.

More than ever Raphael Sanzio captivated everybody’s appreciation and became the most sought for artist in the city. Painting continued to be his main activity, but it also gave way to architecture, learned a priori to support the first one. It was as an architect that Raphael answered Pope Leo X’s call, replacing Donato Bramante who died in 1520, in the construction that marked forever the history of architecture, St. Peter’s Basilica, to which other great masters dedicated themselves, like Michelangelo Buonarroti. Raphael died in 1520, when he was only 37 years old, and with him also ended his project of the Basilica. Despite being so young, the ‘prince of the painters’, as he is called by many, influenced other artists in the following centuries, among them Caravaggio and Salvador Dalì.

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Detail, face of Pope Julius II, 1511, one of the most important painting by Raphael Sanzio. Public domain

Raphael Sanzio, the exhibitions waiting for restart

The exhibitions now interrupted by the pandemic await the time to restart. In Rome, the showing ‘Raphael 1520-1483’ brings together more than 100 masterpieces from collections and museums all around the world. Just the Galleria degli Uffizi [Uffizi Gallery] in Florence contributed with about 50 paintings. The hope is that the exhibition, scheduled to close on June 2, the limit of the lease contracts, can be still kept open timely. While waiting, the Galleria degli Uffizi prepared a virtual tour that can be seen by clicking here or typing the hashtag #RaffaelloOltrelaMostra. Other celebrations will certainly start again in the Marche region, where Raphael was born, in Emilia-Romagna and Lombardy, among others.

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Detail, “ The Sistine Madonna”, one of Raphael’s most famous paintings (1513-14). Public domain

It’s not only Italy that celebrates Raphael Sanzio. In Brazil, the Fiesp Cultural Center, in São Paulo, has organized the exhibition ‘Raphael e a Definição da Beleza’ that brings never shown before works to the country from museums in Rome, Naples and Modena. It’s also in São Paulo, in the Museum of Modern Art (MASP), that can be seen the only painting of Raphael outside Europe and United States: the ‘Resurrection of Christ’, dated 1502 and acquired by the museum in 1954. The celebration in the United States are also on hold. The National Gallery of Art, in Washington DC, celebrates the 500 years of Raphael’s death showing ‘Raphael and his Circle’ that at this moment can be visited only in a 3D virtual tour on the Gallery’s site.

In England, the National Gallery of London dedicates a big exhibition to Raphael. ‘The Credit Suisse Exhibition: Raphael’ as it is entitled, will be held from October 2020 to January 2021 with more than 90 works from several museums like the Louvre, Vatican, Uffizi, and the National Gallery of Arts of Washington. In a message, the president of the Italian Republic, Sergio Mattarella, expressed his feelings: “the wish is that the doors can be reopened as soon as possible and from that Renaissance spirit that made Raphael’s art incomparable, we can draw energy for a restart of Italy and Europe”. With my best wishes!

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“The Triumph of Galatea”, a fresco, Villa Farnesina, Roma,1514. Public domain

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“Portrait of Pope Julius II”, 1511, National Gallery of London. A second version dated 1512 is kept by the Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence. Public domain

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“The Resurrection of Christ”, 1501-02, São Paulo Museum of Art, Brazil. Public domain

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“Saint George and the dragon”, 1504-06, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, USA. Public domain

What is your favorite painter?

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