Brushstrokes to eternity – 500 years of Raphael Sanzio

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, like everybody else, is 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.

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 1483.

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 Da Vinci and Michelangelo, 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 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 1514, 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 Dalí. [Photos: Self-portrait by Raphael 1505-06, Uffizi, Florence (Raphael, Wikimedia Commons Public domain Mark 1.0). Detail of the masterpiece “The Sistine Madonna” 1513-1514 circa (Raphael, Wikimedia Commons, Public domain Mark 1.0)]

Raphael Sanzio, the exhibitions waiting to restart

So far, the exhibitions have been interrupted by the pandemic and remain awaiting a restart. In Rome, at the Scuderie del Quirinale. The exposition “Raffaello 1520-1483 contains over 100 masterpieces, from collections and museums all over the world. Just the Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence has contributed with around 50 paintings. The hope is that the planned exhibition, programmed to close on the 2nd of June, which is the limit given by the loan contracts, can be kept open for enough time. While we wait, the Galleria degli Uffizi has prepared a virtual tour that can be seen clicking here or searching for #RaffaelloOltrelaMostra. Other celebrations will certainly resume in Emilia-Romagna, Lombardy, and the Marche, region where Raphael was born.

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 before seen 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 you can see 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 is 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!

“ The Sistine Madonna”, one of Raphael’s most famous paintings (1513-14). (Raphael, Wikimedia Commons Public domain mark 1.0)

“The Triumph of Galatea”, a fresco, Villa Farnesina, Roma,1514. (Raphael, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)

“Portrait of Pope Julius II”, 1511, National Gallery of London. A second version dated 1512 is kept by the Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence. (Raphael, Wikimedia Commons  Public domain Mark 1.0),

“The Resurrection of Christ”, 1501-02, São Paulo Museum of Art, Brazil.(Raphael, Wikimedia Commons Public domain Mark 1.0)

“Saint George and the dragon”, 1504-06, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, USA. (Raphael, Wikimedia Commons Public domain Mark 1.0)


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Italy is like a book – Come read!


Strolling along the streets in Italy is to travel through history. We go back in time and recognize ourselves as protagonists in this huge book. A beautiful full-color edition. Every corner tells us something, you just have to listen. Saint-Exupéry, the author of The Little Prince, wrote: “It is only with the heart that one can see correctly”. Although Italy can be perceived with all senses, it is the heart that reaches the unseen… the essence. The art, literature, cinema, architecture, the aroma of a cappuccino, the smell of pizza, the taste of wine, the flowered windows, the accordion that plays O Sole Mio on the streetsItaly is all of that!

For me, Italy has something magical. Finding my own story, my roots, on the pages of this hypothetical book has an indescribable value. And it so happened to be in Torreglia, a welcoming town in the province of Padua, north-east Italy, that I found a very special chapter. In this summary, I’ll introduce you to all those things that Italy has to tell. I’m taking you on this journey!


Italy in chapters – from prehistory to Middle Ages…

Correzzola is magically set to revive the Middle Ages
Correzzola, magically set to revive the Middle Ages.

The first chapter leads us to Prehistory. Italy has been inhabited since the Paleolithic, and according to an article published by the magazine National Geographic, the site Monte Poggiolo, in Emilia Romagna, is the oldest evidence of the human presence in the country. “The first hominids arrived at the Po Valley about 850 years ago, following a drastic changing in climate”, says the magazine.

The second chapter takes us for a walk in Ancient History and makes us discover the Etruscan, Phoenician, Greek, and Roman civilizations. Palermo, founded by the Phoenicians, Naples, and Rome were among the most important cities of this period. Flipping through the pages, we find that roman sociopolitical organization left everlasting marks in human history. The Roman built cities, harbors, roads, aqueducts, fortifications, and it is not uncommon to find ourselves before a Roman archaeological site. History comes alive before our eyes.

Would you like to go for a walk in the Middle Ages? Well… that’s also possible. The Medieval festivities are always eye-catching. I had the pleasure of living the medieval period in Correzzola, (pictures) in the province of Padua, which has since then housed a small community. Every year, in July, Correzzola is magically set to revive the dark ages, and… oh Gosh, what an adventure! I ended up with my head in a “gogna” (pillory). “Gogna” is the last part of the word “vergogna” (shame) and this is what we feel when finding ourselves in that embarrassing position. Luckily, my tormentor had a good heart and freed me, or I would not be here to tell you about the third chapter of this book.



Renaissance, Modern Age, Risorgimento, the wars…

In the fourth chapter, we leave for a journey towards the Modern Age. The departure gate is the Renaissance, a period of transition and changes in European history. Florence plays an important role in this path where we meet Dante, Giotto, Petrarch, Boccaccio, Donatello, Michelangelo, Leonardo… Many are the pages added to this voluminous book. The geographic discoveries, the inventions… Marconi invented the radio and Meucci, despite the late recognition, invented the telephone. It is the beginning of a new era.

And here we are proud to fight for national unity, thus participating in the Italian Risorgimento. The Kingdom of Italy was proclaimed, the capital moved to Rome, and the Tuscan dialect was chosen as the national language. Then the wars happened and left deep marks. We still find scars left by the bullets, small but deep wounds on walls, kept as memories of the conflicts. Researching I found the Fasolato Brigade, one of the many that took part in the Italian Resistance. I’m wondering even if I had some relative partisan, but this is research yet to be explored.

And much more to discover:

This book tells us much more. On its pages, we find out how Venice, the city that seems to float, was built. Venice’s beauty is incomparable and invites us to get lost in its narrow “streets”, to follow the pace of the gondolas… to fall in love in Venice. And then, taking the vaporetto, we get off in the magic colors of Burano. For us, a walk of enchantment. For the fisherman who lives on the island, the varied and bright colors with which they paint their houses, help them to find their home when immersed in the thick fog. History passes in front of our eyes like a masterpiece of Italian cinema and while we hum “Nel blu dipinto di blu we understand that life is beautiful. In the book called Italy, we never stop adding pages.

David by Michelangelo - a masterpiece of Renaissance

David by Michelangelo (Photo by Jörg Bittner Unna – Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported) David-hand details (Photo by Rabe!Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International)

Cupid and Psyche by Antonio Canova, 1787. (Photo by gadgetdude Creative Commons –  Attribution 2.0 Generic.

Torreglia, a special chapter.

"The fall of the rebel angels" by Agostino Fasolato (ca. 1750): 60 figures carved in a single piece of Carrara marble. The masterpiece in Intesa Sanpaolo's collection, permanently on display at the Gallerie d'Italia, in Vicenza

Now we have arrived at Torreglialocated at the feet of the Euganean Hills. It’s a special place for me because it was there that I found my roots. Flipping through the ancient books held by the parish and by the registry office, I discovered various Fasolato. Some famous, such as Giacomo Fasolato, writer, linguist, and lexicographer, born in Italy in 1682. He liked the Latin language so much that he latinized the spelling of his name, becoming Jacopo Facciolati. Many are also the registers of Fasolato belonging to the stone cutter and sculptor guild that appear in the documents preserved by the State Archives of Padua. Among them, Agostino Fasolato (ca. 1750) carved 60 figures in a single piece of Carrara marble almost two meters high, which he called “The fall of the rebel angels”.

However, it was in front of a little house, made of stone and brick debris, that I touched history more deeply. There, in Via Vallorto, in front of the small house where my great-grandfather Valentino lived, I made a movie in my mind. I imagined it inhabited, illuminated only by a faint light that barely reached the window… Yep, I entered the time machine and I found myself in the nineteenth century. I looked at the landscape through his farmer’s eyes, I went up the long road to the church of San Sabino that kept history alive by registering all births and marriages. This history that until today tells me that in 1895, Valentino Fasolato married Elvira Pressato.

I imagined Valentino while he was making the decision that would change his family’s whole life: leaving for Brazil on a one-way trip on a steamship called Rosario which, after so many trips, in 1915, had chosen to rest at the bottom of the ocean. As all of this was passing my mind, the church bells rang. Maybe they did it on purpose so I could hear them as Valentino and Elvira had heard before leaving. In my imagination, I turned off the city lights. I saw darkness, winter, loneliness, and hunger which made them leave their land and their bonds behind. I always return to Torreglia. It’s nice to look at the hills. Torreglia told me so much about my history. Italy goes way beyond the five senses.

Above: Torreglia, province of Padua. Below, from the left: Valentino's house, me visiting Torreglia, and a view of the Euganean Hills.
Valentino's house


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