Passions & Places


Raffaello Sanzio 

Quanto largo e benigno si dimostri talora il cielo
nell’accumulare in una persona sola l’infinite ricchezze de’ suoi tesori e tutte quelle grazie e’ più rari doni
che in lungo spazio di tempo suol compartire fra molti individui,
chiaramente poté vedersi nel non meno eccellente che grazioso Raffael Sanzio da Urbino

Taken from Le Vite dei più eccellenti pittori, scultori e architetti; Giorgio Vasari, 1568.

In a period in which the artistic and cultural fervour of the ducal Marches seemed endless, “nacque adunque Raffaello in Urbino, città notissima in Italia, l’anno 1483, in venerdì santo a ore tre di notte” [Raffaello was born in Urbino, a very famous Italian town, in 1483, on the Good Friday, at three a.m. Taken from Vite, by G. Vasari]. The great painter Raffaello Sanzio was born in a room on the ground floor of a typically 15th-century house, in Urbino. His father was Giovanni Santi (a painter belonging to the group of Melozzo da Forlì). He soon realized how talented his only son was as a painter, and managed to guide him in his bright career. In just a few years Raffaello Sanzio became the most renowned painter, sought after by courts and Popes, and now worldly known as one of the greatest painters of all times. 

Raffaello abandoned the Marches when he was very young, to become a pupil of Pietro Vannucci, called il Perugino. He soon achieved such perfection that “fra le cose sue e di Pietro non si sapeva certo discernere” [“It was impossible to distinguish between Raffaello’s and Pietro’s works”. Taken from Le Vite by G. Vasari].

Christ Blessing, The Virgin’s Wedding, and the Standard of Città di Castello were painted around 1500 and already possessed a refined artistic sensitivity. Raffaello had the chance to evolve and make such sensitivity sublime during his stay in Florence. The painter was able to live in an artistic environment which stirred him considerably: he came into contact with works by Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti. He elaborated a more mature and sublime style, made of intense brightness and limpid spatial articulations. Such characteristics may be admired in the series of Virgins suavely portrayed by Raffaello (such as the Virgin of the goldfinch, the Virgin of the Meadow and the Virgin of the Grand- Duke), in the splendid portraits of Agnolo and Maddalena Doni, in The Lady with the Unicorn, in The Mute Lady (exhibited in the National gallery of the Marches, in Urbino), as well as in more complex subjects, such as the Holy Family Canigiani and Christ being taken to the Sepulcher.

Raffaello kept in touch with the Montefeltro Court, despite the distance, and he painted many panels for the Dukes of Urbino. Unfortunately such works were taken away from the region. A clear example of this is the painting called St. George and the Dragon, which is currently on display at the National Gallery of Art, in Washington.

In 1508 Raffaello was already much sought after and Pope Julius II entrusted him with the task of decorating the Vatican Halls. Raffaello’s most famous frescoes in these halls are the Dispute over the Sacrament, The School of Athens and the Liberation of St. Peter from Jail. In the same period the artist also worked in the Chigi Chapel in Santa Maria della Pace and to the portrait of Julius II.  

When the Pope died Raffaello worked for private customers, both from Rome and other cities. In that period he painted the beautiful Portrait of Baldassarre Castiglione, the Altar Piece portraying St. Cecily the Holy Conversation and the celebrated Fornarina. He also worked as an architect and humanist, when Donato Bramante, another artist from Urbino died, under the new Pope Leon X Raffaello became the manager of St. Peter’s works and the designer of the Chigi Chapel in Santa Maria del Popolo and Villa Madama.

He died in 1520, leaving an intense Transfiguration unaccomplished, “finì il corso della sua vita il giorno medesimo che nacque, che fu il venerdì santo, d’anni 37” [“the course of his life ended, on the same day when he was born, namely on a Good Friday, when he was 37”. Taken from Le Vite by G. Vasari]. Raffaello is still admired worldwide for his ability in portraying the supreme ideal of beauty of the Renaissance.

His splendid paintings are scattered all over the world, from the National Galley of London to the Uffizi in Florence, the Louvre in Paris and the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg, the Picture Gallery of Brera, in Milan, and the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. However, the house where he was born now hosts the Accademia Raffaello. It is located in one of the many steep alleys of Urbino, and has the same sober decorations that frame the doors and refine the ancient caisson. On a wall a small fresco portraying the Virgin with the Christ Child Sleeping bears witness to the first brushworks by Raffaello, who was bound to be one of the major artists of the Renaissance.

© 2001 Liberation Ventures Ltd.

   Edit | Passions  |  Itinerary  |  Where To Stay
 | Map  |   Print  |