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Raphael, a Master Renaissance Painter

Suzette has been an online writer for over eight years. Her articles focus on everything from jewelry to holiday festivities.

Beautiful cherub angles painted by Raphael on the Sistine Chapel walls.

Beautiful cherub angles painted by Raphael on the Sistine Chapel walls.

Raphael (1483 – 1520)

Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, an Italian painter and architect of the High Renaissance movement, was so well-known and renowned as a painter during his lifetime he was known simply by his first name, Raphael. He is known so today by only his first name and was a master painter during the Italian Renaissance. His contemporaries were Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. Together these three form the triumvirate of master artists and geniuses from this same period of art.

Throughout his short lifetime, Raphael, who died at the age of only thirty-seven, painted many portraits, frescos, and stanzes (room paintings) and left a legacy of prolific works to his adoring public. His paintings are known for their visual achievement of the classical antiquities and the ideal of human grandeur.

His name has become synonymous with 'classical' and his genius was in strengthening and refining painting techniques rather than technical innovation. His paintings show elements of grace and refinement because of the influence of his early teacher, Perugino. There is a subtle elegance to his figures and sweetness in his female faces.

While the paintings and frescos of Michelangelo are bold, wild, and unconventional, Raphael maintains strict attention to the artistic rules and techniques in his paintings. There is a grandeur that is not found in Michelangelo's or da Vinci's paintings as there is in Raphael's.

Raphael's paintings have a more serene and harmonious quality to them and they were regarded as the highest painting models to emulate during the Renaissance period. This was much to the consternation of Michelangelo and caused much friction and inner conflict for Michelangelo.

He is best known for his stanze, or room, paintings done in the Papal apartments at the Vatican in Rome, Italy, and these are the greatest masterpieces left behind by Raphael today. He is best known for his stanze, The School of Athens, his finest and most perfect fresco left behind.

His early series of Madonna paintings, painted while he lived in Florence, are also considered the best in the world even today.

Early Life

Raphael was born in Urbino in the central Marche region of Italy. His father was Giovanni Santi, a court painter and poet to the Duke of Urbino. Therefore, Raphael grew up in this Italian court, known to set the model throughout Italy for its grace and manners. Here, Raphael learned excellent, refined manners and social skills. He mixed easily with the highest circles throughout his life because of his father's position at court.

His father is said to have apprenticed him out to the Umbrian artistic workshop of Piero Perugino who was an early influence on Raphael's paintings and other artistic pursuits at the young age of eight. This was a rare occurrence at such a young age, but Raphael's mother, Magia died in 1491, when he was eight. It is believed his father, busy with his own workshop, wanted Raphael busy during his days without his mother.

Perugino's workshop was active in both Perugia and Florence and Raphael was a master of Perugino's workshop and fully trained when he left.

Raphael's father died three years later, and at the young age of eleven, along with his step-mother, Raphael successfully took over and ran his father's workshop. By now, he was a master painter and so began painting frescoed altarpieces at churches around Umbria. Some of these only partially survive today.

Wedding of the Virgin, pictured above, is Raphael's most sophisticated altarpiece painted from this period of his paintings.

Florence 1504 – 1508

Raphael spend these years living and working in Florence, Italy and this is known as the 'Florentine period' of his art. Here Raphael was greatly influenced by Leonardo da Vinci and his paintings.

Raphael's painted figures began to take more dynamic and complex positions. His drawings of portraits of young women used da Vinci's three-quarter length pyramidal composition as seen in da Vinci's Mona Lisa.

Raphael continued with his tranquil paintings but he also branched out into drawings of fighting nude men so popular at this time in Florence. He also perfected da Vinci's sfumato technique to give subtlety to his painting of flesh on canvas. He also developed the interplay of glances between his groups of figures but they are much less enigmatic than those of da Vinci.

This was Raphael's period of painting Madonnas and though he assimilated da Vinci's techniques in his paintings he kept the soft clear light in his paintings he had learned from Perugino as a youth. His Madonnas portray a tender humanity along with the divine that shines forth in these paintings. The subtle use of colors and the sfumato technique are evidence of da Vinci's influence on his paintings.

Raphel also adapted the lessons of tone, color and light from da Vinci and then added his grace and harmony to his faultless paintings.

In his painting, Deposition of Christ (1507), Raphael draws on classical sarcophagi for his composition. He spread his figures across the front of the canvas space in a complex and not wholly, successful arrangement. So, although, he was influenced by da Vinci, not every painting included da Vinci's techniques.

The Madonna della Sedia, pictured above, although painted after his period in Florence, is still considered one of Raphael's great Madonnas. It has the perfect balance of curving forms in a round frame and the harmonious colors are not rich and glowing but subtle yet full. This Madonna shows perfect balance, harmony, and untroubled radiance.

Within these four years in Florence, Raphael had achieved so much success that he was now a well-known painter throughout Italy and all of Europe and became very popular with the public.

Rome 1508 – 1520

Raphael moved to Rome in 1508 at the request of Pope Julius II and he was commissioned to fresco paint the Papal apartments and the walls of the Sistine Chapel. Meanwhile, Michelangelo was painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

This is when Michelangelo began his great dislike of Raphael and his paintings, believing that Raphael and the Pope were conspiring against him. Michelangelo even went so far as to accuse Raphael of plagiarism, but his accusations were not taken seriously.

Raphael's stanze paintings, or room paintings, in the papal apartments and Sistine Chapel, are considered great masterpieces. These paintings show all the gatherings of High Renaissance principles and techniques Raphael used in his paintings. They represent the intellectual reconciliation of Christianity and classical antiquity.

The School of Athens, 1509-11, is Raphael's first historical painting and it is near perfect in composition and construction The perfect structure of reason built by the classic philosophers is symbolized by the architecture of the paintings. Raphael, who bore Michelangelo no ill will, even painted Michelangelo in this fresco as Heraclitus.

Raphael completed a sequence of three rooms in the papal apartments each with paintings on each wall.

After the death of Pope Julius II in 1513, the succeeding Pope Leo X kept Raphael on and commissioned him to not only paint but as an architect and archaeologist. Raphael at one point was named the architect of St. Peter's for the papal court. But, it is his masterpiece paintings and frescos that are his greatest legacy.

His frescoes display harmony, movement within strict symmetry, and the merging of the real and the ideal. In his later stanzes we see Michelangelo's influence. In The Expulsion of Heliodorus (1511-13) we see the beginnings of the Mannerist and Baroque movements, with the dramatic contrasts of light and dark and the stronger and richer colors of those movements.

In painting these rooms, Raphael achieved 'sprezzatura' which is a certain nonchalance that conceals all artistry and makes whatever he painted look uncontrived and effortless. It was this 'effortlessness' of Raphael's paintings that drove Michelangelo mad with jealousy.

Raphael died suddenly at the age of thirty-seven after a brief illness. His last painting, The Transfiguration (1520), was left unfinished and eventually completed by the pupils of his workshop.

Raphel had never married, but in 1514 became engaged to Maria Bibbiens. It is unknown why they never married, but it is believed Raphael had a mistress, Margherita Luti.

With the death of Raphael came the end of the High Renaissance movement in painting and the Mannerism movement began. Michelangelo was named architect of St. Peter's and he discarded Raphael's designs for the great basilica and created his own.

Raphael was buried in The Pantheon in Rome at his bequest and his funeral was large, grand, and attended by large crowds of his public who adored him.

Giorgio Vasari, the 16th-century art historian and artist in his own right, called Raphel 'the prince of painters' for the simple yet majestic dignity of his paintings.


Piper, David.The Illustrated History of Art. 2004. Octopus Printing: UK

© 2014 Suzette Walker


Korbin on March 14, 2019:

What are his likes and dislikes?

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on September 02, 2016:

Thanks for reading this, Thelma. I felt the same way you did when I viewed his paintings in the Sistine Chapel. I think Rafael's work gets short-shrift sometimes because he is overshadowed by Michelangelo and Da Vinci works of the same period. He is a great artist in his own right.

Thelma Alberts from Germany on September 01, 2016:

Thank you very much for writing this hub. This reminded me of my visit in Rome 16 years ago. I have been to the Sistine Chapel and it was there that my eyes were teary looking at those awesome frescos of Rafael and Michael Angelo. So beautiful!

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on October 16, 2015:

Charito: Thank you so much for reading my hubs. I have been substitute teaching a lot lately and have not been on HP as regularly as I have been in the past. I am so glad you enjoyed this. Yes, artistic ego does get in the way of relationships that could have been beneficial to the two of them. They both are favorites of mine from the Renaissance period as well as da Vinci. So glad you appreciate art.

Charito Maranan-Montecillo from Manila, Philippines on October 09, 2015:

Hi, Suzette. I, too, appreciate Raphael's paintings, particularly those depicting the Madonna. You're right in saying that they "portray a tender humanity along with the divine that shines forth."

What a sad fact to note that Raphael and Michelangelo couldn't get along. (So much for artistic ego!)

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on February 03, 2014:

cygnetbrown: Thanks so much for your visit and I am so glad you enjoyed this article. I love Renaissance art and the Renaissance time in history. I, too, wonder what else Raphael would have accomplished had he lived longer. His paintings are so beautiful. Thanks so much for your visit and I appreciate your comments.

Cygnet Brown from Springfield, Missouri on February 02, 2014:

Thanks for this well-written art history lesson! I love the art history! I wish I would have had more in school. I have to wonder what Raphael's work would have been like had he lived longer.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on February 01, 2014:

Theresa: I think I was an art history major in another life! I love to hang around museums and visit them wherever I go and I love learn about the art and artists. I am so glad you enjoyed reading this and I agree, Raphael is one of my favorite Italian painters too. Thanks so much for the visit and your comments. Most appreciated.

Theresa Ast from Atlanta, Georgia on January 31, 2014:

suzette - Such beautiful, beautiful paintings and work by Raphael. He has always been one of my favorite Italian painters. Your prose, as always, is informative, interesting and easy to read. Another great hub. I feel like I just took a mini art course. :) Theresa

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on January 30, 2014:

teaches: I know, seeing his work in person is quite an experience. So glad you enjoyed reading this and I hope it brought back fond memories. Thanks for your visit.

Dianna Mendez on January 29, 2014:

I have seen this artist's work, now I know his story. He had quite an early start and his comparison to Michael Angelos' paintings is interesting.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on January 29, 2014:

Audrey: Thanks so much for reading this and I am glad you enjoyed it. His paintings are truly beautiful!

Audrey Howitt from California on January 28, 2014:

Such a beautiful hub!!

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on January 28, 2014:

Eddy: Thanks so much and I am glad you enjoyed reading this. I appreciate your support! Have a great week!

Eiddwen from Wales on January 28, 2014:

This again is such an interesting hub and as always Suzette your obvious hard work pays off. Voting up and wishing you a great day.


Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on January 27, 2014:

DDE: Thanks so much for your visit and for reading this. I am glad you enjoyed it. These Renaissance painters are my favorite!

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on January 27, 2014:

MG Singh: Thanks so much for reading this and I am glad you enjoyed it. I appreciate your comments.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on January 27, 2014:

Minnetonka Twin: Thanks so much for reading this and for your enthusiasm. These Renaissance painters are some of my favorite - to be that talented is awesome. I think the reason for his death is sad - think if he had lived a full lifetime what he could have produced. Thanks so much for your comments and I am glad you enjoyed this.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on January 27, 2014:

Raphael, a master Renaissance painter is an excellent hub with such beautiful photos and a great in depth of this topic.

MG Singh from UAE on January 26, 2014:

This is an excellent hub about a great Painter. Made interesting reading. Voted up

Linda Rogers from Minnesota on January 26, 2014:

I just Loved this article on Raphael. He was an artistic Genius. His paintings have always touched me to the core. They bring out a type of emotion in me I can't really explain. You did an incredible job on researching and putting this man's life on paper. I just love looking at his paintings. Sounds like he was a naughty little dude in his personal life. Obviously he died from some nasty STD. I couldn't help but be intrigued by this. LOL

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on January 26, 2014:

Jodah: Thanks so much for reading and commenting. Most appreciated. We look up to these artists so much we forget they are human like the rest of us and have feelings if envy and jealousy. But, through the manipulations of Pope Julius II we are left with a legacy of each artist's best masterpiece work!

John Hansen from Australia (Gondwana Land) on January 25, 2014:

Great hub Suzette as always. Anyone with natural talent brings out insecurity in their peers. Michelangelo should have had enough pride in his own work not to be jealous, but that's the human animal I guess. Maybe he put some lime or other paint additive in Raphael's tea or Oh thanks for the beautiful images too.Voted up.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on January 25, 2014:

Faith: I can't imagine being that talented at eleven years old either. These guys were child genius prodigies. I would love to be able to create paintings like these Renaissance painters did. All of their work is beautiful. Yes, I knew that about Michelangelo his jealousy of Raphael, but Raphael was never jealous of Michelangelo. It just shows who was secure in his talent and who was not. I love Raphael's paintings and have seen them in the Sistine Chapel, but I don't believe he outshine's Michelangelo's ceiling or genius. The ceiling just takes the viewer's breath away. It is a shame Michelangelo was so insecure. Thanks so much for reading this, Faith, and you are another one I'd love to meet in person sometime, Take care and have a great weekend also.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on January 25, 2014:

You are welcome, Jackie!

Faith Reaper from southern USA on January 25, 2014:

It is hard to imagine at the young age of 11 he was one of the finest painters! Wow! I did not know such about Michelangelo and his being so jealous, how interesting. I love his self portrait.

Wonderful hub once again.

Up and more and sharing.

Have a great weekend,

Faith Reaper

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on January 25, 2014:

Very welcome and thanks for the footnote! lol

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on January 25, 2014:

ologsinquito: I know, his paintings are exquisite and beautiful. My grandmother had a sepia print of the Madonna of Sedia hanging over her bed all her life. It was beautiful, even in sepia. I never knew it was a Raphael painting until college when I studied him. Thanks so much for your visit and for your comments.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on January 25, 2014:

Jackie: You are such a hoot! I'd love to meet you in person sometime. I want my articles to focus on the art and not sensational personal lives of the artists so I didn't include that info in my hub. But, I did research why and how he died so young. This is speculation and there is no real documentation, but apparently, Raphael was also a great lover. He had a mistress all during his life, Margherita Luti, also known as "La Fornarina" (The Little Fornicator). Well, one night supposedly he had a long and ardurous night of lovemaking with La Fornarina and the next morning had quite a high fever said to be the result of the lovemaking. About five to ten days later, he died from this fever. So that is why he died at only 37 years of age. Michelangelo disliked Raphael immensely but had no hand in his demise according to speculation. So, who knows? I'd rather concentrate on his gifted paintings and not his lovemaking. LOL! When I would tell my students about these types of things, that is all they would remember about the person, the sensational personal life and not the great art. LOL! Anyway, your inquiring mind reminds me of me! Thanks so much for visiting and for your comments. Most appreciated.

ologsinquito from USA on January 25, 2014:

He was so talented and his work is so beautiful.

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on January 25, 2014:

Wow how interesting, I think I would be digging him up to see what he died of at such a young age. Maybe poison from a jealous Michelangelo? Loved this, like being back in literature class! He was truly gifted.