Raffaello Sanzio: Portraits and other Works in Rome

Raphael, wrongly imitated, has been the excuse of the entire vulgar and academic historicist painting that developed later. Hence, when the reaction against the meditated, proportionate and intellectual art of the 19th century occurred, that revolution was made in the name of Pre-Raphaelism, that is, by opposing the painters before Raphael, especially Botticelli and Fra Angelico, to the academicist school. But Raphael was innocent of all the bulk of bad paintings that were made in imitation of the frescoes in the “Raphael rooms“, especially in France.

But besides his large commemorative murals, there is another aspect of Raphael’s oeuvre that alone would make him a superb painter: his portraits. They form a gallery of people peculiar to his contemporary Italy (and especially Rome), unsurpassed in their plastic precision and psychological evaluation. Many were not commissioned portraits: they were Raphael’s true personal creations, who took pleasure in immortalizing the characters of his friends and protectors. In the position of the characters and in the plastic and chromatic importance that Raphael gave to the details of their clothing, he established certain principles that were fully accepted by all the great Venetian portraitists who would come later.


Portrait of an unknown Youth, grey-black chalk, heightened with white bodycolur on white paper, by Raphael, ca. 1499, 381 x 261 mm (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford). This drawing has also been referred from some art scholars to a self-portrait of the then young artist.
Self-Portrait, oil on wood, by Raphael, 1504-1506, 47 x 35 cm (Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence). This self-portrait is similar to that Raphael painted in the School of Athens in the Stanza della Segnatura between 1509 and 1511; in both self-portraits Raphael depicts himself with an identical expression and features. His hairstyle and cut are those typical of the court page of the Renaissance and his dark cap, in the style later known as “raffaella“, is of the kind used by painters, as is his dark robe, from which a white shirt is barely visible underneath. In short, he is wearing his simple working attire, an intentional allusion to his trade, which he proudly proclaims here in this way.
The Lady with the Unicorn, oil on wood panel transferred to canvas, by Raphael, ca. 1505-1506, 65 x 51 cm (Galleria Borghese, Rome). The identity of the sitter is not known. This portrait is from Raphael’s period in Florence. The well composed figure is set apart from a vast landscape background, inspired by Leonardo but executed with the clarity typical of Raphael. The general composition of the painting, placing the figure in a loggia opening out onto a landscape and the three-quarter length format, was apparently inspired by the Mona Lisa. The unicorn was traditionally seen as a symbol of chastity in medieval romance.


One of Raphael’s oldest portraits is the mysterious Lady with the Unicorn, in the Borghese Gallery in Rome, perhaps painted in 1505-1506, a fascinating portrait because her evasiveness, so femininely secret, that it is reminiscent of Mona Lisa’s. From around the same time or a little later was the portrait of Agnolo Doni, in the Palazzo Pitti in Florence, famous for his marvelous drawing confidence and for the sumptuous conception of the color palette. The Portrait of a Cardinal, from the Prado Museum, must be from around 1510-1511, with its incredible though imposing simplicity; a simplicity through which the formal expression is transformed into an aristocratic spirituality, somewhat ambiguous. From ca. 1510-1514 are two famous portraits in which Raphael embarked on a deep exploration of the human spirit: Tommaso Inghirami, from the Palazzo Pitti, whose manifest eye defect is treated by Raphael halfway between drama and ruthless caricature, and Count Baldassare Castiglione, of the Louvre, Raphael’s friend and author of a famous work, “The Book of the Courtier”, with which a whole generation of Renaissance princes and intellectuals were educated. In this portrait Raphael reveals the ideal of the character by analyzing his face, aesthetic and spiritual perfection based on the harmony between sensitivity and assured voluntarism. Finally, painted the year before his death, the portrait of La Fornarina, Raphael’s lover identified as Margherita Luti, the daughter of a baker from Rome. This naked girl, who flirts by showing herself through a transparent veil, is captured with such an amazing sense of the third dimension that it leads us to almost feel her skin on which Rafael has put his mark: the bracelet that girdles his left arm bears the inscription Raphael Urbinas. Other Raphael’s celebrated portraits are shown in the pictures below with a corresponding brief commentary.


Portraits of Agnolo and Maddalena Doni, oil on panel, by Raphael, 1504-1507, 63 x 45 cm (each) (Palazzo Pitti, Florence). The left painting portrays Agnolo Doni (1474-1539), a rich fabric merchant and prominent figure among the Florentine upper class, and the right panel represents his wife, noblewoman Maddalena Strozzi (1489-1540), whom he married on 31 January 1504. According to Vasari the works were commissioned to Raphael by Agnolo who also commissioned the round painting of the Holy Family, known as the Tondo Doni, to Michelangelo. Both portraits were painted en pendant and originally formed a diptych, held together by hinges that made it possible to look at the scenes painted on the backs. The composition of the portraits also resembles that of the Mona Lisa: the figures are presented in the same way in respect to the picture plane, and their hands, like those of the Mona Lisa, are placed on top of one another. But the low horizon of the landscape background permits a careful assessment of the human figure. This relationship between landscape and figure presents a clear contrast to the striking settings of Leonardo, which communicated the threatening presence of nature. The most notable characteristic that distinguishes these portraits from those of Leonardo is the overall sense of serenity which even the close attention to the materials of clothes and jewels (which draw one’s attention to the couple’s wealth) is unable to attenuate. 
Portrait of a Cardinal, oil on wood, by Raphael, 1510-1511, 79 x 61 cm (Museo del Prado, Madrid). The red cape and hat identify the sitter as a cardinal, but his identity has remained unknown. It might be Cardinal Francesco Alidosi. The pose is identical to the portraits of Agnolo and Maddalena Doni (see picture before): the figure is turned three-quarters out and the arm nearest the viewer defines the lower limit of the picture space. The Cardinal’s right eye is particularly striking in its three-dimensional modelling, and its clear expression. The convex shape of the eyeball is clearly defined in its socket, the eyelid coming down at a slight angle over the moistly gleaming pupil. The sitter’s gaze is so direct it is difficult to meet it. This unknown figure was probably one of the important people in the papal court, for his portrait (showing the same penetrating look) is found on the left-hand side of the Disputa in the Stanza della Segnatura.
Portrait of Tommaso Inghirami, oil on wood, by Raphael, 1510-1514, 90 x 63 cm (Palazzo Pitti, Florence). This portrait shows the eminent man of letters and librarian of Pope Leo X with an absorbed expression, in the act of writing. It is assumed that Inghirami worked with Raphael on the program of the Stanza della Segnatura. The portrait is an exceptional work for its fullness of vision and vibrant colors, without being excessively grandiose or dramatic. There are two extant versions: one in Boston and the other in the Palazzo Pitti. Inghirami’s crossed eyes, a physical defect which the artist does not leave out, acquire a discreet tone which almost dissolves in the inspired pose of the figure. Without idealizing, but also without falling into unpleasant naturalism, Raphael maintains a harmonic equilibrium between realism and dignified celebration, a primary characteristic of portrait painting.
Portrait of Pope Julius II, oil on wood, by Raphael, 1511-1512, 108 x 80,7 cm (National Gallery, London). Pope Julius II gave this painting to the church of Santa Maria del Popolo, where after his death it was displayed on important feast days. The painting shows the Pope seated with the tiara on his head, dressed in a white surplice and a purple mantle. Here the simple but effective tonal contrast, first used by Raphael in the Portrait of a Cardinal (see picture before), reappears. The Pope, though old, still seems very vigorous and the Della Rovere energy is clearly visible in the hand that grasps the right arm of the chair with strength and pride. The two acorn-shaped knobs on the back of the chair recall the Pope’s coat of arms. The pattern of papal keys and tiaras just visible in the green curtain of the background was originally painted gold to simulate embroidery, but Raphael changed his mind. A choleric and active man, much criticized during his turbulent pontificate for personally leading his troops in strenuous military campaigns, Julius II is here portrayed by Raphael as at once forceful (his left hand), aristocratic (his right hand) and meditative. The portrait is in every way worthy of a patron unique in the history of art, a pope discerning and fortunate enough to have been served by three of the greatest artists of the High Renaissance: the architect Bramante, Michelangelo and Raphael.


Raphael activities as architect have usually been overlooked, even though for a short time he was one of the most important architects in Rome who were working for a small circle around the Papacy. In fact in 1514, after Bramante’s death, Raphael was named architect in chief of the architectural works of the new St Peter’s Basilica. Though most of this work was altered or demolished after his death, and the subsequent acceptance of Michelangelo’s design, few drawings whit his architectural projections have survived. But Raphael also designed several other buildings for private patrons. To name a few: the Palazzo Branconio dell’Aquila for Leo’s Papal Chamberlain Giovanni Battista Branconio (later demolished to make way for Bernini’s St. Peter’s Square); the design and mosaic decoration of the Chigi Chapel for Agostino Chigi, the Papal Treasurer; the Palazzo Jacopo da Brescia for Pope Leo’s doctor (moved in the 1930s but still surviving); and the Villa Madama, a lavish hillside retreat for Cardinal Giulio de’ Medici, later Pope Clement VII (left unfinished).

Additionally, in 1515 Raphael was named a Prefect of antiquities in Rome, and in this context, he wrote a letter to Pope Leo suggesting ways of diminishing the destruction of ancient monuments and proposing a visual survey of the city to record all antiquities in an organized manner. To this end, Raphael’s intention was to describe and illustrate ancient Rome with the ultimate aim to make an archaeological map of the ancient city but this was never executed due to his early death.

Raphael also worked in other painting ventures, commissioned for private patrons. One of those who insistently hired Raphael was Agostino Chigi, the hugely rich banker and papal treasurer. For him, Raphael painted the famous scene of Galatea and designed other decorative frescoes for his Villa Farnesina, and also frescoes for the church of Santa Maria della Pace, mosaics in the family’s funerary chapel (the Chigi Chapel) in Santa Maria del Popolo, and some decorative elements of the Villa Madama. These works on the Villas Farnesina and Madama were mostly executed by his workshop.


Galatea, fresco, by Raphael, 1511, 295 x 225 cm (Villa Farnesina, Rome). The Sienese banker Agostino Chigi commissioned the most famous artists of the time, Baldassare Peruzzi, Sebastiano Luciani (later called Sebastiano del Piombo) and Raphael to decorate his lavish villa in Rome (now known as “La Farnesina“). All three artists painted frescoes based on classical mythology. As subject Raphael chose a verse from a poem by the Florentine Angelo Poliziano which had also helped to inspire Botticelli’s ‘Birth of Venus’. In Raphael’s scene every figure seems to correspond to some other figure, every movement to answer a counter-movement, complementing each other. For example, the small Cupids with bows and arrows who aim at the heart of Galatea: not only do those to right and left echo each other’s movements, but the cupid swimming beside the chariot corresponds to the one flying at the top of the picture. We can see the same correspondence in the group of sea-gods which seems to be ‘wheeling’ around the nymph. There are two on the margins, who blow on their sea-shells, and two pairs in front and behind, who are in an embrace. But what is more admirable is that all these diverse movements are somehow reflected and taken up in the figure of Galatea herself. Her veil blows backwards while she turns round and smiles. All the lines in the picture, from the love-gods’ arrows to the reins she holds, converge on her face in the very center of the picture. By these artistic means Raphael has achieved constant movement throughout the painting, without letting it become restless or unbalanced. It is for this supreme mastery of arranging his figures, this consummate skill in composition, that artists have admired Raphael ever since: the perfect and harmonious composition of freely moving figures.
Decorative frescoes of the Loggia di Psiche in the Villa Farnesina, by Raphael and workshop, 1517-1518 (Rome). In 1517 Agostino Chigi commissioned Raphael to decorate the ground floor loggia’s ceiling of his villa in which the artist had painted the Galatea a few years before. The fresco cycle represents the Story of Psyche. Although the preparatory drawings and the general conception of the stories were by Raphael, the painting was carried out by his pupils, notably Giovanni da Udine (who painted the rich plant and fruit garlands of the frames) with the collaboration of Giulio Romano, Raffaellino del Colle and Gianfrancesco Penni. For his decorative design, Raphael treated the loggia space as an open pergola. He developed its structure out of the existing wall divisions, and covered them with magnificent, rampant garlands of fruit. He designed the two large ceiling pictures that simulate tapestries stretched across the roof. These huge awnings were painted so ingeniously that we can see the straps holding them in place and the scalloped edges they create by stretching the material. These simulated tapestries depict two scenes: the gods deciding to subject Psyche to various tests, and Psyche holding a magnificent banquet to celebrate her acceptance into the circle of the Immortals.
Creation of the World, Dome of the Chigi Chapel, fresco and mosaics, designed by Raphael, 1513-1515 (Chigi Chapel, Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome). At the center of the dome, an imposing figure of God the Father oversees it all and appears to hover above the chapel in an audaciously illusionistic pose and surrounded by putti. The decoration of the dome was mostly done in mosaics, with personifications of the planets interspersed with richly gilded stucco ornamentation. These eight mosaic panels show the Sun, the Moon, the starry sky and the six known planets as pagan deities depicted in half-length, each accompanied by an angel with colorful feathered wings and by their corresponding signs of the zodiac. The mosaics were executed following Raphael’s cartoons by a Venetian craftsman, Luigi da Pace in 1516. The Chigi Chapel itself was designed by Raphael for his friend and patron, banker Agostino Chigi as a private chapel and family burial place. 
The Sibyls, fresco, by Raphael, ca. 1514, width at base 615 cm (Church of Santa Maria della Pace, Rome). This was another commission by the banker Agostino Chigi. The fresco is located in the chapel at the left of the apse of Santa Maria della Pace. Raphael painted the Sibyls sitting above the arch that leads to the second private chapel of Chigi. The turning movements of the bodies are reminiscent of those of The Virtues in the Stanza della Segnatura. The accompanied fresco with the Prophets (Habakkuk, Jonah, David and Daniel) are generally attributed to one of Raphael’s collaborators (perhaps Timoteo Viti) who must have based them on an original drawing by Raphael. The Sibyls (from left to right: Cumaean, Persian, Phrygian and Tiburtine) is attributed to Raphael. Each of the figures is accompanied by an angel who indicates the divine spirit present in their prophecies. Between the Sibyls at the top of the arch is a small angel holding a lighted torch, the symbol of prophecy, which enlightens the darkness of the future.


For the Pope, besides the work on the Stanze and the architectural design of the new St. Peter’s, Raphael was entrusted with an important commission to produce huge tapestries with scenes of the lives of St. Paul and St. Peter for the Sistine Chapel. Raphael prepared a series of 10 cartoons, of which seven survive, known today as the Raphael Cartoons (now in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London). These cartoons were sent to Brussels to be woven in the workshop of Pier van Aelst and were probably completed in 1520. Also for the Vatican, he designed and painted the Vatican Loggias, a long gallery that in those times was opened to a courtyard on one side. Raphael’s decorative design for these corridors included a revival of the Roman-style grotesque that had been recently re-discovered while unearthing the ruins of Nero’s Domus Aurea


The Loggetta of Cardinal Bibbiena, fresco, mainly by Giovanni da Udine and Raphael’s workshop following Raphael’s designs, 1516-1517 (Palazzi Pontifici, Vatican City). Raphael’s pupils and collaborators affirmed their interest in classical antiquity and its contemporary interpretation in the decoration of the Loggetta, a small porch adjacent to the bath room, of Cardinal Bibbiena. The decorative program consisted of grotesque figures and of scenes from the Apollo myth. Only two of the three original paintings have been preserved. Architectural structures, animals, winged cherubs and false niches containing reproductions of statues, similar to those which appear in Roman wall paintings, accompany the scenes. This renovated interest in ancient Rome wall decoration came from the recently re-discovered ruins of the Domus Aurea, the vast palace of Emperor Nero.
Loggia of Pope Leo X (second floor), Raphael workshop after a design by Raphael, 1518-1519 (Palazzi Pontifici, Vatican City). The loggias in the Vatican are one of Raphael’s few architectural projects that have been preserved. Julius II had commissioned them from Bramante in about 1512. After Bramante’s death in 1514, Raphael completed the loggia on the first floor. He alone was responsible for the decorations on the second floor. This loggia became famous for the grandiose cycle of frescoes illustrating 52 scenes from the Creation of the World to the Last Supper, popularly referred as the “Raphael Bible” (the counterparts to Michelangelo’s frescoes on the Sistine’s ceiling) which Raphael’s workshop, among them Giulio Romano, Gianfrancesco Penni, Vincenzo Tamagni, Perin del Vaga and Polidoro da Caravaggio, executed. The Gallery was planned by Raphael, who also designed a decorative cycle of grotesques and stucco reliefs. The latter were executed according to the ancient technique studied during the excavation of the recently re-discovered Domus Aurea. The Bible Stories occupied Raphael’s workshop from 1518 to 1519. The Biblical episodes were painted in the ceiling vaults, within differently shaped frames. Together they form a swarm of figures, isolated and in groups, arranged in an extraordinary variety of compositions and poses.


Going back to Raphael’s pictorial production, he not only repeated ancient themes of Christianity’s iconographical repertoire but interpreted them with a very personal character. As a celebrated example, we can mention under this category the old motif of the Vision of the Almighty (also known as Vision of Ezequiel): the Almighty appearing to Ezekiel accompanied by the Tetramorph and two angels. The angels were usually portrayed carrying prayers, but Raphael depicted them holding the Almighty’s arms. Although this is an ancient “iconographic formula” that was stereotypically painted and sculpted thousands of times in Byzantine and Romanesque art, in Raphael’s interpretation it resurfaced totally rejuvenated by creating a strange atmosphere which had nothing to do with the actual laws of perspective. Vasari, who saw this small painting which only measures 41 x 30 cm, noted: “No less rare and beautiful in its smallness than the other things in its greatness”.


The Vision of Ezekiel, oil on wood, by Raphael, 1517-1518, 41 x 30 cm (Palazzo Pitti, Florence). The scene is taken from an episode in the Book of Ezekiel. In the center is the Holy Father, arms lifted in blessing, held up by two angels, an eagle, an ox and a lion, the symbols of the evangelists, John, Luke, and Mark, while Matthew is depicted as the angel enrobed in a pale blue-purplish robe. A corolla of angelic heads fills the luminous opening in the sky, and are painted in monochrome or simply engraved in the primer, creating a vibrant sense of movement. Below, under the band of clouds, is a broad landscape of land and sea that flows into the distance, amid flashes of bright light and shadow. To the left, a ray of light falls onto the two small silhouettes, beside a horse, one of which is usually identified as the prophet Ezekiel.


Between the important altarpieces Raphael executed we can mention St. Cecilia and the Sistine Madonna. His last work, on which he was working at the time of his death, was a large Transfiguration, which together with Lo Spasimo shows the direction his art was taking in his final years: even more directed towards a proto-Baroque than Mannerist.


Madonna della Seggiola (Sedia, Madonna of the “chair”), oil on wood, by Raphael, 1514, 71 cm diameter (Palazzo Pitti, Florence). This celebrated painting, Raphael’s most humanistic form of the Madonna, shows influences of the Venetian school, of Titian and of Sebastiano del Piombo, and was painted during the artist’s Roman period. The form of a “tondo” is a reminder of the style of Florence and takes us back to the taste of the Quattrocento. Adapting masterfully to the shape of the tondo, Raphael cleverly adapts the figures and composition to the outline of the panel. And yet the composition doesn’t look forced, but on the contrary, the figures follow the curve and become more closely entwined together. The grouping, the closing around the tondo coincides with the center of affection, the little Christ, the spiritual center of the picture. The color, in spite of its vividness, has a fusion and a warmth which Raphael attains with genial and personal mastery. Raphael dressed the Madonna in the Italian clothing of the time. The chair dictates the outer limits of the composition and is the reason of the painting’s name. It is still unknown who commissioned the painting.
The Sistine Madonna, oil on canvas, by Raphael, 1513-1514, 270 x 201 cm (Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden). One of the last Madonnas painted by Raphael, this canvas with the Virgin, Child and Saints Sixtus and Barbara is characterized by an imaginary space created by the figures themselves. The figures stand on a bed of clouds, framed by heavy curtains which open to either side and stand before dozens of obscured putti in the background. The Virgin actually appears to descend from a heavenly space. The gesture of St. Sixtus’ right hand and the glance of St. Barbara seem to be directed toward the faithful, whom we imagine beyond the balustrade at the bottom of the painting. The Papal tiara, which rests on top of this balustrade, acts as a bridge between the real and pictorial space. The painting was probably intended to decorate the tomb of Julius II, for the holy pope Sixtus was the patron saint of the Della Rovere family and St. Barbara and the two winged ‘putti’ (at the bottom) symbolize the funeral ceremony. Originally, the painting was located in the convent of St. Sixtus in Piacenza. This particular Madonna by Raphael has been reproduced over and over again, and almost everyone is familiar with the putti leaning on the balustrade. Heavily marketed, their images have been featured in stamps, postcards, T-shirts, socks, and wrapping paper.
St. Cecilia, oil transferred from panel to canvas, by Raphael, 1514, 220 x 136 cm (Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna). This painting was executed for the Church of San Giovanni in Monte in Bologna and commissioned by Elena Duglioli dall’Olio. She was famous for having visions and ecstatic fits in which music played a great part, which is probably why she asked for a picture of St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music. Raphael decided on a painting in the style of a Sacra Conversazione, with St. Cecilia in the center surrounded by saints. The glorification of purity is the central idea behind this painting. This is expressed by the figures seen on both sides of the principal figure: St. John the Evangelist is the patron saint of the church, and St. Paul symbolizes innocence, while St. Augustine and St. Mary Magdalene (both to the right) stand for purity regained through atonement after sinful aberration. The four saints who surround the protagonist form a niche which is strengthened by the poses and gestures of the figures (the glances of the Evangelist and St Augustine cross, St Paul’s is lowered and the Magdalene turns hers toward the spectator). Only St. Cecilia raises her face toward the sky, where a chorus of angels appears through a hole in the clouds. The painting further celebrates the theme of chastity: St. Cecilia’s simple belt is a traditional Renaissance symbol for chastity. The broken instruments at Cecilia’s feet seem to refer to the abandonment of earthly pleasures that resulted from Cecilia’s devotion to the sacred. According to Giorgio Vasari the musical instruments spread at Cecilia’s feet were not painted by Raphael but by his student, Giovanni da Udine.


So that was how, in the last years of his life, Raphael tried to excel himself and to work in a style that wasn’t his own, sometimes imitating Michelangelo. This is noted in the famous altarpieces we just mentioned before: Lo Spasimo, from the Prado Museum, and to some extent in the Transfiguration, the painting Raphael was working on when he died, and that was placed in his burial chamber. Yet how much inspiration Raphael displayed in this panel! At the top, Christ appears radiant among the clouds, with Moses and Elijah, Peter and John, the only ones who witnessed the scene. Below, the other disciples guess that something extraordinary is happening; they are agitated, they look at each other, and they wonder about the cause of their confusion. A possessed man regains his senses at that precise moment; his mother, a robust Roman matron, points out the miracle to everyone present.


Christ Falling on the Way to Calvary (also known as Lo Spasimo), oil on panel transferred to canvas, by Raphael, 1516-1517, 318 x 229 cm (Museo del Prado, Madrid). The painting was executed for the church of Santa Maria dello Spasimo in Palermo, partly by the school of Raphael. In fact, this church was dedicated to the grief and agony (‘spasimo‘) of the Virgin when she witnessed the sufferings of Christ, which is the true subject of Raphael’s altarpiece: the mutual gaze of Christ, stumbling beneath the weight of the Cross, and his distraught mother, who reaches out her arms in vain. The background resembles a stage set with distant groups of people and crosses. Simon of Cyrene lifts Christ’s cross momentarily and looks sternly at the guards. The four Marys are depicted on the right side of the painting and towering on either side of the composition are the guards.
Transfiguration, oil on wood, by Raphael, 1518-1520, 405 x 278 cm (Pinacoteca Vaticana, Vatican City). Cardinal Giulio de’ Medici, later Pope Clement VII, commissioned the Transfiguration in 1517 for the French Cathedral of Narbonne. His untimely death prevented Raphael from finishing it. The composition of the Transfiguration is divided into two distinct parts: the Miracle of the Possessed Boy on a lower level; and the Transfiguration of Christ on Mount Tabor, in the background. The transfigured Christ floats in an aura of light and clouds above the hill, accompanied by Moses and Elijah. Below, on the ground, are his disciples. Some are dazzled by the light of glory, others are in prayer (left). The gestures of the crowd beholding at the miracle link the two parts together: the raised hands of the crowd converge toward the figure of the rising Christ. In this very grand composition Raphael has summed up all the elements present in the best of contemporary painting, including references to classical antiquity. This painting set the stage (together with Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo) for the coming Mannerism wave. The numerous extant drawings (both by Raphael and pupils) reflect how carefully meditated this composition is. 


Rafael died on Good Friday, 1520 (on his birthday, April 6) when he was only 37 years old, and was buried in the Pantheon, the old Roman building now a church.

We leave you with some other of the celebrated portraits painted by Raphael.


Portrait of a Young Man, oil on wood, by Raphael, ca. 1509-1511 or 1513-1514, 59 x 75 cm (whereabouts unknown since 1945, formerly exhibited at the Czartoryski Museum, Kraków, Poland). It is believed that this lost painting is a self-portrait. If so, the painting shows no signs of Raphael’s profession; on the contrary, the portrait shows a richly dressed and “confidently poised” young man. The painting was looted by the Germans in 1939 and its whereabouts are unknown.
Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione, oil on canvas, by Rapjhael, 1514-1515, 82 x 67 cm (Musée du Louvre, Paris). The Portrait represents Baldassare Castiglione, a literary figure active at the court of Urbino in the early years of the 16th century, and is considered as one of the great portraits of the Renaissance. Here, Raphael was able to depict the affection inherent in the intelligent and calm face of Castiglione, and together with the shaded tonalities of the clothing and the unusually light background indicate his high levels of skill as a painter. Later, Rubens would admire Raphael’s portrait of Castiglione so much that he copied it and subsequently referenced the composition in several of his own self-portraits. The portrait was produced as a result of Raphael’s friendship with Castiglione.
Woman with a Veil (La Donna Velata), oil on canvas, by Raphael, 1516, 82 x 60,5 cm (Palazzo Pitti, Florence). The sitter has been traditionally identified with the same subject of “la Fornarina” (see picture below), the woman whom Raphael loved in his last years and whose face reappeared in both his paintings (e.g. in the Sistine Madonna, see picture above) and those of his followers. This figure seems to represent Raphael’s ideal of beauty at this time. The painting shows greater attention to color and to the rendering of skin and clothes in respect to his previous female portraits. The young woman’s face stands out against the dark background and her eyes hold an intense and penetrating look. The silk of her sleeves contrasts with her ivory-like skin, and is closely associated with the thin pleating of the dress, held up by a corset with golden embroidery. As in the portrait of Baldassare Castiglione (see picture above), this portrait radiates a sense of great dignity and restraint. But greys and light-blues dominated the portrait of Castiglione: here the warm tonalities of white and gold take over. Raphael is preparing the wider color range and the more complex composition which will be expressed later in his Portrait of Leo X.
Portrait of Andrea Navagero and Agostino Beazzano, oil on canvas, by Raphael, ca. 1516, 77 x 111 cm (Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome). This austere double portrait of great stylistic restraint, is set against a green background in which the two figures, perhaps intentionally conceived by the artist in the manner of Roman busts, seem not to communicate with one another. The sitters are most probably identified with Andrea Navagero (1453-1529; a humanist and man of letters, since 1515 librarian of St. Mark’s, who left Rome for Venice) and Agostino Beaziano (born in Treviso around the last decade of the 15th century and died in 1549, a diplomat). The painting was probably executed as a mark of the friendship between the two men.
La Fornarina, oil on wood, by Raphael, 1518-1519, 85 x 60 cm (Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica, Rome). This famous portrait of a young woman, called La Fornarina, is signed, in Latin, by the artist as “Raphael Vrbinas” (‘Raphael from Urbino’), a signature that appears engraved on the thin ribbon that the girl wears just under her left shoulder. The sitter has been traditionally identified with Margherita Luti, a Sienese woman and Raphael’s love interest, the daughter of a baker from the Roman district of Santa Dorotea, hence her nickname ‘fornarina‘. The painting depicts a nude young woman wearing a thin veil covering her lower abdomen and is seen half covering her left breast. She wears a blue and yellow turban over her dark hair; a thicker red cloth covers her legs. The background is formed by a thicket of myrtle, a plant sacred to Venus.
Portrait of the Artist with a Friend, oil on canvas, by Raphael, 1518-1520, 90 x 83 cm (Musée du Louvre, Paris). In this double portrait Raphael himself stands behind a man on whose shoulder his hand rests familiarly. He stands calmly behind the unknown man, looking out of the picture with a serious expression. The friend’s gesture is not meant for the onlooker, but seems more directed at Raphael, as if he were showing him something, himself, perhaps, in a mirror. This is Raphael’s last and most impressive self-portrait.
Portrait of Leo X, oil on wood, by Raphael, 1518-1520, 154 x 119 cm (Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence). This is one of Raphael’s greatest masterpieces, where he depicted Pope Leo X accompanied by Cardinals Luigi de’ Rossi (right) and Giulio de’ Medici (left, both relatives of the Pope). This group portrait is focused though on the central figure of the Pope, the two Cardinals act as a royal escort. An illuminated prayer book lies open on the table in front of Pope Leo. On the same table rests a finely carved bell. Both objects undoubtedly reveal the exquisite tastes of the Pope who was an active patron of the arts. There is nothing idealized in the slightly puffed head of the near-sighted Pope (which is holding a magnifying glass). The velvets and damasks in their various rich tones add to the atmosphere of pomp and power, though these were troubled times, for at the very period when this portrait was painted Luther had denounced the Pope for the way he raised money selling indulgences for the new St. Peter’s. Leo X had put Raphael himself in charge of this building enterprise after Bramante died in 1514, and thus he also became an architect, designing churches, villas and palaces and studying the ruins of ancient Rome.

Much of Raphael’s energy during his last years was directed toward public activity, or at least toward commissioners who were influential in city life and life within the Papal States (he designed a villa, known as the Villa Madama, for Cardinal Giulio de’ Medici).

The Judgement of Paris, engraving (etching and burin), by Marcantonio Raimondi after a design by Raphael, 1513-1515, 295 x 443 mm (Gallerie degli Uffizi, Florence). This fabulous engraving depicts the incident that sparked the Trojan War: Paris being forced to decide which goddess (Juno, Minerva, or Venus) was the most beautiful. He chose Venus, seen receiving the golden apple (left) upon promising to help him woo the most beautiful woman alive, Helen of Troy. A winged victory hovers above the group. In the top center we see the Sun in his chariot preceded by Castor and Pollux on horseback. In the lower right corner two river gods and a naiad with Jupiter above them accompanied by an eagle, Ganymede, Diana and another Goddess. This print is an example of the collaboration between Marcantonio Raimondi (an Italian engraver) and Raphael, who designed the subject specifically for him to reproduce it as an engraving. The subsequent production of various copies of this work made it one of the most famous prints of the 16th century. The scene relates to the grisaille painting executed for Pope Leo X below the fresco of the Parnassus in the Stanza della Segnatura in the Vatican. The subject-matter shows Raphael’s mastery of exploring motifs through different styles and formal characters, while demonstrating an interpretative freedom and power that was entirely new for that period. The group of the river gods and the naiad sitting on the right lower corner would resurface 350 years later in Edouard Manet’s Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe (1863, left) and again in Picasso’s Luncheon on the grass (1960, right) as his own interpretation of this work by Manet’s of 1863.

9 thoughts on “Raffaello Sanzio: Portraits and other Works in Rome

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