2020. The year of Raphael
by Giulia Venturini
Umbria preserves the memory of Raphael’s extraordinary artistic story; throughout the region, in fact, Rapahael left traces, direct or indirect, of his art.
He was one of the most famous painters and architects of the Renaissance. He considered one of the greatest artists of all time, his works marked an essential path for all subsequent painters and he was of vital importance for the development of the artistic language of the centuries to come.
Raphael was born in Urbino in «the year 1483, on Good Friday, at the tree in the morning, by Giovanni de’ Santi, a painter no less excellent, but a good man of good talent, and capable of directing his children to that good way which, unfortunately for him, had not been shown to him in his beautiful youth». A second version identifies the artist’s birth day on 6th April.
The school of Perugino
The city of Urbino was decisive for young Raphael: indeed, from a very young age, he had access to the rooms of Palazzo Ducale, and he could admire the works of Piero della Francesca, Francesco di Giorgio Martini and Melozzo da Forlì.
But the real apprenticeship took place in Perugino’s workshop of Perugino, where he was able to rediscover, through the refined variations of the master, the rigorous spatial articulation and the monumental compositive order.
Raphael intervened in the frescoes of the College of Change in Perugia: his painting is recognizable where the masses of colour assume almost a plastic value. It is precisely in this context that Raphael first saw the grotesque, painted on the ceiling of the College, which later entered his iconographic repertoire.
In 1499 a sixteen-year-old Raphael moved to Città di Castello, where he received his first independent commission: the Standard of the Holy Trinity, commissioned by a local confraternity that wanted to offer a devotional work as a token of thanks for the end of a plague. It is preserved now in the Pinacoteca Comunale di Città di Castello. It is one of the very first works attributed to the artist, as well as the only painting of Raphael remained in the city. The banner, painted on both sides, depicts in the front the Trinity with Saints Rocco and Sebastiano and in the direction of the Creation of Eve. The precepts of Perugino art are still evident, both in the gentle landscape and in the symmetrical angels.
In Città di Castello the artist left at least two other works: the Crucifixion Gavari and the Marriage of the Virgin for the church of San Francesco. In the first one it is easy to note a full assimilation of Perugino’s manners, even if we note the first developments towards a style of its own. Today it is conserved at the National Gallery in London. The second, however, is one of the most famous works of the artist, which closes the youthful period and marks the beginning of the stage of artistic maturity.
The work is inspired by the similar altarpiece made by Perugino for the Duomo of Perugia, but the comparison between the two paintings reveals profound and significant differences.
Entering the small but delightful church of San Francesco, next to the chapel calves, built in the middle of 1500 on a design by Giorgio Vasari, there is the altar of San Giuseppe, which contains a copy of the Marriage of the Virgin. The original, stolen by the Napoleonic troops in 1798, is kept in the Pinacoteca di Brera.
The works created in Perugia
Meanwhile, the artist’s fame soon began to spread throughout Umbria; thus he came to the Umbrian capital city: Perugia. In the city he was commissioned the Pala Colonna, for the church of the nuns of Sant’Antonio and in 1502-1503 the Pala degli Oddi, commissioned by the famous family in Perugia for the church of San Francesco al Prato.
In 1503 the artist undertook many trips that introduced him to the most important Italian cities such as Florence, Rome and Siena. But the commissions from Umbria were not long in coming: in 1504 was commissioned the Madonna and Child and saints Giovanni Battista and Nicola, called Pala Ansidei.
In the same year he signed in Perugia the fresco with the Trinity and Saints for the church of the monastery of San Severo, which years later Perugino completed in the lower band.
The work of crucial importance was the Pala Baglioni (1507) commissioned by Atalanta Baglioni to commemorate the bloody events that led to the death of Grifonetto, her son. The work was carried out for the church of San Francesco al Prato in Perugia. Raphael in the altarpiece represented the indescribable pain of a mother for the loss of her son and the vital disturbance, through a monumental composition, balanced and studied in detail.
Raphael became the reference painter for the largest and most important families of Perugia such as the Oddi, Ansidei and Baglioni, establishing himself as a great artist of relief; in the contract of his work, the Coronation of the Virgin, for the church of the nuns of Monteluce, he was mentioned as the best teacher in town. Raphael died on 6th April 1520 of fever caused, as Giorgio Vasari specifies, «by loving excesses». This year marks the 500th anniversary of death.
The artist was at the top of the Renaissance artistic season, bringing his painting to the highest levels of beauty and harmony. Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo wrote: «Raphael had in his face that sweetness and that beauty of the traits that are traditionally attributed to Good».
He lived his life with great commitment and continuity, giving future generations his incredible talent and his precious art, so much that he already deserved the title of divine in life.