Raffaello Sanzio, or Raphael, was a ridiculously talented artist of the high Renaissance. He painted some of the most beautiful paintings in the world, and we’ll see quite a few of them in Italy. He was a very prolific artist until his sudden death from illness in 1520 at the age of 37. It’s hard to imagine how much more he would have done had he lived to the ripe old age of his fellow masters Leonardo and Michelangelo. His most famous works can be found in the Vatican, just out the door and down the hall from the Sistine Chapel in what was the Pope’s private library. In fact, Michelangelo was working on the Sistine ceiling at the same time Raphael created “the School of Athens”, “The Desputa” and other masterpieces there. No doubt they were aware of each others progress and reputation. Michelangelo initially turned down the Sistine Chapel commission and recommended that Pope Julius II get Raphael to do it. To that time, Michelangelo was primarily a sculptor and Raphael was the young up and comer. More on Michelangelo later….
Raphael’s paintings are amazing to see in person. His colors are very bright, and his understanding of light and shade on the human form is off the charts. He meticulously blends his brushstrokes and creates a superbly delicate end product. It’s easy to see why he is considered among the greatest painters ever. In the Raphael Rooms at the Vatican, Raphael has meticulously planned every last detail on all 4 walls and the ceiling. “The School of Athens” is arguably his most famous work, a nod to philosophy and a metaphor of Raphael’s time. He places the portraits of fellow artists in the composition as Greek philosophers, including Leonardo, Michelangelo, Bramante (architect of St. Peters), and even himself in the far right corner. Here’s a great video on the painting that picks the whole thing apart: