Raphael (1483 - 1520)
Work, unceasing work, filled the days of Raphael in Rome.
The ingenuity and industry of the man were marvelous. Supplementing his
monumental labors in the Palace of the Vatican and his architectural direction
of St. Peter's, in succession to Bramante, more than eighty portraits were
painted by him, besides designs innumerable for engravings, and even for silver
and iron ornaments required by the Church.
In addition to his work in the papal service,
Raphael was also engaged in executing commissions for the wealthy banker
Agostino Chigi, not only at his villa near Rome—now the Villa Farnesina— where
the fresco of "The Triumph of Galatea" still adorns the wall, but in the Chigi
family chapel in the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo, where he painted his
famous Sibyls. His last important decorative work were the frescos painted in
the Chigi, or Farnesina
Palace, representing the mythological story of Cupid and Psyche.
Vasari relates of this work that the great banker, having commissioned Raphael
to decorate the first floor of his palace, was much disturbed because the
painter was so slow setting to work. Even when he started on the frescos,
"Raphael was so occupied with the love which he bore to the lady of his choice,
that he could not give sufficient attention to the work. Agostino, therefore,
falling at length into despair of seeing it finished, made so many efforts by
means of friends and by his own care, that after much difficulty he prevailed on
the lady to take up her abode in his house, where she was accordingly installed
in apartments near those which Raphael was painting; in which manner the work
was ultimately brought to a conclusion."
In two sonnets to this woman, who seems to have been the love of his life,
Raphael addresses her as one far above him, vowing that he will never reveal her
name. It is true that a marriage with the niece of his close friend Cardinal
Bibbiena was once arranged for, the date of the wedding set and the Pope was to
perform the ceremony. But Leo X regarded Raphael as a servant of the Church: he
had work for him to do, and moreover, he had fixed ideas concerning the glamour
of sentimentalism, so he requested that the wedding be postponed from time to
time, and meanwhile the lady died.
Raphael, in addition to decorating the Chigi Palace, was zealous in the papal
service of unearthing and preserving the art treasures which lay buried under
the ruins of Rome, and "with a princely magnificence sent artists through Italy
and Greece to make drawings of those antiquities which he was unable to see
himself. He was in intimate correspondence with most of the celebrated men of
his time; interested himself in all that was going forward; mingled in society,
lived in splendor and directed a host of pupils." His most famous easel-picture
of "The Sistine Madonna" was painted, entirely by his own hand, a year before
his death— the result of a fever contracted, some say, while superintending
excavations in the malarial quarters of Rome, or, according to others, of a
chill gotten while awaiting an audience with the Pope in one of the halls of the
Vatican. The dying Raphael sent for his old master Perugino, directed that he
should complete certain unfinished work, and expired at thirty-seven.