Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, better known as Raphael, was born in Urbino, Italy in 1483. The exact date of his birth is unknown but historians have determined it to be either March 28th, 1483 or April 6th, 1483. Today he is famous for being one of the most important and influential artists of the Renaissance in Europe. Raphael’s mother, Magia, died when Raphael was just eight years old. Raphael’s father, Giovanni Santi was a poet and court painter for the Duke of Urbino. There is evidence that Raphael helped his father run his art workshop at the time, while developing his own artistic skills. Giovanni Santi remarried after Magia, Raphael’s mother, died; however, he too died young, leaving Raphael orphaned by the age of eleven. Following the death of both of his parents, Raphael was then cared for by his uncle and stepmother.
He spent some time working as an artist’s apprentice as a teenager, and likely helped his stepmother continue to operate his father’s workshop. It was during this time that his artistic skills became more apparent.
Raphael is described as being a master painter by December of 1500 at the age of seventeen. This suggests that he was fully trained as an artist and able to take on his own commissioned works. The first documented piece that Raphael completed was the Baronci altarpiece for the church of Saint Nicholas of Tolentino in Italy. He began work on the altarpiece in 1500 and completed it in 1501. Following successful completion of the altarpiece, Raphael went on to complete many other works for other churches in Italy. He also painted cabinets as well as Madonnas and portraits.
Working in various places across Italy, Raphael led a nomadic lifestyle. However, he spent a large amount of time in Florence and was possibly in the Italian city-state from 1504 to 1508 during a period that some historians refer to as his ‘Florentine Period’. In addition to working on developing his own style, Raphael was also influenced by Florentine art and artists such as that by Leonardo da Vinci. The most noticeable influences of Florentine art were in the way that Raphael’s portraits and Madonna’s were composed and the way that his figures took on a new complexity in terms of their positioning. For example, Raphael’s Madonna of the Meadow was composed using da Vinci’s pyramidal structure. This is something that Raphael had not done before and shows how the art and artists of Florence had influenced him. He maintained his own unique style of plaiting but incorporated some of the techniques and methods being used in Florence at the time.
Raphael moved to Rome in 1507 and arrived in the city-state by 1508. He would remain there for the rest of his life. Almost immediately, he was commissioned to paint a fresco at the Vatican Palace, which was the biggest and most important work of his career to date. As part of the commission he was to paint the walls in the Vatican library. Pope Julius II commissioned him to the complete the work for the Vatican. Around the same time, Michelangelo (another great Renaissance artist) was commissioned by the Pope to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Regardless, soon after completing that, Raphael was commissioned to paint two more rooms. He often also painted the ceilings too. These rooms became known as the Raphael Rooms and included works titled ‘Stanza della Segnatura’ and ‘The Mass at Bolsena’. Along with these frescoes which were the largest work of his career, a number of Raphael’s smaller paintings and portraits such as the portrait of Pope Julius II, which today can be viewed at the Vatican Palace.
Although Raphael died on April 6th 1520, at just 37 years old, his workshop was extremely productive and he left behind a large body of work. His workshop completed a forth room at the Vatican palace using drawings and sketches that Raphael had made. Today, he is remembered for being an influential painter and architect who lived during the European Renaissance and is often considered alongside other greats such as: Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Donatello and others.