Skip to main content

Raffaello's 529th

Raffaello, studio per la trasfigurazione 02
Heads and hands of the Apostles, ca. 1518-1520

Head of a Woman,ca. 1517-20

If there is one artist I wish I could go back in time and meet with...well, there would be too many to mention, but Raphael is the guy I could see sitting down to chat with you over wine and bread. His reputation as well-liked, amiable, smart, and a ladies man puts him in a unique category--Michelangelo was introverted and brooding, easily irascible, Leonardo highly intelligent and easily distracted by his own curiosities, but Raphael is the dude. Combining the knowledge of both, he forms that holy trinity of the Renaissance genius. I admit at first I didn't quite care for his paintings, but after my uncle from Italy bought me a book on him in Italian, Raphael grew on me fast. His draftsmanship had few equals in his day, and his compositions are Classically perfect. It is interesting that he has been adored and reviled over the centuries, and his life is the great tragedy of art history: he died on his own 37th birthday.

The Triumph of Galatea, 1512

This painting was the only Greek mythology theme he painted, and yet it is one of his most dynamic. The three cupids form a nearly even-spaced triangle above Galatea, while the figures on the right are in tandem, even though facing opposite directions. The figures on the left, however, are a proto-Mannerist embrace that reminds me of Rubens. Raphael uses bright red and soft blues often in his paintings, and this combination of warm and cool is done with his usual mastery. Why Raphael did not paint more scenes like this one defies comprehension. It is musical and dramatic, yet he uses brightness, something that he would change toward the end of his career.

Portrait of Agnolo Doni, 1506

Rapahel was a great portrait painter, far more so than his religious scenes. Here this painting is like a masculine Mona Lisa in reverse, this time with black and red against the blue sky. Although the hair is stylized, look at the expression on this man's has a genuineness, an real quality that is incredibly penetrating and deep. Raphael pays particular attention to hands in all his portraits of men...something that Van Dyck would notice much much later.

La Donna Velata, ca. 1514-1515

One of the most sensuous and tender portraits of the Renaissance, even with richly detailed gown and veil, we see a woman that he clearly had romantic feelings for. Note the use of a dark background and soft, warm light on her, with no bright colours that typified his work. A monochromatic Raffaello! A new maturity touched his work here, and this discovery of chiaroscuro for him would change Renaissance and Mannerism, to a darker, more dramatic style known as Baroque.

La Trasfigurazione, 1518-1520

I had the pleasure of studying this painting, his final work, at the Pinacoteca Vaticana in September of 2010 and I was surprised by how large it really is: nearly life-size. Here Raphael created the foundation for the Baroque, summarizing all that he learned from color, composition, and chiaroscuro in one breathtaking masterpiece. The drawings alone for this are masterpieces, as I've shown at the beginning of this post. The use of space and foreground, the figures on the left carefully distinct while the figures on the right seem to be crowded as if to be on top of each other. Harmony is no longer necessary. Color and light tell the story. And he boldly makes Christ the background figure, floating in the air with Moses and Elijah. I cannot emphasize how amazing this painting is in person. It was his greatest painting, and his last...had he lived another five years, we would have seen truly amazing work. Grazie, Raffaello.


  1. Galatea is my favorite painting of his. Coming from a superhero background, Raphael was an early favorite. The head and hands drawing is great and reminds me of Gene Colan.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

More Old Master Drawings

There is nothing in all the world more beautiful or significant of the laws of the universe than the nude human body.
Robert Henri

Charles Louis Müller, A Standing Female Nude Leaning Against an Arch, ca.1864

Once again I decided to talk about some Old Master drawings and delve into the thinking behind how these drawings may have been created and the knowledge of the artist. In the above drawing by Müller, done in sanguine with white chalk highlights, the figure is drawn from a low view-point, with her body twisting toward her left side while resting on one knee. Note how Müller alternates the bent right leg with the bent left arm to create dynamic contrast. The right arm is also foreshortened and partially in shadow. Expressing power and femininity, this is a study that is Renaissance in spirit, even Mannerist, revealing the female nude as sculptural yet always graceful.

Anton Raphael Mengs, Seated male nude viewed from the back, 1755

One of several Academic nude studies by Mengs, this …


Nymphs and Satyr, 1873

If there is one artist today that hardly needs an introduction, it would be William-Adolphe Bouguereau, supreme giant of 19th century Academic art. Born on November 30, 1825 in La Rochelle on the southwest of France, his talent would define the era he lived in only to fall into obscurity for decades after his death in 1905 until as recent as the early 1980's, shockingly. Today he has the distinction of being lionized by the Art Renewal Center as one of the greatest artists of all time while at the other end of the spectrum vilified by modernists as artificially perfect and sentimental. In fact it is quite rare to see such polarization over an artist of a calibre like Bouguereau, whose bravura is difficult to equal yet at the same time thematically his work admittedly tends toward women and children, a subject matter that sold well and he had endless patience for. Over the vast array of his oeuvre, some 820 paintings, I have tried to find some of his very b…

Pompeo Batoni

Apollo and two Muses, 1719

Giant of the Rococo and early Neoclassicism, Pompeo Batoni was born on January 25, 1708 in Lucca, Italy. Immensely popular in his time, his name sadly is not commonly recognized today because like many Old Masters, his work is not defined by one or two singular masterpieces but by an oeuvre that is overall, incredible. Batoni is something of an anomaly in that he had the midas touch in every genre he worked in, whether portraiture, mythological, and biblical. He trained under a few painters, notably Sebastiano Conca yet he quickly fused his own style together by reinterpreting Classicism with his own vigor for dynamic posing, color and anatomy that he felt was lacking in many artists of the Rococo. His reputation as a portraitist in Rome was highly successful, particularly for many British patrons of the Grand Tour who had heard of Batoni by word of mouth and sought his genius.

In Apollo and two Muses above Batoni seems to conjure mythology and Classicism w…