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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.

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