What drew me to Raphael (Self-Portrait, right) originally wasn't his work but the legend of his life. Well, his death, to be precise. I mean, here was a genius who lived just 37 years and, according to the legend, died from a fever caught after a heavy night of sex! I mean, what kind of sex was that?? And where can I get some??
No-one can say whether this is true or not, but for me it added to the not-of-this-earth-type-mystic-thingy that enveloped the life of Raffaello like a glove. And when I finally got beyond my wondering at what possible type of sex it could be that was so potent it could put you in your final box six feet under, I got to his work!
What work! Despite his all too brief life he left an artistic legacy that for me puts him in the same stratosphere as Michaelangelo or Titian. Just go and see it and I'm sure you will agree. Failing that, hunt out books with good reproductions of his work. Don't bother with what academics say about his work as they commit the cardinal sin in Art: namely, that of being dull and using long words. They have stolen Art for their own doctrines. So steal it back from them and just love the work for how it makes you feel, not for what an academic says it may or may not mean.
Raphael was the son of a painter, Santi Giovanni, who worked in the court of Urbino. By 11 both his parents were dead, and he was brought up by his uncle Bartolomeo, a priest. Little is known when or how his painting initially developed - what has been handed to us down the years seems to come from the recollections of a contemporary, Giorgio Vasari with no documentation at all to back anything up. But it can safely be said that he knew the works of Uccello, Signorelli and Perugino.
At just 18, he had completed an altarpiece for the church of San Nicola of Tolentino in Castello. More importantly, in 1504 he went to Florence to take lessons from Leonardo da Vinci (31 years his senior) and Michelangelo (8 years his senior). Though he spent much of his time in the city over the next four years, he continued to work around Italy. Then, in 1508, he moved to Rome for Julius II commissioned him to paint some of the rooms at his palace at the Vatican. He was still only 25-years-old. Julius was so impressed that he used him exclusively as did his his successor Leo X.
At 31, he was architect of the new St Peter's. He combined the two mediums as well as in 1515 becoming responsible for the preservation and recording of the Vatican collections of ancient sculpture. Briefly, he became the most important artist in Rome.
'With certainty' is not a saying you can use when describing much of Raphael's personal life. Certainly he never married. Definately maybe he got engaged to Maria Bibbiena in 1514 and if that is definately maybe then her death would mean that definately maybe did the engagement end when she died. Another definately maybe woman in his life was a courtesan La Fornarina who only definately maybe existed. It was with 'her' that he was purported to have the excessive sex that resulted in him falling into a fever.
He died on Good Friday, 6 April, 1520, his 37th birthday.