Raphael, 500 Years Later

On this day (April 6), five hundred years ago, Raffaello Santi died in Rome. He was only 37 years old.

Raphael’s famous self-portrait, at approximately age 23

But, what a life he lived in that short time. He was born in Urbino, where his father was a painter to the local duke. Consequently, from an early age Raphael was exposed to the nuances of life at a great court. He became an apprentice painter, but soon was much in demand.

After spending several years in Florence, he traveled to the Eternal City. His genius was put to work for the rest of his life by the Vatican. That was also where he left his greatest artistic mark. His first commission by the Vatican is still there, and still glorious: the wonderful Raphael Rooms. Raphael was to paint four rooms with various scenes, including my favorite, the Deliverance of St. Peter, which makes it seem like you are standing in the prison along with the saint.

The Deliverance of St. Peter

But Rapael’s genius is everywhere in the Raphael Rooms, here are just a few more examples:

Sala di Constantino


Dispute on the Blessed Sacrament


The Parnassus


Ceiling in the Raphael Rooms

The School of Athens, however, is popularly considered the pinnacle of his work. This fresco, painted between 1509 and 1511, depicts the great philosophers, with Plato and Aristotle as the central figures.

The School of Athens

This fresco gives us another one of Raphael’s self-portraits, since he inserted himself into the scene (he’s the handsome and serene-looking young gentleman on the right, making eye contact with the viewer):

Raphael’s little self-portrait — he’s the one looking back at us

The Vatican also holds multiple Raphaels in the Pinacoteca, including the Annunciation at the top of this post:

The Madonna of Foligno


The Transfiguration


The Coronation of the Virgin


Adoration of the Magi

There are so many works by Raphael in the Vatican, that it would take many posts to show them all. So, the Vatican is the first place to go if you are a lover of Raphael’s work.

Speaking of love, Raphael was extremely successful, suave, and handsome. He could have married very well. But his love was the daughter of a Trastevere baker, La Fornanina, whose portrait now hangs in Palazzo Barberini:

La Fornanina

Rome has many more Raphael masterpieces you should see — more on that in a later post.