Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino) was one of the great old masters of painting during the renaissance along with Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. He was born in 1483 in Urbino, Marches in Italy to an influential father that was a court painter. This allowed Raphael a certain privilege that not everyone experienced. His mother died when he was eight and his father eventually remarried but died when he was eleven.

Raphael’s stepmother and uncle Bartolomeo, whom was a priest, took care of him as he grew up. He didn’t have any siblings as a result of his parents’ early death. Raphael was shown how to paint by his father and was able to get an early start in life as a painter. Even though his father died when he was young, the position he had held while he was alive let young Raphael be around courtiers and receive an education in court manners, literature, and the arts.

In Raphael’s time an artist needed to apprentice in a master artist’s workshop for years to learn art. Afterward they would attempt to create their own works of art and if their artist’s guild approved, they could open their own professional workshop. During the renaissance, artists guilds (a professional association of artists) could make or break an artist’s career. Only if the guild in your region recognized you as a master artist could you proceed. Once you were called a master it meant you were fully trained, could create masterpieces, and take on assistants / apprentices.

During the renaissance, a person had to go through all these steps to become an artist. Most people that succeeded were men, and very few women were allowed to apprentice. Raphael began his apprenticeship at seventeen under Pietro Perugino which lasted about four years according to one source, while another says he was fully qualified in 1501. Some of the details of his life remain vague.

Nonetheless Raphael was heavily influenced by Perugino early in his career and later on by Michelangelo and Leonardo. Raphael often traveled and created paintings of Madonnas (“my lady”) and other portraits. In 1508 he was called by Pope Julius II to court in Rome and he chose to live there for the rest of his life. An architect, Donato Bramante, sneaked Raphael into the Sistine Chapel where he was given a private view of the ceiling.

Julius II preferred Raphael and let him paint a portrait of Michelangelo in The School of Athens frescoe inside the Sistine Chapel in Michelangelo’s style (the artist in purple and red at lower center). Though they may have been rivals, Raphael was still in awe of him. He was also hired to complete four “Raphael Rooms.” Unfortunately he died before he saw their completion and his assistants from his workshop had to finish them. Raphael was commissioned to create other great works of art during his career. He actually produced a lot of work during his short life and had one of the largest work-shops during the renaissance, which was very unusual at the time. Raphael died on April 6, 1520. He never married nor produced any children that we know of, but to put it kindly, Raphael was known as a ladies man. The cause of his death is hotly debated but basically he had an acute illness.

Many people don’t realize that  art during the renaissance was a very political field. Many of us in the present day understand art is about creativity, expression, ideas and freedom. Back in the renaissance, art wasn’t just about creativity and aesthetics. Before the renaissance, the arts were considered a “trade” and artists weren’t seen as any different from a local stonemason. This idea changed during the renaissance, when art became far more respected and celebrated for its mythologies and beauty alongside the advancements in humanism (the strong pursuit of knowledge) and learning.

Eventually art was used to make certain religious and political views. Churches hired artists to drive the importance of religious leaders such as the pope and to reinforce the power of God, the divinity and sacrifice of Jesus , and any other ideas that a patron or church wanted to reinforce.

Artists also had to paint exactly what they were commissioned to paint; they couldn’t just paint whatever they wanted, because the way that artists survived back then were through commissions by the wealthy and churches. Commissions by churches and wealthy families were coveted positions. It was very challenging to get hired and an artist had to have a lot of talent and influence to accomplish it. The great masters didn’t really get along and considered each other rivals. Michelangelo and Leonardo said rude things about each other and although Raphael admired and copied Michelangelo, they didn’t get along either. Nonetheless, each master painter left his own impact in history

Though Raphael had connections because of his father, it is due to his creativity, diligence, and talent that he became one of the greatest painters that ever lived. Connections can open a door but they can’t build an entire career; connections can’t buy talent nor tenacity.

As a Christian, I see our creativity as a reflection that we are created in the image of God. We desire to create because He creates. This is proven in the Bible when God gifts people with artistic talents (Exodus 31: 1-6 and Exodus 35:35). ♥


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lila Donovan is a Christian and a university student. She loves to read, draw, write, and has a blog.

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