Raphael di Sanzio, the Renaissance Genius That Could’ve Surpassed Da Vinci

Raphael is considered, next to Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo, the third main representative of Renaissance Art.


Raffaello Santi or Sanzio, better known as Raphael, was born in Urbino on April 6, 1483. At the age of 8, he was left an orphan and consequently under the care of an uncle. Between the ages of 20 and 22, he discovered the works of Leonardo and Michelangelo. Inspired by them, he painted several pictures of the Virgin Mary.

Around 1508 he left for Rome, where he settled permanently. Pope Julius II asked him to decorate the Stanze Della Signatora in the Vatican. There are two great works of Raphael there, The School of Athens and The Disputation of the Holy Sacrament. Subsequently, in 1512 he planned, designed, and supervised the construction of Agostino Chigi. By 1514, Raphael’s popularity was such that he received numerous commissions and was even asked to finish St. Peter’s Basilica.

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[The School of Athens – 1512]

Unfortunately, he passed out of a fever in 1520, the very day of his 37th birthday. Despite having had a short life, he left numerous works that show such splendid talent to the point that he’s considered, next to Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo, the third main representative of Renaissance Art. A true genius.

The concepts of artistic themes Raphael used are only known thanks to two letters. The first one is addressed to Balthasar Castiglione; there he talks openly about his work: “So, I tell you that to paint a beautiful one, it would be necessary for me to see several beautiful women, with the condition that you would meet me to select the best. But having a shortage of good judgment and beautiful women, I make use of a certain idea that comes to my mind. I do not know if this in itself has artistic excellence, but I strive to have it.”

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[The Disputation of the Holy Sacrament – 1509]

The second letter is addressed to Pope Leo X: “Germanic architecture is far removed from the beautiful manner of distant Romans. This architecture has a certain reason that is born of uncut trees, which, once they are felled and their branches are gathered together, compose an acute angle. And although some reason is not negligible, it is still weak, because the huts built with beams well locked and placed as columns, with their tops and coverage, will resist better, as described by Vitruvius, the origins of the Doric order, and not the acute angles, which have two centers, because instead, they resist much more, according to mathematical reason, a semicircle. After all, the entire line of its outline has a single center; and besides its weakness, the angle does not have the same grace as our site, which is pleased in perfection with the circle: and indeed it is seen that nature hardly seeks any form which is different from this.”

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[Portrait of Maddalena Doni – 1506]

These letters contain two theses that reflect very well the classical attitudes towards art: the first is that the artist uses forms existing in nature and makes a selection from them; the second is that the artist is guided by the idea he has in mind. And it is worth noting that these characteristics are still valid in some contemporary artists.

One of his contributions to Renaissance aesthetics was to emphasize grace as part of beauty: “In addition to his nobility, is also graceful in this aspect, and has, naturally, not only wit and beauty but also a certain grace.”

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[The Three Graces – 1504]

Who knows how many more wonders Raphael would’ve created if he had had a long life? He probably would’ve surpassed Michelangelo or Da Vinci!

Story originally published in Spanish in Cultura Colectiva

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