Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino Biography: High Renaissance Painter and Architect

Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino Biography

Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino

In this success story, we will share Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino’s biography, known as Raphael (March 28 or April 06, 1483 – April 06, 1520), an Italian painter and architect of the High Renaissance. Raphael’s works are admired for their tenderness, clarity, ease of composition, perfection of form, and visual achievement of the Neoplatonic ideal of human grandeur. A man of extraordinary charisma brought up with good manners, Raphael was able to assimilate his influences into timeless works of art, securing his name in the trinity of great masters that he would have unquestionably surpassed had he not died so young.

Although Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino is the painter’s full name, he is also known as Raphael, Raffaello, Raphael Santi, Raphael Sanzio, Raffaello Sanzio, and Rafaello Santi.

His distinctive personality traits are his eternal sweetness and eager helpfulness, being a great friend, and productive colleague – the type of personality one would always want to have by one’s side.

Early Life

Some sources say Raphael was born on April 06, 1483, in Urbino, a small provincial town in central Italy. Giorgio Vasari said he was born on a “Good Friday,” 1483, on March 28. His father, Giovanni de’ Santi (c. 1435 – August 01, 1494), was then a well-renowned painter and poet, giving him close ties to the intellectual circles of the prestigious Urbino court. As a respectable and well-mannered man, Giovanni raised his only son to be no less. For Giovanni, it was important that Raphael only had his mother’s milk in his infant years, not that of a nurse. Being raised strictly within the boundaries of his family and his equals, Raphael was spared the rough manners of people of poor condition.

The Urbino Background

In the 1400s, Duke Federico da Montefeltro made Urbino somewhat of a center of culture for the Italian Renaissance. During his time as a Duke, he assembled a sizeable humanistic court that attracted considerable talents of the Renaissance to visit and work in Urbino. Although major artists would more visibly influence Raphael in Florence and Rome, the scene in Urbino laid the groundwork for all his subsequent learning.

Raphael’s father, Giovanni, was well-educated and aware of contemporary artists that dominated the era. Vasari described him as “a painter of no great merit, but of good intelligence and well able to show his son the right way. Giovanni had his preferences among the artists, and the influence of some of these people is present in Raphael’s later works. They include Andrea Mantegna, Luca Signorelli, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Pietro Perugino, who would then become Raphael’s mentor. Giovanni was also fond of artists from the Netherlands, such as Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden.


Giovanni’s presence in the prestigious court of Urbino gave the young Raphael Santi a privileged upbringing within the arts. When Raphael was in his early teenage years, his father began to teach him painting. Raphael learned quickly, and Giovanni would allow him to assist in completing various works for the state of Urbino. A self-portrait that is believed to be from Raphael’s teenage years demonstrates his early precocious talent.

Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino Biography

A probable self-portrait drawing by Raphael in his teenage years.

Eventually, Giovanni realized he could teach his son no more and became determined to set him up with Pietro Perugino (1450 – 1523), considered one of his greatest painters. Giovanni traveled to Perugia and occupied his time by working in the local church of S. Francesco until Perugino returned from Rome.

Being “courteous and well-bred,” Giovanni met Perugino and expressed his wishes at a fitting opportunity in the most diplomatic manner. Pietro Perugino, “who was also courteous and a friend of young men of promise, agreed to take Raphael as his apprentice. Giovanni returned to Urbino joyfully to pick up the boy and take him to Perugia. Raphael’s mother loved him tenderly and wept bitterly as they were separated.

Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino Biography

Jesus Handing the Keys to Peter is a fresco by Pietro Perugino painted between 1481 and 82.

By the age of eleven, Raphael was an orphan. His mother, Màgia, died in 1491. His father, Giovanni, remarried and died on August 01, 1494. When not staying as an apprentice with a master, Raphael would live with his stepmother. Being well acquainted with the Urbino court, Raphael and his stepmother significantly managed Giovanni’s workshop after his death.

Apprenticeship in Perugia

Scholars place the date of Raphael’s arrival to Perugia somewhere around 1495. By December 10, 1500, he had already been called a “master”. He was commissioned to assist in painting the Baronci Altarpiece in Citta di Castello, a small town halfway between Perugia and Urbino. An acquaintance of his father was named in the commission. The Baronci Altarpiece painting was Raphael’s first documented work with only some cut sections and a preparatory drawing.

Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino Biography

Angel (fragment of the Baronci Altarpiece). Raphael completed it between 1500 and 1501 for Andrea Baronci’s chapel in the church of Sant’Agostino in Città di Castello, near Urbino, Italy.

Around the same time, his master Perugino was executing frescoes on a commission in Perugia. Raphael, as part of his workshop, acquired hands-on professional knowledge. Perugino was very fond of Raphael’s drawing method and his famously good manners and behavior. While Raphael was studying, it is well known that he would imitate his master to the extent that his portraits were almost equal to Perugino in style and technique. They would paint very thinly on skin areas and apply thick layers of paint using an oil varnish medium for the darker parts. There would often be an excess of resin in the varnish, and this caused certain parts of the painting to crack.


Having already given proof of his mastery, Raphael Santi received his first significant commission between 1502 and 1504. He painted the Oddi Altarpiece of the Coronation of the Virgin for the Oddi Chapel in San Francesco, Perugia. Being one of his early works, the painting has always been considered the work of Raphael, closest to the style of his master Perugino. It was confiscated in 1797 during Napoleon’s invasion of Italy and returned to the Vatican in 1815.

The Perugino workshop operated in Perugia and Florence, causing Pietro to venture back and forth often to maintain the business. During one of these ventures, Raphael left Perugia to go to Citta di Castello with some friends. Here, he did two works, a panel in S. Agostino Church and a Crucifixion in S. Domenico – another work that would have been indistinguishable from Perugino had it not been signed.

Raphael is also known to have worked on small and exquisite cabinet paintings around that time for the Urbino court and eventually began painting portraits and Madonnas. In 1502, Bernardino di Betto (Pinturicchio, 1454 – 1513) invited Raphael to Siena. Pinturicchio had also been an apprentice of Perugino, a great admirer of Raphael’s work and his friend. He was commissioned to illustrate and paint frescoes in the Piccolomini Library of the Siena Cathedral, which tell the story of Siena’s “favorite son,” Cardinal Enea Silvio Piccolomini, who would later become Pope Pius II. Pinturicchio regarded Raphael as an excellent draftsman and brought him to Siena to draw several draft cartoons for that work. Raphael’s time in Siena was short, as his fascination got him to the flourishing City of Florence – where contemporary giants like Leonardo Da Vinci (April 15, 1452 – May 02, 1519) and Michelangelo (March 06, 1475 – February 18, 1564) were making their impact on the world of art.

Florentine Period

There is a reference to a Florentine period in the history books, although it is unsure whether Raphael was ever a permanent resident. He was inspired by the city itself and the works of art he thought to be divine. Raphael quickly struck a friendship with several young painters and was very well received, especially by Taddeo Taddei (1470 – 1529), who frequently invited him to his house. In gratitude, the courteous Raphael did two pictures for Taddeo in a style that showed how he was quickly transitioning and maturing from his Perugino roots. These works still reside in the house of the heirs of Taddeo.

Amongst Raphael’s Florentine works was the Madonna del Cardellino or Madonna of the Goldfinch (c. 1505-1506). He made this work for his friend Lorenzo Nasi, who had just married. It displays a picture of a baby between the knees of the Virgin, to whom little St. John is offering a bird. Vividly colored and carefully finished, the exceptionality of the painting lies in its simple triangular geometry and the strikingly realistic depiction of the human flesh. Full of grace and divinity, the gift was greatly valued by Lorenzo.

Raphael Biography

Raphael made the work called the Madonna del Cardellino or Madonna of the Goldfinch (from c. 1505-1506) for his friend, Lorenzo Nasi, as a wedding present.

On November 17, 1548, an earthquake crushed the house of Nasi and severely damaged the work. Lorenzo’s son salvaged and quickly restored it from the seventeen pieces found throughout the wreckage. Due to visible seams from the earthquake and layers of grime covering up the original colors, the painting was taken to be restored in 2002. It was placed in the Galleria del Uffizi in Florence, where it has been since 2008.

Assimilation of the Florentine Influence

Slowly drawing away from the style of his former master, Raphael began absorbing the influence of Florentine art into his technique. From about 1505 and on, Raphael’s figures started gaining a monumentality similar to that of Fra Bartolomeo (March 28, 1472 – October 06, 1517), Raphael’s friend. Another significant influence was Leonardo Da Vinci, who returned to Florence from 1500 to 1506. Da Vinci’s influence saw Raphael’s works gain a more dynamic element, distant from previous tranquil subjects. Raphael is also said to have drawn studies of naked fighting men, a popular trend among Florentine painters.

Raphael Biography Biography

Young Man Carrying An Old Man on His Back (Aeneas And Anchises) by Raphael, 1514.

Raphael toyed with some of Da Vinci’s techniques. A series of his famous easel paintings came from Leonardo’s compositional invention of the pyramidal Holy Family. There is a drawing by Raphael of Leonardo’s lost masterpiece, Leda and the Swan (1505-07), from which he is said to have adapted the contrapposto pose for his Saint Catherine of Alexandria and later paintings. Raphael also perfected Leonardo’s sfumato painting, effectively allowing a smoother transition from light to dark areas. He mostly used it to give subtlety to the human skin. Raphael’s painting uses the same pyramidical composition as the Mona Lisa but is still faithful to Perugino’s graceful and tender element. Da Vinci also borrowed and perfected the interplay of eye contact and the subtle technique of directing the audience’s gaze around the painting. It is commonly used in Raphael’s Roman paintings, such as the Triumph of Galatea (c. 1514) and The Transfiguration (1516–20).

Raphael Biography

Leda and the Swan by Raphael, c. 1505-1507

Raphael was eventually forced to leave Florence and return to his hometown of Urbino, where everything was in disorder following his parents’ deaths. During his time there, he did two Madonnas and a painting of Christ with Apostles for Guidobaldo da Montefeltro (January 17, 1472 – April 10, 1508). Guidobaldo was a military captain and Duke of Urbino, then-busy fleeing the armies of Cesare Borgia for having betrayed his father, Pope Alexander VI (January 01, 1431 – August 18, 1503), by taking arms against Charles VIII of France (June 30, 1470 – April 07, 1498) of France during the invasion of southern Italy. The Portrait of Guidobaldo da Montefeltro (1506) was initially attributed to other artists before it became recognized as a work of Raphael in 1905.

Raphael Biography

From 1506, the Portrait of Guidobaldo da Montefeltro has been attributed to many other artists, including Cesare Tamaroccio and Francesco Francia. Only in 1905 was the work first attributed to its original creator, Raphael.

The Renaissance in Rome

The year 1503 was drowned in calamities as it saw the deaths of two Popes: Alexander VI and his successor, Pius III (May 29, 1439 – October 18, 1503). Tides of war and instability brought forth significant changes, and when Pope Julius II (December 05, 1443 – February 21, 1513) came to power, these changes started to get visible. Julius commissioned the destruction and re-inauguration of St. Peter’s Basilica and countless building projects throughout Rome. His Papacy, marked by his patronage of the arts and vigorous political activity, proved crucial in bringing the Renaissance to Rome.

Raphael Biography

Portrait of Pope Julius II by Raphael, c. 1511–1512.

Julius invited Raphael to the city, possibly at the suggestion of an Italian architect, Donato Bramante (1444 – March 11, 1514), who was then working on the new St. Peter’s. Bramante came from just outside Urbino and was a distant relative of Raphael. At that time, the entire Vatican territory was occupied by artists working on paintings and frescoes, building the fundament for the new St. Peter’s. The purpose was to efface every contribution the loathed Alexander IV made to the Vatican.

Roman Period

Upon arrival in 1508, Raphael was commissioned by Julius II to fresco what was intended to be the Pope’s private rooms, where he lived and worked. These medium-sized rooms are called the “Stanze,” better known as the Raphael Rooms, and they can be found on the upper floor of the Vatican Palace. To make Raphael start working on a fresco, the Pope had to sacrifice the works of Piero Della Francesca, Luca Signorelli, and Perugino, which had previously accommodated the rooms. Raphael started by painting the middle chamber, the “Stanza Della Segnatura,” which contained the Pope’s private library. This room features some of the most prominent of the young artist’s works, including The Parnassus (1511), The Disputation of the Sacrament (1509–1510), and the iconic The School of Athens (1509–1511).

The School of Athens is one of the most famous frescoes by the High Renaissance painter Raphael, painted between 1509 and 1511.

Raphael has taken considerable influence from Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling during his time at the Vatican. In a series of artist biographies, Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects (1550), written by Giorgio Vasari, the author said that Bramante had sneaked Raphael inside when the first portion of the scaffolding had been taken down in 1511. The Sistine Chapel ceiling, upon its completion, would become a masterpiece that made artists talk for decades, and Raphael seemed well fit to rise to the challenge of Michelangelo’s daunting force. He even referred to The School of Athens (c. 1509–1511) fresco, where he drew Michelangelo as Heraclitus – visibly inspired by the Sybils and Ignudi figures of the Sistine Ceiling. Michelangelo was known to be a rash and complex character to understand. There are instances where he even accused Raphael of plagiarism years after his death. In other cases, he gave more positive, generous reactions.

Initially, Raphael omitted Heraclitus in his chalk cartoon. However, he added him later in tribute to the great Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni after being inspired by his work on the Sistine Chapel.

Rome: Gaining Fame

Julius II’s death did not impact Raphael’s progress, and he kept working under the Medici Pope Leo X (December 11, 1475 – December 01, 1521). Although Leo was not as great as his predecessor, he was more distinctly fond of the arts. Raphael was on better terms with Leo than with Julius and continued receiving his commissions. Leo even preferred the young painter’s charm and good manners over Michelangelo’s independent and tempered nature.

Upon completing the first room, Raphael continued to the Stanza d’Eliodoro, which he mostly decorated, and the Stanza dell’Incendio, which he designed but mainly executed by his workshop. Upon completion, these vast and intricate works secured their place among the defining works of the High Renaissance. In the first two rooms, every painting was executed in the highest possible quality, and the reception was highly positive. Since, by that time, Raphael was busy with large amounts of work, he could not be entirely present during the execution of the last two Stanze. The workshop did the rest of the rooms, and most paintings, including those depicting dramatic action, were not as successful in conception or execution.

The Madonnas

During that time, Raphael also painted a series of works of great Madonnas. Raphael’s transition from his Florentine to Roman style is evident in his works. The Alba Madonna, painted in 1510, emphasizes the delicate sweetness and serenity of his Florentine style while adding a new level of emotional expression and technical intricacy to the pose. The Madonna di Foligno (1511) and the Sistine Madonna (1512) are typical of Raphael’s Roman period. The figures are rich in color and appear confidently executed while still being inventive. The two angels or ‘cherubs’ leaning on the bottom of the Sistine Madonna have become prolific in Raphael’s works, fueling their legends. In 1912, an article in Fra Magazine says that the two cherubs were inspired by the children of his models who would come and watch him painting. Another story in St. Nicholas Magazine from 1912 protests by saying that the image came from when Raphael observed two random kids in the street who were “looking wistfully into the window of a baker’s shop.

Raphael Biography

The Sistine Madonna oil painting by Raphael, 1512.

The Portraits

Apart from the Madonna’s paintings, Raphael also made lots of portraits. He was even at one point considered the most important portraitist in Rome. His originality led him to establish various unconventional means of delivering the portrait and conceiving different psychological situations for his sitters, as in the case of the Portrait of Pope Leo X with two Cardinals (1518-1519). His most prominent work in the sphere is the Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione (1514–1515), a highly influential work and one of the great portraits of the Renaissance. Castiglione (December 06, 1478 – February 02, 1529) was a diplomat and humanist, a friend to Raphael, and a quintessential example of the High Renaissance gentleman. Castiglione was fond of Raphael’s works, saying that he was able to achieve the ‘sprezzatura,’ a term that he defines as “a certain nonchalance which conceals all artistry and makes whatever one says or does seem uncontrived and effortless…”

Raphael Biography

Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione is a highly influential work by Raphael, 1514–1515.

Life in Rome

In a letter to his uncle, Raphael describes his life in Rome: …what spot on earth is more dignified than Rome? What enterprise is more dignified than St. Peter’s – the first temple of the world and the greatest piece of building that has ever been seen?” Raphael speaks of being fully satisfied and unable to imagine living anywhere but Rome. His position as one of the great Renaissance painters has secured him a property in Rome and income from St. Peter’s “never to fail so long as he lives.” Raphael speaks of future projects bringing him “colossal revenue” and his friend Cardinal Bibbiena, to whose niece he was now engaged. In doing so, he speaks of being proud to bring credit to his family and the lords of Urbino, to whom he also sends his best regards.

Applying Classical Influences

His love for the ancient also defines the Roman period of Raphael. An example would be the more secular fresco The Triumph of Galatea (c. 1514) that he painted for Agostino Chigi (November 29, 1466 – April 11, 1520), who was a banker and a patron, and one of the wealthiest men to walk the earth at that age. The banker lived in the Villa Farnesina, located on the banks of the Tiber River. It is a prominent example of a comfortable High Renaissance suburban villa decorated by some of the greatest artists of the time. The lavish banquets at the Villa Farnesina were served with golden plates. When a banquet was over, Agostino Chigi tossed the golden leaves into the Tiber River to impress the guests with his wealth. To do that trick, he had ordered servants to lay out nets on the bottom of the Tiber. They used the nets to pick up all the golden tableware downstream at night, clean them up, and serve them as new items at the next banquets.

The Triumph of Galatea is a fresco painted by Raphael for the Villa Farnesina in Rome, c. 1514.

The Villa Farnesina was nothing like a church, and it was not a place fit for being decorated with Biblical stories. It was a place to relax and drink. The rooms depicted astrological signs and figures of Greek and Roman mythology. Individual decorations even made humorous illustrations of sexual intercourse between vegetables. This artistic freedom was perfect for bringing out Raphael’s classical influences.

Galatea comes from a prominent figure in Greek mythology. She is depicted riding a shell chariot to escape the Michelangelo-inspired sea creatures, with angles armed with bows intervening. Galatea’s body is twisted in an awkward contrapposto pose, her eyes fixed on an angel in the top left corner while grasping the ropes holding the dolphins, which appear to be drawn almost like an optical illusion. Vasari wrote that Raphael did not mean for Galatea to resemble any human being but to resemble merely the image of ideal beauty.

Raphael was also a keen student of archeology and Greco-Roman sculpture, and his Roman works would see the synthesis of Biblical stories with a visual representation of the ancient past. He would not only add his elements to Greek fables and decorate them as he saw fit, but he would also dress the entire story of the Bible into a semi-pagan garb. This synthesis of paganism and Christianity is an image familiar to a modern understanding of religion and speaks on the history of Rome and its culture.

Architecture and Other Projects

After Donato Bramante died in 1514, Raphael was trusted with the title of architect for the new St. Peter’s Basilica. Although most of his work was altered or demolished after Michelangelo’s design was accepted, some drafts remain. They depict a much more cynical church from what it is today, with massive piers down the nave.

St. Peter’s was not Raphael’s only venture in architecture. For a while, he had been regarded as the most influential architect in Rome, working for an inner circle of the Papacy in the times of Julius II. The Pope had significant alterations to the street plan in Rome, and he was eager to fill out the newly opened spaces with grand palaces. One of Raphael’s buildings, The Palazzo Branconio dell’Aquila for Leo X, was completely leveled to make way for the large Bernini piazza in front of St. Peter’s. Raphael’s one crucial architectural work remains the chapel for Agostino Chigi in Santa Maria del Popolo, the same Agostino Chigi who owned the Villa Farnesina. The chapel is made of exclusively rich marble and modeled after Bramante’s St. Peter’s designs. Raphael managed to do the mosaics in the dome, and the rest of the chapel saw completion at the hands of Gian Lorenzo Bernini more than a century after Raphael’s death.

The famous dome of the Chigi Chapel by Raphael is located in Santa Maria del Popolo.

Raphael’s ventures into antiquity and his close friendship with Leo X eventually led to his being put in charge of preserving marble with valuable Latin inscriptions. Two years later, in 1517, he was provided authority as “Prefect” over all antiquities within Rome or a mile outside. The city was transforming radically then, with areas being cleared for new buildings and many Ancient Roman ruins popping up.

The Pope was keen on reusing old building stones as they proved to be a strong foundation – recycling building materials was a common practice in the Renaissance. For example, many stones that had fallen from the Colosseum can be found today in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo. Raphael wanted to ensure that all these antiquities bearing ancient inscriptions were recorded and preserved before being reused. He even devised a street plan for Rome to halt the destruction of many ancient monuments in favor of new Renaissance palaces.

After 1517, a small amount of Raphael was present in his works as the workshop executed most of them. He would receive daily commissions for cartoons or frescoe designs of ornaments; even various foreign Princes would send their ambassadors after Raphael, asking him to draw a portrait. Although he knew he could not take the order, he would accept it nonetheless, believing he might eventually carry it out. At the same time, he was drawing architectural designs, which were completed in his tranquil style. In his position as “Prefect,” Raphael attended various excavations of antiquities throughout Rome. By this time, Raphael had been in charge of virtually all artistic projects in the city, including architecture, paintings, and decoration, preserving antiquities. It was for the first time that Raphael was beginning to feel the immense pressure of his work.

Raphael Biography

Interior of the Pantheon by Raphael, pen and ink, c. 1506.

The Transfiguration Painting

A great work of art emerged from the chaos, which was Raphael’s last painting. Raphael’s choice of striking hues, his inclusion of rhetoric-heavy antithesis, his mastery of the contrapposto, and his overall structure of the symbolic and literal relationships within his image deliver The Transfiguration (1516–20) as one of the most complicated and prominent pieces of his time. With all of his combined influences, Raphael becomes a dramatic humanistic painter with a firm grip on physical appearance, and The Transfiguration is a culmination of everything he has learned. Vasari calls it the most beautiful and divine of all his works.

Raphael Biography

The Transfiguration is Raphael’s last and most famous painting, 1516–20.

Interpretation of The Transfiguration

The central theme of this painting, as suggested by the title, is the transfiguration of Christ on the top of Mount Tabor. Yet, the idea of the picture was to combine it with a second story – the demonically possessed boy who needs healing. It is suggested that Raphael himself did not come up with this idea of combining two different Bible episodes, as it is an idea unsupported by any Christian art tradition. Instead, this innovation was a requirement by the Cardinal Giulio de Medici (May 26, 1478 – September 25, 1534), the later Pope Clement VII, who commissioned the work. The result of this combination is significant: the demonic boy in a state of seizure and no one around him that can do anything, and above the apostles pointing to Christ. In the bottom scene, everybody is trying to help without success. Even though St. Andrew has his book of laws open, mere rules will not help. According to John 4:24, only true faith can cure the boy: “God dwelleth not in temples made with hands, but those who would approach Him must do it in spirit and truth.”

Historical Facts of The Transfiguration

The first mentions of this drawing come from letters of January 19, 1517, and July 02, 1518, which state that Raphael had not yet begun painting the piece. Shortly after Raphael died in 1520, Sebastian di Piombo said that he had seen the work in the Vatican, although it was incomplete. Raphael’s pupil Giulio Romano (c. 1499 – November 01, 1546) was not responsible for any significant additions and had only completed several unimportant parts in the lower section on the right. Romano still requested Giulio De’Medici (who commissioned the painting) to balance the payment between him and Raphael. In 1523, the painting was moved to San Pietro in Montorio (Rome) instead of its original destination in Narbonne, France.

In 1799, during Napoleon Bonaparte’s campaign in Italy, a significant amount of art was confiscated from the Vatican, sealed by the Treaty of Tolentino with Pope Pius VI (December 25, 1717 – August 29, 1799). Napoleon’s most sought-after treasures were the works of Raphael, as he was the most significant Italian artist, and The Transfiguration, the most exceptional work. Various French artists later commented on Raphael as one of the representatives of the embodiment of French artistic ideals. Along with many other confiscated paintings, The Transfiguration hung in the Louvre during the wedding procession of Napoleon and Marie-Louise of Austria in 1810. With Napoleon’s fall, The Transfiguration, along with about sixty-six other works, was moved back to the Vatican, sealed by the Treaty of Paris, and it now resides in the Pinacoteca Vaticana.

Raphael’s Transfiguration painting is depicted in the center of Benjamin Zix’s work, called Wedding Procession of Napoleon and Marie-Louise of Austria through the Grande Galerie, Louvre 1810.

Personal Life and Death

Raphael’s personal life came into play during his final years. In 1517, Raphael moved to live in the Palazzo Caprini in the Borgo, designed by Bramante. Although he had many affairs, he was never married but was engaged to Maria Bibbiena, Cardinal Medici Bibbiena’s niece. It seems he lacked enthusiasm for the marriage that his dubious amounts of work may have fueled. He was made “Groom of the Chamber” of the Pope and a knight of the Papal Order of the Golden Spur, giving him more power and income. According to Vasari, he may have even played around with the idea of becoming a Cardinal, possibly after some encouragement from Leo X, and it could have also played a factor in delaying his marriage.

Raphael had a permanent relationship with Margherita Luti in his final years, known as “La Fornarina.” She was the daughter of a baker from Siena, and Raphael is known to have spent his last days with her. Raphael’s death on “Good Friday” (April 06, 1520) had started with excessive sexual intercourse with Luti, after which Raphael fell ill with a fever. He did not tell his doctors the real cause of the fever and ended up being treated with the wrong medicine, ultimately killing him.

Even in his illness, Raphael was composed enough to confess his sins, receive last rites, and put his affairs in order. He wrote a will where he left a lot of money for his mistress’s care and most of his studio contents to two of his most trusted pupils – Giulio Romano and Penni. Raphael’s funeral at the Pantheon, made at his request, was a huge event attended by large crowds. An antique-style sculpture by Giulio Romano stands over his resting place with an inscription on the sarcophagus that translates from Latin to: “Here lies that famous Raphael by whom Nature feared to be conquered while he lived, and when he was dying, feared herself to die.”

Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino was a talented Italian High Renaissance painter and architect. His life story was rich in favorable conditions, enabling him to complete exquisite paintings and frescoes. He organized a large and productive workshop during his lifetime and significantly influenced the High Renaissance period. We hope you have enjoyed exploring Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino’s biography and his success story, and it has inspired you to new inventions and discoveries.

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