Raphael had a huge demand to meet, particularly when he was given the task of decorating the papal rooms and the Basilico of St Peter and so he needed helpers and sought out artists to help him. In 1518 Pope Leo X commissioned three paintings to give to Francis 1st. Raphael produced a masterpiece called Large Holy Family which shows a gathering of saints around the Mary and child. It was innovative and dynamic as it was classical yet with a change in the narrative; Raphael had created a new genre. In the painting is a reference to the Resurrection and a tribute to Leonardo da Vinci. Another painting that revealed the influence of Leonardo was St John the Baptist in the Desert where Raphael announces the coming of Christ for the salvation of humanity in bold, bright colours. The expressions on the figures are full of intensity and violence and the painting is both virile and awe inspiring.
Raphael during his lifetime became a veritable master of portraiture. He was extremely talented and managed to capture the presence of every one of his sitters. In the Woman in The Veil, one of my favourite paintings, we see the minute folds of the lady’s dress, her sensuality and the sweetness of her face. Her right hand on her heart implies affection and we ask ourselves was this beautiful lady, captured in time for us, Raphael’s mistress? The intensity of her gaze and smile is such that it is as if we are in dialogue with her. Similarly one of Raphael’s fellow artists, Giulio Romano, painted another astounding portrait of a lady. Entitled The woman in the Mirror we see a woman with dark hair, wearing a scarf around her neck, interrupted in her toilette and trying to hide her nudity. Her pose is one of awkwardness yet there is a subtle insolence in her gaze. The artist cleverly displays her nudity whilst at the same time hiding it so that the painting is filled with eroticism. The interior is intimate and she is wearing precious jewellery indicating that she may be a courtisan. Her pose is slightly cold and affected and one wonders if the painting was intended for the private use of someone or a courtesan portrait which was very popular in sixteenth century Florence.
It is astonishing to think how very young Raphael was during his career – he died at the tender age of 37. One can only imagine the number of masterpieces he may have produced had he lived longer By the time he died Raphael was to become equal to his great teachers ; Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci and indeed some may claim that his talent and reputation exceeded theirs. At any rate it is an exhibition that is well worth seeing so book your tickets early.
By Larissa Woolf, Arts Editor www.visitmuseums.com