Raphael, the Renaissance Artist Who Set the Modern World in Motion

The young painter, who passed away 500 years ago, helped define an era that rewrote the future of the Western world.

To understand what it felt like to be in Italy during the Renaissance, as Europe moved from the Middle Ages to the modern era, simply imagine sitting front row at a ballpark Beatles show, but instead of experiencing the art through guitars and microphones, picture a bursting panorama of towering portraits, divine ceilings and electric colors, which brought the beauty, pain and hope of the human experience into newfound focus.

Thanks in part to Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio) we can place ourselves in that corner of time during the 15th and 16 centuries when art, philosophy and innovation set us on a path to the world we live in today; and even more astonishing: the master artist only lived to be 37 but somehow made an indelible impact, as his art continues to ripple through the hearts and minds of those who lay their eyes upon it.

The young man from the walled city of Urbino, a Renaissance incubator which is now a World Heritage Site, was born in 1483 and passed away in 1520 from malaria.

Five hundred years later, curators have come together in Rome to create the Scuderie del Quirinale, a blockbuster exhibition that celebrates his life and transformative contributions. His works below offer just a glimpse of his thoughtful precision laid beautifully bare on plaster and canvas.

The famous Cappella Chigi designed by Raffaello, in the Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome, Italy.
The Mond Crucifixion, 1502–3, very much in the style of Perugino.
The magnificent ceiling of the Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome, Italy.
The Wedding of the Virgin, Raphael’s most sophisticated altarpiece of this period.
Saint Catherine of Alexandria, 1507, possibly echoes the pose of Leonardo’s Leda.

Raphael came up in the shadow of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, but grew to become the most appreciated artist of his time among European elites and Catholic dignitaries.

Madonna di San Sisto is an oil painting by Raphael. The painting was commissioned in 1512 by Pope Julius II for the church of San Sisto, Piacenza. The canvas was one of the last Madonnas painted by Raphael.

Known for his engaging personality, the widely popular artist was deemed the prince of painters up until the late 19th century, as critics began to scoff at his idealism.

Portrait of Julius II by Raphael, 1511–12. Pope Julius II (reigned 1503–1513), commissioned a series of highly influential art and architecture projects in the Vatican. The painting of the Sistine Chapel ceiling by Michelangelo and of various rooms by Raphael in the Apostolic Palace are considered among the masterworks that mark the High Renaissance in Rome. His decision to rebuild St. Peter’s led to the construction of the massive basilica we see now.

However, the fall from grace was short lived, when a few decades later surrealists like Salvador Dali and Picasso channeled the style of the Italian painter to create masterpieces of their own.

His reputation was restored to its rightful place, and Raphael lives on as one of the most influential artists of all time.

Raphael’s tomb in Rome’s ancient Pantheon. His work is still widely admired for its clarity of form, ease of composition, and visual achievement, per Wikipedia.

Watch the documentary below to explore more of his works:

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