Page 205RaphaelThe second of the great High Renaissance artists was Urbino-born Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio;1483–1520). Less devoted to scientific speculation than Leonardo, Raphael was first andforemost a master painter. His fashionable portraits were famous for their accuracy andincisiveness. A case in point is the portrait of Raphael’s lifelong friend Baldassare Castiglione(see Figure 7.9), which captures the self-confidence and thoughtful intelligence of thiscelebrated Renaissance personality.Raphael’s compositions are notable for their clarity, harmony, and unity of design. In The AlbaMadonna (Figure 7.27), one of Raphael’s many renderings of the Madonna and Child, he seatsthe Virgin on the ground, as a traditional Madonna of Humility. However, she is clothed inClassical robes and set in an idealized landscape framed by the picturesque hills of central Italy.Using clear, bright colors and precise draftsmanship, Raphael organized the compositionaccording to simple geometric shapes: the triangle (formed by the Virgin, Child, and the infantJohn the Baptist), the circle (the painting’s basic shape and the head of the Virgin), and thetrapezoid (one length of which is formed by the Virgin’s outstretched leg). In its manneredsweetness and clarity of form, the Raphaelesque Madonna became one of the most frequentlyreproduced Christian images in the history of Western art.Figure 7.27Raphael, The Alba Madonna, ca. 1510. Oil on woodtransferred to canvas, diameter 37¼ in. Despite the dignity of the composition and the nobility ofthe figures, the scene might be construed as a record of an ordinary woman with two children in alandscape, for Raphael has avoided obvious religious symbolism, such as the traditional halo. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Andrew W. Mellon Collection 1937.1.24. Image courtesy of the Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
In 1510, Pope Julius II, the greatest of Renaissance Church patrons, commissioned Raphael toexecute a series of frescoes for the Vatican Stanza della Segnatura—the pope’s personal libraryand the room in which official Church papers were signed. The paintings were to represent thefour domains of human learning: theology, philosophy, law, and the arts. To illustrate philosophy,Raphael painted The School of Athens (Figure 7.28). In this landmark fresco, the artistimmortalized with unsurpassed dignity the company of the great philosophers and scientists ofancient history. At the center of the composition appear, as if in scholarly debate, the two giantsof Classical philosophy: Plato, who points heavenward to indicate his view of reality as fixed inuniversal Forms, and Aristotle, who points to the earth to indicate that universal truth depends onthe study of nature. Framed by a series of receding arches, the two philosophers stand against thebright sky, beneath the lofty vaults of a Roman basilica that resembles the newly remodeled SaintPeter’s Cathedral. Between their heads lies the invisible vanishing point at which all the principal