Raphael in Florence

The three great Italian masters, Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael practically gave us the High Renaissance. A period of remarkable artistic achievement and production, the High Renaissance also marked the rebirth of Rome as an arts center where decadent popes spent a fortune on the restoration of their capital with the rebuilding of Saint Peter’s Basilica and lavish decoration of the Sistine Chapel and the Papal Apartments. Florence, however, was the city where the Renaissance took off and where our three greats got their early inspiration and formation. Florence was home to all three masters for some time shortly after the year 1500. One could say the town was much too small to accommodate these three giants of the art world.

Born in Urbino in 1483, Raphael was the youngest of the three and tragically the youngest at his death in 1520. He began his career in the workshop of his father Giovanni Santi, but his big break came when he began his apprenticeship in Perugia with the master Perugino in the second half of the 1490s. Following his success in Perugia and neighboring cities, Raphael worked for some time in Siena but left after a short time for Florence. Equipped with a letter of recommendation in his hands written by Giovanna Feltria, the daughter of Federico da Montefeltro the Duke of Urbino (and wife of Giovanni della Rovere), Raphael arrived in Florence in 1504. Giovanna addressed her letter to Pier Soderini, the elected leader of the Florentine Republic and patron of both Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. (Pier Soderini had managed to put these two rivals to work on a project in the same hall of Palazzo Vecchio.) In the letter, Giovanna urges him to find important public commissions for the young artist. According to the biographer Giorgio Vasari, Raphael had to come and see for himself and learn from the great Florentine masters after hearing about the innovations being made by Leonardo and Michelangelo.

During his stay in Florence, from 1504 to 1508, Raphael never received any great public commissions, but he did manage to get many private commissions for devotional works and altarpieces from Florence’s elite families, like the Dei and the Nasi, but also the Doni, who were then patrons of Michelangelo. For the Doni, Raphael painted the Portraits of Angolo and Maddalena Doni (c.1504-1507). Here inspiration from Leonardo is clear, especially in the portrait of Maddalena where echoes of the Monna Lisa are deafening. For the Nasi, Raphael created Mary, Christ and the young John the Baptist, known as the “Madonna of the Goldfinch” (1506). It shows mastery of the lessons learned from Leonardo and Michelangelo with the typical pyramid composition of the figures seen in both the paintings of Leonardo and the sculpture of Michelangelo and the smoky atmosphere and landscape so typical of Leonardo.

These works and others by Raphael are now on display at the Uffizi Gallery. The recent renovation of the museum has brought together Raphael’s works with the only panel painting by Michelangelo in Florence, the Holy Family, known as the “Doni Tondo”. As a testament to these incredible few years, when these masters were active in Florence, the room offers a stunning display of the art of the High Renaissance. Join me for an incredible guided visit of the Uffizi, and come see for yourself the splendor of Raphael’s art and the beginnings of the High Renaissance in Florence. https://triplelights.com/italy/tour/florence-ultimate-3-h-uffizi-5621

Opt for a customized tour of the Palatine Gallery in Palazzo Pitti, where other works by Raphael are on display along with works by great masters such as Titian, Caravaggio, and, one of my favorites, the woman artist Artemisia Gentileschi https://triplelights.com/blog/artemisia-gentileschi-4467

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