Monday, January 19, 2015


Have you ever heard of the ‘Sistine Madonna’? This is just one of the many in the popular series of the ‘Madonna’ pieces of (oil) paintings executed by the leading light of Italian High Renaissance Classicism. It was indeed his last work in the series which he completed around 1514. The Madonna (and child) series simply depict a portrait of the Virgin Mary with the infant Jesus. Well, for me this is the first image I have in my mind that calls up the fantastic artistic persona that is simply referred to as Raphael. Raphael was among the foremost figures of the Renaissance period that blossomed in Europe and centred mainly on Italy. 

Self portrait by Raphael

 Raphael, born Raffaello Sanzio was an infant genius of some sort. He was born on April 6, 1483, in Urbino, Italy. He was apprenticed to Perugino in 1504. He was a prominent personality of the Italian High Renaissance Classicism. At the tender age of eleven when his father died, Raphael took over the management of his father’s (Giovanni Santi – a painter for the Duke of Urbino) studio. Even as a teenager he did not waste time in surpassing his father’s accomplishments and started to attract huge commissions as he was already the most important painter around. Some of the big official commissions the very young Raphael garnered included paintings for the Church of San Nicola in the neighbouring town of Castello.

Later in the same year 1504, Raphael left his apprenticeship career under his master Perugino and went to Florence. There he was exposed to the numerous and ambitious works of great Italian master painters who had come before him such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo,  Fra Bartolommeo, and Masaccio.

Raphael grew up learning and working tirelessly, and in no time became an accomplished and celebrated Painter and Architect. He did a series of ‘Madonnas’ one of which is The Sistine Madonna, and executed also a number of frescoes when he moved to live in Rome. He thus decorated parts of the vatican (room) ‘Stanze’ with great compositions including the ones he called The Triumph of Religion and The School of Athens at the instance of Pope Julius II.

'Sistine Madonna' by Raphael
 In 1517 the artist was commissioned to work on his largest canvas so far as he embarked on the painting of The Transfiguration. This work was never completely finished by the painter. Raphael, an infant prodigy advanced so rapidly in his artistic career and like a meteor burnt out so quickly as he died suddenly under inexplicable circumstances at the very young age of thirty-seven on April 6, 1520 in Rome, Italy.

'The Fire in the Borgo' - Fresco by Raphael
 Among Raphael’s many legacies include architectural designs and constructions, a body of magnificent awe inspiring frescoes and studio paintings. A part of these is a series of studio paintings such as the ‘Madonna’ series. Among these works are – the famous Madonna of the Chair, and Sistine Madonna.

By Morgan Nwanguma

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