While the geniuses of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci flourished at the turn of the sixteenth century there was another artist in Vatican complex whose name was to become synonymous with great painting. Raffaello Sanzio (Raphael) was an Italian painter whose work along with that of his older contemporaries Leonardo and Michelangelo defined the High Renaissance style in central Italy. Raphael’s artistic skills underwent several stages of development and undoubtedly his manner and his work became grander and more sophisticated under the inspiration of Leonardo, Michelangelo.
Extraordinary changes in style and technique may be observed in Raphael’s paintings from Florentine and Roman periods. Raphael was born in Urbino, the son of a competent painter, Giovanni Santi, who was employed as the court artist of Duke Guidobaldo da Montefeltro. He probably received his earliest training from his father, who died in 1494 when Raphael was 11 years old. According to Vasari’s account ‘Raphael came to be of great help to his father in the numerous works that Giovanni executed in the state of Urbino’ (1998, p.
306). Perugino was at this period one of the most admired and influential painters working in Italy, and Raphael’s familiarity with Perugino’s manner, both in style and technique, is evident from Raphael’s early works painted for churches in his native Umbria. Despite his success as a painter of altarpieces and of smaller courtly paintings, Raphael clearly felt the need to leave Umbria in order to widen his experience of contemporary painting.
With a letter of recommendation from the Duke’s sister-in-law, the ruler of Florence, he arrived in the city soon afterwards. He was to remain in Florence for four years, and during this time he gradually familiarized himself with the new style being developed by Florentine artists, notably Leonardo and Michelangelo whose cartoons for the proposed frescoes of battle scenes in the Palazzo della Signoria date from this period.
With characteristic energy of purpose Raphael set about mastering the new requirements of Florentine art: the depiction of figures in movement, the expression of emotional state through expression and gesture, and the creation of complex narrative. In Florence he produced a number of accomplished pictures of the Madonna and other saints, such as his early La Belle Jardiniere (Fig. 1) of 1507.