Raphael was an Italian Renaissance painter who is considered one of the greatest and most popular artists of all time.
Raphael was born Raffaello Sanzio or Raffaello Santi in Urbino on April 6, 1483, and received his early training in art from his father, the painter Giovanni Santi. According to many art historians, he also studied with Timoteo Viti at Urbino, executing under his influence a number of works of miniaturelike delicacy and poetic atmosphere, including Apollo and Marsyas (Louvre, Paris) and The Knight's Dream (1501?, National Gallery, London). In 1499 he went to Perugia, in Umbria, and became a student and assistant of the painter Perugino. Raphael imitated his master closely; their paintings of this period are executed in styles so similar that art historians have found it difficult to determine which were painted by Raphael. Among Raphael's independent works executed at Perugia are two large-scale paintings, the celebrated Sposalizio, or Marriage of the Virgin (1504, Brera Gallery, Milan), and The Crucified Christ with the Virgin Mary, Saints and Angels (1503?, National Gallery, London).
In 1504 Raphael moved to Florence, where he studied the work of such established painters of the time as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Fra Bartolommeo, learning their methods of representing the play of light and shade, anatomy, and dramatic action. At this time he made a transition from the typical style of the Umbrian school, with its emphasis on perspective and rigidly geometrical composition, to a more animated, informal manner of painting. His development during his Florentine period can best be traced in his numerous Madonnas. The earliest example, still Umbrian in inspiration, is the Madonna del Granduca (1504-1505, Pitti Palace, Florence). Later examples, showing the influence of Leonardo in serenity of expression and composition, include the well-known La Belle Jardiniè (1507-1508, Louvre) and the Madonna of the Goldfinch (1505, Uffizi Gallery, Florence). The last of his Madonnas executed at Florence, the Madonna del Baldacchino (1508, Pitti Palace), a monumental altarpiece, is similar in style to the work of Fra Bartolommeo. Raphael's most important commissions during his stay in Florence came from Umbria. His most original composition of this period is the Entombment of Christ (1507, Borghese Gallery, Rome), an altarpiece that nevertheless shows the strong influence of Michelangelo in the postures and anatomical development of the figures.
In 1508 Raphael was called to Rome by Pope Julius II and commissioned to execute frescoes in four small stanze, or rooms, of the Vatican Palace. The walls of the first room, the Stanza della Segnatura (1509-1511), are decorated with scenes elaborating ideas suggested by personifications of Theology, Philosophy, Poetry, and Justice, which appear on the ceiling. On the wall under Theology is the Disput representing a group discussing the mystery of the Trinity. The famous School of Athens, on the wall beneath Philosophy, portrays an open architectural space in which Plato, Aristotle, and other ancient philosophers are engaged in discourse. On the wall under Poetry is the celebrated Parnassus, in which the Greek god Apollo appears surrounded by the Muses and the great poets. The second Vatican chamber, the Stanza d'Eliodoro (1512-1514), painted with the aid of Raphael's assistants, contains scenes representing the triumph of the Roman Catholic church over its enemies.
After the death of Pope Julius II in 1513, and the accession of Leo X, Raphael's influence and responsibilities increased. He was made chief architect of Saint Peter's Basilica in 1514, and a year later was appointed director of all the excavations of antiquities in and near Rome. Because of his many activities, only part of the third room of the Vatican Palace, the Stanza del Incendio (1514-1517), was painted by him, and he merely provided the designs for the fourth chamber, the Sala Constantina. During this period he also designed ten tapestries illustrating the acts of Christ's apostles for the Sistine Chapel; the cartoons, or drawings, for these are now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Raphael also devised the architecture and decorations of the Chigi Chapel in the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo and the decorations of the Villa Farnesina, which include the Triumph of Galatea (1513?).
In addition to these major undertakings, he executed a number of easel paintings, including a Portrait of Julius II (1511-1512), a series of Madonnas, and the world-famous Sistine Madonna (1514?, Gemäldegalerie, Dresden). Other religious paintings during this period include The Transfiguration (1517-1520, Vatican), completed posthumously by the most notable of Raphael's many followers, Giulio Romano. Raphael died in Rome on his 37th birthday, April 6, 1520.