VII. RAPHAEL AND LEO X: 1513–20

Leo neglected Michelangelo partly because he liked men and women of equable temper, and partly because he had no great love for architecture or the massive in art; he preferred a gem to a cathedral, and miniatures to monuments. He kept Caradosso, Santi de Cola Sabba, Michele Nardini, and many other goldsmiths busy making jewelry, cameos, medals, coins, sacred vessels. At his death he left a collection of precious stones, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, diamonds, pearls, tiaras, miters, and pectorals worth 204,655 ducats—over $2,500,000; we should remember, however, that most of these had been inherited from his predecessors, and that they constituted a portion of the papal treasury immune to depreciations of the currency.

He invited a score of painters to Rome, but Raphael was almost the only one that he really cared for. He tried Leonardo, and dismissed him as a dawdler. Fra Bartolommeo came to Rome in 1514, and painted a St. Peter and a St. Paul; but the air and excitement disagreed with him, and he soon returned to the peace of his Florentine monastery. Leo liked the work of Sodoma, but hardly dared let that reckless rake roam too freely about the Vatican. Sebastiano del Piombo was appropriated by Leo’s cousin, Giulio de’ Medici.

Raphael agreed with Leo in both temperament and taste. Both were amiable epicureans who made Christianity a pleasure and took their heaven here; but both worked as hard as they played. Leo plied the happy artist with tasks: the completion of the stanze, the designing of cartoons for the Sistine Chapel tapestries, the decoration of the Vatican Loggie, the building of St. Peter’s, the preservation of classic art. Raphael accepted these commissions with good cheer and appetite, and found time, besides, to paint a score of religious pictures, several series of pagan frescoes, and half a hundred Madonnas and portraits any one of which would have assured him wealth and fame. Leo abused his complaisance by asking him to arrange fetes, to paint the scenery for a play, to make a portrait of a beloved elephant.71 Perhaps overwork, as well as love, brought Raphael to an early death.

But he was now in the fullness of his powers and the bloom of his prosperity. In a letter (July 1, 1514) to his “dear Uncle Simone… who art dear to me as a father,” and who had reproached him for persistent bachelorhood, he writes in a mood of happy self-confidence:

As for a wife, I must tell you that I am daily thankful that I did not take the one you destined for me, or, indeed, any other. In this instance I have been wiser than you… and I am sure that you must now see that I am better as I am. I have capital in Rome worth 3000 ducats, and an assured income of fifty more. His Holiness allows me a salary of 300 ducats for superintending the rebuilding of St. Peter’s, which will not fail me as long as I live…. Besides this, they give me whatever I ask for my works. I have commenced the decoration of a large hall for His Holiness, for which I am to get 1200 golden crowns. Thus you must see, my dear uncle, that I do honor to my family as well as to my country.72

At thirty-one he was entering into conscious manhood. He had grown a dark beard, perhaps to disguise his youth. He lived in comfort, even splendor, in a palace built by Bramante and bought by Raphael for three thousand ducats. He dressed in the style of a young aristocrat. On his visits to the Vatican he was accompanied by a princely retinue of pupils and clients. Michelangelo reproved him, saying, “You go about with a suite, like a general”; to which Raphael replied, “And you go about alone, like a hangman.”73He was still a good-natured youth, free from envy but eager with emulation, not quite as modest as before (how could he be?), but always helpful to others, presenting masterpieces to his friends, and even serving as Maecenas and patron to artists less fortunate or gifted than himself. But on occasion his wit could be sharp enough. When two cardinals, visiting his studio, amused themselves by picking flaws in his pictures—saying, for example, that the faces of the Apostles were too red—he replied: “Do not be surprised at that, your eminences; I painted them so deliberately; may we not think that they can blush in heaven when they see the Church governed by such men as you?”74 However, he could take correction without resentment, as in the plans for St. Peter’s. He could flatter a succession of artists by imitating their excellences, without ever losing his own independence and originality. He did not need solitude in order to be himself.

His morals were not quite up to his manners. He could not have painted women so attractively had he not been powerfully attracted by their charms. He wrote love sonnets on the back of his drawings for the Disputa. He had a concatenation of mistresses, but everybody, including the Pope, seemed to think that so great an artist had a right to such amusements. Vasari, after describing Raphael’s sexual promiscuity, apparently saw no contradiction in remarking, two pages later, that “those who copy his virtuous life will be rewarded in heaven.”75 When Castiglione asked Raphael where he found the models for the beautiful women whom he painted, he replied that he created them in his imagination out of the diverse elements of beauty present in different women;76 hence he needed a large variety of samples. Nevertheless there is a healthy, life-enhancing tone in his character and his works, a unity, peace, and serenity in his career, amid the conflicts, divisions, envies, and recriminations of the age. He ignored the politics that were consuming Leo and Italy, perhaps feeling that the repetitious contentions of parties and states for power and privilege are the monotonous froth of history, and that nothing matters but devotion to goodness, beauty, and truth.

Raphael left the pursuit of truth to more reckless spirits, and contented himself with the service of beauty. In the first years of Leo’s reign he continued the decoration of the Stanza d’Eliodoro. By some whim of circumstance—and to symbolize the expulsion of the barbari from Italy-Julius had chosen, for the second main mural of the room, the historic meeting of Attila and Leo I (452). Raphael’s drawing had already given the first Leo the features of the second Julius when the tenth Leo came to the papal throne. The drawing was revised, and Leo became Leo. More successful than this vast assemblage is the smaller picture that Raphael painted in an arch over a window of the same room. Here the new Pope, perhaps to commemorate his escape from the French at Milan, suggested as topic the deliverance of Peter from prison by an angel. Raphael used all his compositional artistry to give unity and life to a story broken by the casement into three scenes: on the left the sleeping guards, at the top an angel waking Peter, at the right the angel leading the drowsy and bewildered Apostle to freedom. The radiance of the angel illuminating the cell, shining upon the soldiers’ armor and blinding their eyes, and the crescent moon whitening the clouds, make this a model pictorial study of light.

The young artist was avid of every new technique. Bramante, without Michelangelo’s permission, had secretly taken his friend to see the frescoes of the Sistine vault before they were finished. Raphael was deeply impressed; perhaps, with the modesty that still accompanied his pride, he felt himself in the presence of a genius more powerful, if less gracious, than his own. He let the new influence move him in the themes and forms of the ceiling frescoes in the room of Helidorus: God Appearing to Noah, Abraham’s Sacrifice, Jacob’s Dream, and The Burning Bush. It shows again in the Prophet Isaiah that he painted for the church of St. Augustine.

In 1514 he began work on the room known from its main picture as the Stanza dell’ Incendio del Borgo. A medieval legend told how Pope Leo III (795–816), merely by making the sign of the cross, had put out a fire that threatened to consume the Borgo—i.e., the borough of Rome around the Vatican. Probably Raphael made only the cartoon for this mural, and assigned the painting of it to his pupil Gianfrancesco Penni. Even so it is a powerful composition, in Raphael’s best episodic narrative style. Mingling classical and Christian story, Raphael showed, on the left, a handsome and muscular Aeneas carrying to safety his old but muscular father Anchises. Another nude male, perfectly drawn, hangs from the top of the wall of the burning building, ready to drop; the influence of Michelangelo is evident in these three nudes. More Raphaelesque is an excited mother leaning over the wall to hand her infant to a man stretching up on tiptoe from below. Between magnificent columns groups of women beseech the aid of the Pope, who from a balcony calmly bids the fire cease. Raphael here is still at the top of his line.

For the remaining pictures in the room Raphael drew the cartoons, perhaps helped even in this by his pupils. From these cartoons Perino del Vaga painted, over the window, The Oath of Leo III exculpating himself before Charlemagne (800); on the exit wall another and greater pupil, Giulio Romano—the only native Roman prominent in Renaissance art—pictured The Battle of Ostia, in which Leo IV (looking remarkably like Leo X) turned back the invading Saracens (849); and in other spaces the able pupils painted idealized portraits of sovereigns who had deserved well of the Church. In a final picture, The Coronation of Charlemagne, Leo X becomes Leo III; and Francis I, here painted as Charlemagne, achieves by proxy his ambition to be emperor. The picture echoed Leo’s meeting with Francis at Bologna the year before (1516).

Raphael made some preliminary sketches for the fourth stanza, the Sala di Costantino; the paintings were executed after his death under the patronage of Clement VII. Meanwhile Leo X urged him to begin the decoration of the Loggie—i.e., the open galleries built by Bramante to surround the court of St. Damasus in the Vatican. Raphael himself had completed the construction of these galleries; now (1517–9) he designed for the ceiling of one gallery fifty-two frescoes retelling the Bible story from the Creation to the Last Judgment. The actual painting was delegated to Giulio Romano, Gianfrancesco Penni, Perino del Vaga, Polidoro Caldara da Caravaggio, and others; while Giovanni da Udine decorated pilasters and arch soffits with delightful pictures and arabesques in stucco and paint. These Loggie frescoes sometimes used themes already treated on the Sistine ceiling, but with a lighter hand and in a homelier and more cheerful spirit, seeking not grandeur or sublimity, but pleasant episodes like Adam and Eve and their children enjoying the fruits of Eden, Abraham visited by three angels, Isaac embracing Rebecca, Jacob and Rachel at the well, Joseph and Potiphar’s wife, the finding of Moses, David and Bathsheba, the adoration of the shepherds. These little paintings, of course, cannot compare with Michel angelo’s; they are in a different world and genre—a world of feminine grace, not of masculine strength; they are the sign of the lighthearted Raphael in his last five years, while the Sistine ceiling is Michelangelo in the culmination of his powers.

Perhaps Leo was a bit jealous of the ceiling and the glory that it had shed upon the reign of Julius. Soon after his accession he conceived the idea of commemorating his own pontificate by ad rning the walls of the Sistine Chapel with tapestries. There were no weavers in Italy who could match those of Flanders, and Leo thought there were no painters in Flanders who could equal Raphael. He commissioned the artist (1515) to draw ten cartoons describing scenes from the Acts of the Apostles. Seven of these cartoons were bought at Brussels by Rubens (1630) for Charles I of England, and are now in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. They are among the most remarkable drawings ever made. Raphael lavished here all his knowledge of composition, anatomy, and dramatic effect; in the whole range of drawing few pieces surpass The Miraculous Draught of Fishes, Christ’s Charge to Peter, The Death of Ananias, Peter Healing the Lame Man, or Paul Preaching at Athens—though in this last the fine figure of Paul is stolen from Masaccio’s frescoes in Florence.

The ten cartoons were sent to Brussels, and there Bernaert van Orley, who had been a pupil of Raphael in Rome, superintended the transference of the designs to silk and wool. In the short space of three years seven of the tapestries were completed, and all ten were finished by 1520. On December 26, 1519, seven were hung on the Sistine walls, and the elite of Rome were invited to see them. They created a furore. Paris de Grassis noted in his diary: “The whole chapel was struck dumb by the sight of these hangings; by universal consent there is nothing more beautiful in the world.”77 Each tapestry had cost a total of 2000 ducats ($25,000); the expenditure for the ten helped to deplete Leo’s finances, and to induce the further sale of indulgences and offices.* Leo must have felt that now he and Raphael had met Julius and Michelangelo in a battle of art in the same chapel, and had carried off the prize.

The amazing fertility of Raphael—greater in his thirty-seven years than Michelangelo’s in eighty-nine—makes it difficult to summarize him justly, for nearly every product was a masterpiece deserving commemoration. He designed mosaics, woodwork, jewelry, medals, pottery, bronze vessels and reliefs, perfume boxes, statues, palaces. Michelangelo was disturbed when he heard that Raphael had made a model, and that from this the Florentine sculptor Lorenzetto Lotti had carved in marble, a statue of Jonah riding the whale; but the result reassured him—Raphael had strayed unwisely out of his pictorial element. He did better in architecture, for there his friend Bramante guided him. About 1514, when he was put in charge of St. Peter’s, he had his friend Fabio Calvo translate Vitruvius for him into Italian; and from that time he was an ardent lover of classical architectural styles and forms. His continuation of Bramante’s Loggie so pleased Leo that the Pope made him director of all the architectural and artistic departments of the Vatican. Raphael built some undistinguished palaces in Rome, and shared in designing the elegant Villa Madama for Cardinal Giulio de’ Medici; this, however, was chiefly the work of Giulio Romano as architect and painter, and of Giovanni da Udine as decorator. Raphael’s one surviving architectural masterpiece is the Palazzo Pandolfini, built from his plans after his death; it is still among the finest palaces in Florence. With sublime indifference he turned his talents to the service of his friend the banker Chigi, and built for him a chapel in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo, and for his horses such stables (Stalle Chigiane, 1514) as might have served for a palace. To understand Raphael, and Leo’s Rome, we must pause for a moment and look at the egregious Chigi.

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