1. Development: 1483–1508
After Bramante’s death Leo X named to succeed him, as architectural director of the work at the new St. Peter’s, a young painter thirty-one years old, too young to bear on his shoulders the weight of Bramante’s dome, but the happiest, most successful, and best-loved artist in history.
His good fortune began when he was born to Giovanni de’ Santi, then the leading painter at Urbino. Some pictures survive from Giovanni’s brush; they suggest an indifferent talent; but they show that Raphael-named after the fairest of the archangels—was brought up in the odor of painting. Visiting artists like Piero della Francesca often stayed at Giovanni’s home; and Giovanni was sufficiently familiar with the art of his time to write intelligently of a dozen Italian, and some Flemish, painters and sculptors in hisRhymed Chronicle of Urbino. Giovanni died when Raphael was only eleven, but apparently the father had already begun to transmit the art to his son. Probably Timoteo Viti, who returned to Urbino from Bologna in 1495 after studying with Francia, continued the instruction, and brought to Raphael what he had learned from Francia, Tura, and Costa. Meanwhile the boy grew up in circles that had access to the court; and that refined society that Castiglione was to describe in The Courtier was beginning to spread among the lettered classes of Urbino the graces of character, manners, and speech that Raphael would illuminate with his art and his life. The Ashmolean Museum at Oxford has a remarkable drawing attributed to Raphael in the period between 1497 and 1500, and traditionally supposed to be a self-portrait. The face almost of a girl, the soft eyes of a poet: these are the features that we shall meet again, darker and a little wistful, in the engaging self-portrait (c. 1506) in the Pitti Gallery.
Picture the youth of the earlier portrait passing at sixteen from quiet and orderly Urbino to a Perugia where despotism and violence were the order of the day. But Perugino was there, whose fame was filling Italy; Raffaello’s guardian uncles felt that the boy’s manifest talent deserved instruction from the best painters in Italy. They could have sent him to Leonardo at Florence, where he might have imbibed some deepening strain of that master’s esoteric lore; but there was something peculiar about the great Florentine, something a bit left-handed—literally sinister—in his loves, which disturbed all good uncles. Perugia was closer to Urbino, and Perugino was returning to Perugia (1499) with presumably all the technical tricks of Florentine painters at the tips of his brushes. So for three years the handsome lad worked for Pietro Vannucci, helped him to decorate the Cambio, mastered his secrets, and learned how to paint virgins as blue and devout as Perugino’s own. The Umbrian hills—above all around the Assisi that Raphael could sight from the Perugian plateau—gave teacher and pupil a full supply of such simple and devoted mothers, fair with the forms of youth, yet molded to a trustful piety by the Franciscan air that they breathed.
When Perugino went again to Florence (1502) Raphael remained in Perugia, and fell heir to the demand that his master had developed for religious pictures. In 1503 he painted for the church of St. Francis a Coronation of the Virgin, now in the Vatican: the Apostles and Magdalen, standing around an empty sarcophagus, gaze upward to where, on a pavement of clouds, Christ places a crown upon Mary’s head, while graceful angels celebrate her with the music of lute and tambourines. There are many signs of immaturity in the picture: heads insufficiently individualized, faces inexpressive, hands ill formed, fingers rigid, and Christ Himself, obviously older than His pretty mother, moving as awkwardly as a commencement graduate. But in the angel musicians—the grace of their motion, the flow of their draperies, the soft contour of their features—Raphael gives a pledge of his future.
The picture was apparently successful, for in the following year another church of San Francesco, in Città di Castello, some thirty miles from Perugia, ordered from him a similar picture—a Sposalizio or Marriage of the Virgin (Brera). It repeats some figures from the earlier painting, and copies the form of a similar picture by Perugino. But the Virgin herself has now the peculiar mark and grace of Raphael’s women—the head modestly inclined, the oval face tender and demure, the smooth curve of shoulder and arm and raiment; behind her is a woman more buxom and alive, blonde and lovely; to the right a youth in tight garb shows that Raphael has studied the human form sedulously; and now all the hands are well drawn, and some are beautiful.
About this time Pinturicchio, who had made Raphael’s acquaintance in Perugia, invited him to Siena as assistant. There Raphael made sketches and cartoons for some of the brilliant frescoes with which Pinturicchio, in the library of the cathedral, told such portions of Aeneas Sylvius’ story as befitted a pope. In that library Raphael was struck by an antique statuary group, The Three Graces, that Cardinal Piccolomini had brought from Rome to Siena; the young artist made a hasty drawing of it, apparently to help his memory. He seems to have recognized in these three nudes a different world and morality than those that had been impressed upon him in Urbino and Perugia—a world in which woman was a joyful goddess of beauty rather than the sorrowful Mother of God, and in which the worship of beauty was considered as legitimate as the exaltation of purity and innocence. The pagan side of Raphael, which would later paint rosy nudes in the bathroom of a cardinal, and place Greek philosophers beside Christian saints in the chambers of the Vatican, developed now in quiet company with that aspect of his nature and his art which would produce The Mass of Bolsena and The Sistine Madonna. In Raphael, more than in any other hero of the Renaissance, the Christian faith and the pagan rebirth would live in harmonious peace.
Shortly before or after his visit to Siena he returned briefly to Urbino. There he painted for Guidobaldo two pictures that probably symbolized the Duke’s triumph over Caesar Borgia: a St. Michael and a St. George, both now in the Louvre. Never before, so far as we know, had the artist succeeded so well in representing action; the figure of St. George drawing his sword back to strike, while his horse rears up in terror and the dragon claws at the knight’s leg, is startling in its vigor and yet pleasing in its grace. Raphael the draftsman was coming into his own.
And now Florence called him, as it had called Perugino and a hundred other young painters. He seemed to feel that unless he could live for a while in that stimulating hive of competition and criticism, and learn at first hand the latest developments in line and composition and color, in fresco and tempera and oil, he would never be more than a provincial painter, talented but limited, and fated at last for obscure domesticity in the town of his birth. Late in 1504 he set out for Florence.
He behaved there with his usual modesty; studied the ancient sculptures and architectural fragments that had been gathered into the city; went to the Carmine and copied Masaccio; sought out and pored over the famous cartoons that Leonardo and Michelangelo had made for paintings in the Hall of Council in the Palazzo Vecchio. Perhaps he met Leonardo; certainly for a time he yielded to that elusive master’s influence. It seemed to him now that beside Leonardo’s Adoration of the Magi, Mona Lisa, and The Virgin, Child, and St. Anne, the paintings of the Ferrara, Bologna, Siena, Urbino schools were struck with the rigor of death, and even the Madonnas of Perugino were pretty puppets, immature young women of the countryside suddenly endowed with an uncongenial divinity. How had Leonardo acquired such grace of line, such subtlety of countenance, such shades of coloring? In a portrait of Maddalena Doni (Pitti) Raphael obviously imitated the Mona Lisa; he omitted the smile, for Madonna Doni apparently had none; but he pictured well the robust form of a Florentine matron, the soft, plump, ringed hands of moneyed ease, and the rich weave and color of the garments that dignified her form. About the same time he painted her husband, Angelo Doni, dark, alert, and stern.
From Leonardo he passed to Fra Bartolommeo, visited him in his cell at San Marco, wondered at the tender expression, the warm feeling, the soft contours, the harmonious composition, the deep, full colors, of the melancholy friar’s art. Fra Bartolommeo would visit Raphael in Rome in 1514, and wonder in his turn at the swift ascent of the modest artist to the pinnacle of fame in the capital of the Christian world. Raphael became great partly because he could steal with the innocence of Shakespeare, could try one method and manner after another, take from each its precious element, and blend these gleanings, in the fever of creation, into a style unmistakably his own. Bit by bit he absorbed the rich tradition of Italian painting; soon he would bring it to fulfillment.
Already in this Florentine period (1504–5, 1506–7) he was painting pictures now famous throughout Christendom and beyond. The Budapest Museum has a Portrait of a Young Man, perhaps a self-portrait, with the same beret and side glance of the eyes as in theautoritratto of the Pitti Gallery. When Raphael was but twenty-three he painted the lovely Madonna del Granduca (Pitti), whose perfectly oval face, and silken hair, and small mouth, and Leonardesque eyelids lowered in pensive affection, were framed in a warm contrast of green veil and red robe; Ferdinand II, Grand Duke of Tuscany, found such pleasure in contemplating this picture that he took it with him on his travels—whence its name. Quite as beautiful is the Madonna del Cardellino—of the Goldfinch (Uffizi); the Infant Jesus is no masterpiece of conception of design, but the playful St. John, arriving triumphantly with the captured bird, is a delight to mind and eye, and the face of the Virgin is an unforgettable representation of a young mother’s tolerant tenderness. Raphael gave this painting as a wedding present to Lorenzo Nasi; in 1547 an earthquake crushed Nasi’s mansion and broke the picture into fragments; the pieces were so cleverly reunited that only a Berenson, seeing it in the Uffizi, could surmise its vicissitudes. TheMadonna in the Meadow (Vienna) is a less successful variant; here, however, Raphael gives us a remarkable landscape, bathed in the soft blue light of an evening falling quietly upon green fields, unruffled stream, towered town, and far-off hills.La Belle Jardinière(Louvre) hardly deserves to be the most famous of the Florentine Madonnas; it almost duplicates the Madonna of the Meadow, makes the Baptist absurd from nose to foot, and only redeems itself with an ideal Infant standing with chubby feet upon the Virgin’s bare foot, and looking up at her with loving confidence. The last and most ambitious of them in this period was the Madonna del Baldacchino (Pitti)—the Virgin Mother enthroned under a canopy (baldacchino), with two angels parting its folds, two saints at each side, two angels singing at her feet; all in all a conventional performance, famous only because it is Raphael’s.
In 1505 he interrupted his stay in Florence to visit Perugia and execute two commissions there. For the nuns of St. Anthony he painted an altar-piece which is now one of the most precious pictures in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Within a frame beautifully carved, the Virgin sits on a throne, looking like Wordsworth’s “nun breathless with adoration”; in her lap the Child raises a hand to bless the infant St. John; two exquisite female figures—St. Cecilia and St. Catherine of Alexandria-flank the Virgin; in the foreground St. Peter frowns and St. Paul reads; and above, in a lunette, God the Father, surrounded by angels, blesses the Mother of His Son, and with one hand upholds the world. In one panel of the predella Christ prays on the Mount of Olives while the Apostles sleep; and in another Mary supports the dead Christ while Magdalen kisses His pierced feet. The perfect composition of the ensemble, the appealing figures of the female saints, meditative and wistful, the powerful conception of the passionate Peter, and the unique vision of Christ on the Mount, make this “Colonna” Madonna the first indubitable masterpiece of Raphael. In that same year 1506 he painted a less imposing picture, a Madonna (National Gallery, London) for the Ansidei family: the Virgin, straitly enthroned, teaches the Child how to read; at her left St. Nicholas of Bari, gorgeous in his episcopal robes, is also studious; at her right the Baptist, suddenly thirty while his playmate is still an infant, points the traditional finger of the Forerunner at the Son of God.
From Perugia Raphael seems to have gone again to Urbino (1506). Now he painted for Guidobaldo a second St. George (Leningrad), this time with a lance; a handsome young knight sheathed in armor whose gleaming blue displays another phase of Raphael’s skill. Probably on the same visit he painted for his friends the most familiar of his self-portraits (Pitti): black beret over long black locks; face still youthful, and with no trace yet of beard; long nose, small mouth, soft eyes; altogether a haunting face, that might have been Keats’s—revealing a spirit clean and fresh, and sensitive to every beauty in the world.
Late in 1506 he returned to Florence. There he painted some of his less renowned pictures—St. Catherine of Alexandria (London), and the “Niccolini Cowper” Madonna and Child (Washington). About 1780 the third Earl Cowper smuggled this out of Florence in the lining of his carriage; it is not one of Raphael’s finest, but Andrew Mellon paid $850,000 to add it to his collection (1928).20 A far greater picture was begun by Raphael at Florence in 1507: The Entombment of Christ (Borghese Gallery). It was ordered for the church of San Francesco in Perugia by Atalanta Baglioni, who, seven years before, had knelt in the street over her own dying son; perhaps through Mary’s grief she expressed her own. Taking Perugino’s Deposition as his model, Raphael grouped his figures in a masterly composition, almost with the power of Mantegna: the emaciated dead Christ, borne in a sheet by a virile and muscular youth and a bearded straining man; a splendid head of Joseph of Arimathea; a lovely Magdalen leaning in horror over the corpse; Mary fainting into the arms of attendant women; every body in a different attitude, yet all rendered with anatomical verity and Correggian grace; a somber symphony of reds, blues, browns, and greens mingling in a luminous unity, with a Giorgionesque landscape showing the three crosses of Golgotha under an evening sky.
In 1508 Raphael received at Florence a call that changed the current of his life. The new Duke of Urbino, Francesco Maria della Rovere, was a nephew of Julius II; Bramante, a distant relative of Raphael, was now a favorite with the Pope; apparently both the Duke and the architect recommended Raphael to Julius; soon an invitation was sent the young painter to come to Rome. He was glad to go, for Rome, not Florence was now the exciting and stimulating center of the Renaissance world. Julius, who had lived for four years in the Borgia apartment, had tired of seeing Giulia Farnese playing Virgin on the wall; he wished to move into the four chambers once used by the admirable Nicholas V; and he wanted these stanze or rooms to be decorated with paintings congenial to his heroic stature and aims. In the summer of 1508 Raphael went to Rome.
2. Raphael and Julius II: 1508–13
Rarely since Pheidias had so many great artists gathered in one city and year. Michelango was carving figures for Julius’ gigantic tomb, and was painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling; Bramante was designing the new St. Peter’s; Fra Giovanni of Verona, master woodworker, was carving doors and chairs and bosses for the stanze; Perugino, Signorelli, Peruzzi, Sodoma, Lotto, Pinturicchio had already painted some of the walls; and Ambrogio Foppa, called Caradosso, the Cellini of his age, was making gold in every way.
Julius assigned to Raphael the Stanza della Segnatura, so called because usually in this room the Pope heard appeals and signed pardons. He was so pleased with the youth’s first paintings here, and saw in him so excellent and pliable an agent to execute the grand conceptions that seethed in the papal brain, that he dismissed Perugino, Signorelli, and Sodoma, ordered their paintings whitewashed, and offered to Raphael the opportunity to paint all the walls of the four rooms. Raphael persuaded the Pope to retain some of the work done by the earlier artists; most of it, however, was covered over, so that the major paintings might have the unity of one mind and hand. For each room Raphael received 1200 ducats ($15,000?); and on the two rooms that he did for Julius he spent four and a half years. He was now twenty-six.
The plan for the Stanza della Segnatura was lordly and sublime: the paintings were to represent the union of religion and philosophy, of classic culture and Christianity, of Church and state, of literature and law, in the civilization of the Renaissance. Probably the Pope conceived the general plan, and chose the subjects in consultation with Raphael and the scholars of his court—Inghirami and Sadoleto, later Bembo and Bibbiena. In the great semicircle formed by one side wall Raphael pictured religion in the persons of the Trinity and the saints, and theology in the form of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church discussing the nature of the Christian faith as centered in the doctrine of the Eucharist. How carefully he prepared himself for this first test of his ability to paint on a monumental scale may be seen from the thirty preliminary studies that he made for this Disputa del Sacramento. He recalled Fra Bartolommeo’s Last Judgment in Santa Maria Nuova at Florence, and his own Adoration of the Trinity in San Severo at Perugia; and on them he modeled his design.
The result was a panorama so majestic as almost to convert the most obdurate skeptic to the mysteries of the faith. At the top of the arch, radial lines, converging upward, make the uppermost figures seem to bend forward; at the bottom the converging lines of a marble pavement give the picture depth. At the summit God the Father—a solemn, kindly Abraham —holds up the globe with one hand, and with the other blesses the scene; below Him the Son sits, naked to the waist, as in a shell; on His right Mary in humble adoration, on His left the Baptist still carrying his shepherd’s staff crowned with a cross; beneath Him a dove represents the Holy Spirit, third person of the Trinity; everything is here. Seated on a fluffy cloud around the Saviour are twelve magnificent figures of Old Testament or Christian history: Adam, a bearded Michelangelesque athlete, almost nude; Abraham; a stately Moses holding the tables of the Law; David, Judas Maccabaeus, Peter and Paul, St. John writing his evangel, St. James the Greater, St. Stephen, St. Lawrence, and two others of debated identity; among them, and in the clouds—everywhere except in the beards—cherubim and seraphim dart in and out, and angels weave through the air on the wings of song. Dividing and uniting this celestial assembly from an earthly throng below are two cherubim holding the Gospel, and a monstrance displaying the Host. Around this a varied assemblage of theologians gathers to consider the problems of theology: St. Jerome with his Vulgate and his lion; St. Augustine dictatingThe City of God; St. Ambrose in his episcopal robes; Popes Anacletus and Innocent III; the philosophers Aquinas, Bonaventura, and Duns Scotus; the dour Dante crowned as if with thorns; the gentle Fra Angelico; the angry Savonarola (another Julian revenge on Alexander VI); and finally, in a corner, bald and ugly, Raphael’s protecting friend Bramante. In all these human figures the young artist has achieved an astonishing degree of individualization, making each face a credible biography; and in many of them a degree of superhuman dignity ennobles the whole picture and theme. Probably never before had painting so successfully conveyed the epic sublimity of the Christian creed.
But could the same youth, now twenty-eight, represent with equal force and grandeur the role of science and philosophy among men? We have no evidence that Raphael had ever done much reading; he spoke with his brush and listened with his eyes; he lived in a world of form and color in which words were trivial things unless they issued in the significant actions of men and women. He must have prepared himself by hurried study, by dipping into Plato and Diogenes Laërtius and Marsilio Ficino, and by humble conversation with learned men, to rise now to his supreme conception, The School of Athens—half a hundred figures summing up rich centuries of Greek thought, and all gathered in an immortal moment under the coffered arch of a massive pagan portico. There, on the wall directly facing the apotheosis of theology in the Disputa, is the glorification of philosophy: Plato of the Jovelike brow, deep eyes, flowing white hair and beard, with a finger pointing upward to his perfect state; Aristotle walking quietly beside him, thirty years younger, handsome and cheerful, holding out his hand with downward palm, as if to bring his master’s soaring idealism back to earth and the possible; Socrates counting off his arguments on his fingers, with armed Alcibiades listening to him lovingly; Pythagoras trying to imprison in harmonic tables the music of the spheres; a fair lady who might be Aspasia; Heraclitus writing Ephesian riddles; Diogenes lying carelessly disrobed on the marble steps; Archimedes drawing geometries on a slate for four absorbed youths; Ptolemy and Zoroaster bandying globes; a boy at the left running up eagerly with books, surely seeking an autograph; an assiduous lad seated in a corner taking notes; peeking out at the left, little Federigo of Mantua, Isabella’s son and Julius’ pet; Bramante again; and hiding modestly, almost unseen, Raphael himself, now sprouting a mustache. There are many more, about whose identity we shall let leisurely pundits dispute; all in all, such a parliament of wisdom had never been painted, perhaps never been conceived, before. And not a word about heresy, no philosophers burned at the stake; here, under the protection of a Pope too great to fuss about the difference between one error and another, the young Christian has suddenly brought all these pagans together, painted them in their own character and with remarkable understanding and sympathy, and placed them where the theologians could see them and exchange fallibilities, and where the Pope, between one document and another, might contemplate the co-operative process and creation of human thought. This painting and the Disputa are the ideal of the Renaissance—pagan antiquity and Christian faith living together in one room and harmony. These rival panels, in the sum of their conception, composition, and technique, are the apex of European painting, to which no man has ever risen again.
A third wall remained, smaller than the other two, and so broken by a casement window that unity of pictorial subject seemed impossible there. It was a brilliant choice to let that surface picture poetry and music; so a chamber heavily laden with theology and philosophy was made light and bright with the world of harmonious imagination, and gentle melodies could sing silently through the centuries across that room where unappealable decisions gave life or death. In this fresco of Parnassus, Apollo, seated under some laurel trees atop the sacred mount, draws from his viol “ditties of no tone”; and at his right a Muse reclines in graceful ease, baring a lovely breast to the saints and sages on the adjacent walls; and Homer recites his hexameters in blind ecstasy, and Dante looks with unreconciled severity even at this goodly company of graces and bards; and Sappho, too beautiful to be Lesbian, strums her cithara: and Virgil, Horace, Ovid, Tibullus, and other singers chosen by time mingle with Petrarch, Boccaccio, Ariosto, Sannazaro, and lesser voices of more recent Italy. So the young artist suggested that “life without music would be a mistake,”21 and that the strains and visions of poetry might lift men to heights as lofty as the myopia of wisdom and the impudence of theology.
On the fourth wall, also pierced by a window, Raphael honored the place of law in civilization. In the lunette he painted figures of Prudence, Force, and Moderation; on one side of the casement he represented civil law in the form of The Emperor Justinian Promulgating the Pandects, and on the other, canon law in the person of Pope Gregory IX Promulgating the Decretals. Here, to flatter his irascible master, he pictured Julius as Gregory, and achieved another powerful portrait. In the circles, hexagons, and rectangles of the ornate ceiling he painted little masterpieces like The Judgment of Solomon, and symbolic figures of theology, philosophy, jurisprudence, astronomy, and poetry. With these and similar cameos, and some medallions left by Sodoma, the greatStanza della Segnatura was complete.
Raphael had exhausted himself there, and never attained to such colossal excellence again. By 1511, when he began the next room—now called the Stanza d’Eliodoro from its central picture—the conceptual inspiration of Pope and artist seemed to lose force and fire. Julius could hardly be expected to dedicate his entire apartment to a glorification of a union between classic culture and Christianity; it was natural now that he should devote a few walls to commemorating scenes in Scriptural and Christian story. Perhaps to symbolize his expected expulsion of the French from Italy, he chose for one side of the chamber the vivid description, in the Second Book of Maccabees, of how Heliodorus and his pagan cohorts, attempting to abscond with the treasury of the Jerusalem Temple (186 B.C.), were overwhelmed by three angel warriors. Against an architectural background of great pillars and receding arches the high priest Onias, kneeling at the altar, begs divine aid. On the right a mounted angel, with irresistible wrath, tramples down the robber general, while two other heavenly rescuers advance to attack the fallen infidel, whose stolen coins spill out upon the pavement. On the left, with sublime disdain of chronology, Julius II sits enthroned in calm majesty, watching the expulsion of the invaders; at his feet a crowd of Jewish women mingle incongruously with Raphael (now bearded and solemn) and his friends Marcantonio Raimondi the engraver and Giovanni di Foliari, a member of the papal secretariat. It is hardly as exalting a fresco as theDisputa or The School of Athens; it is too visibly devoted, at the cost of compositional unity, to the celebration of one pontiff and a passing theme; but it is still a masterpiece, vibrating with action, stately with architecture, and almost rivaling Michelangelo in the display of angry and muscular anatomies.
On another wall Raphael painted The Mass of Bolsena. About 1263 a Bohemian priest of Bolsena (near Orvieto), who had doubted that the sacramental wafer was really transformed into the body and blood of Christ, was amazed to see drops of blood ooze from the Host that he had just consecrated in the Mass. In commemoration of this miracle Pope Urban IV ordered the erection of a cathedral at Orvieto, and the annual celebration of the Corpus Christi feast. Raphael painted the scene with brilliance and mastery. The priestly skeptic gazes at the bleeding Host, while the acolytes behind him start at the sight; women and children at one side, Swiss guards at the other, unable to see the miracle, are visibly unmoved; Cardinals Riario and Schinner and other ecclesiastics stare at the scene in mingled astonishment and terror; across from the altar, kneeling on a prie-dieu carved with grotesques, Julius II looks on in quiet dignity, as if he had known all along that the Host would bleed. Technically this is one of the best of the stanzefrescoes: Raphael has distributed his figures skillfully around and above the window that mounts into the wall; he has designed them with firmness of line and careful execution; and he has brought to flesh and drapery a new depth and warmth of coloring. The figure of the kneeling Julius is a revealing portrait of the Pope in his final year. Still the warrior strong and stern, still the proud King of Kings, he is a man worn with his toils and combats, clearly marked for death.
During these major labors (1508–13) Raphael produced several memorable Madonnas. The Virgin with the Diadem (Louvre) reverts to the Umbrian style of modest piety. The Madonna della Casa Alba— literally “the Lady of the White House”—is a graceful study in pink and green and gold, with the large and flowing lines of Michelangelo’s sibyls; Andrew Mellon contributed $1,166,400 to the Soviet Government in exchange for this picture (1936). The Madonna di Foligno (Vatican) shows a lovely Virgin and Child in the clouds, a ghastly Baptist pointing to her, a stout St. Jerome presenting to her the donor of the picture, Sigismondo de’ Conti of Foligno and Rome; here Raphael, under the influence of the Venetian Sebastiano del Piombo, achieves a new splendor of luminous color. The Madonna della Pesce (Prado) is altogether beautiful: in the face and mood of the Virgin; in the Child—never surpassed by Raphael; in the youthful Tobit presenting to Mary the fish whose liver has restored his father’s sight; in the robe of the angel who guides him; in the patriarchal head of St. Jerome. In composition, color, and light this painting can bear comparison with the Sistine Madonna itself.
Finally Raphael in this period raised portrait painting to a height that only Titian would reach again. The portrait was a characteristic product of the Renaissance, and corresponds to the proud liberation of the individual in that flamboyant age. Raphael’s portraits are not numerous, but they all stand on the highest level of the art. One of the finest is Bindo Altoviti. Who could surmise that this gentle but alert youth, healthy and cleareyed, and as pretty as a girl, was no poet but a banker, and a generous patron of artists from Raphael to Cellini? He was twenty-two when so portrayed; in 1556 he died at Rome after a noble but disastrous and exhausting effort to save the independence of Siena from Florence. And of course to this period belongs the greatest of all portraits, the Julius IIof the Uffizi Gallery (c. 1512). We cannot say that this is the original that first came from Raphael’s hand; possibly it is a studio replica; and the marvelous copy in the Pitti Palace was made by none other than that rival portraitist, Titian. The fate of the original is unknown.
Julius himself died before the Stanza d’Eliodoro was finished, and Raphael wondered whether the great plan of the four stanze would be carried out. But how could a pope like Leo X, wedded to art and poetry almost as deeply as to religion, hesitate? The young man from Urbino was to find in Leo his most loyal friend; the living genius of happiness was to know under a happy pope his happiest years.