Kinder Sculpture

 

Jan 2005 Journal

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Art Notes (review)

There's still time to visit the Raphael exhibition at the National Gallery - it ends on 16 January. Raphael: From Urbino to Rome is as much the story of a gifted artist as of an ambitious opportunist who absorbed the techniques of his great contemporaries, and ended up at the age of 25 as a rival to Michaelangelo in the papal court of Rome.

Raphael studied art with his father, Giovanni Santi, on whose death the ll-year-old Raphael inherited his workshop and became influenced by the Urbino artistic luminaries of his time, Perugino and Pintoricchio. Later, he travelled to Florence, where he met his two great mentors, Michaelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. His admiration for the former was not reciprocated, however, and the great artist of the High Renaissance viewed the younger man with suspicion. The Italian Renaissance was a dangerous time for anyone involved with artistic patronage. The sixteenth-century proto mafiosi busied themselves with inter-family rivalry and death feuds and Raphael himself could not totally avoid their patronage.

This exhibition, sponsored by Credit Suisse First Boston, charts Raphael's journey, paying perhaps too much attention to the great Masters he first imitates, and then sometimes surpasses. Take, for instance, the fearless and rigorous honesty of his portrait of his patron, Pope Julius II, Il Papa Terribile, or the intense warmth and sweetness of the beautiful women he loved to portray. His La Donna Velata was considered his Mona Lisa for its beauty and mystery. Raphael's art is softer, less muscular than Michaelangelo's, less spiritual than Leonardo's.

In the Vatican, he added a mystery figure to his fresco, the School of Athens, a line-up of Greek philosophers encouraged by the enlightened Pope. Some academics believe this figure to be Michaelangelo, a tribute paid by Raphael to that artist's magnificent Sistine Chapel ceiling painting. But inconceivably Pope Julius, who promoted Raphael above his contemporaries, invited him to destroy their work in favour of his own. Fortunately, the ceiling was left intact. Raphael died at the early age of 37, possibly through a sexually transmitted disease, and his name became synonymous with the debauched lifestyle he indulged. The womanising artist was engaged to a cardinal's niece but never married her. Instead, he fell in love with a young woman called Margharetta, who, some experts consider, inspired many of his most beautiful paintings, including the Madonna della Sedia. One art expert believes that many of Raphael's most brilliant and erotic drawings, in fact, remain hidden in the Vatican.

While the National Gallery is proud of its recent purchase, the Madonna of the Pinks, it is the drawings, described as cartoons, which tell the story of Raphael's influences and development during one of the most exciting periods of the art world. Raphael is also known for more negative reasons: for the group of nineteenth-century revisionist artists who - inexplicably - felt his art had became too pure and perfectionist and wanted to revert to the artistic status-quo-ante. They spearheaded the Pre-Raphaelite movement.
Gloria Tessler

previous article:Frank Foley - the paper trail
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