Raphael's biography
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Life stories of Raphael
Early years at Urbino
Apprenticeship at Perugia
Move to Florence
Last years in Rome
Raphael's works in Rome
Death and Funeral of Raphael
Raphael’s secret love
Perpetuate the memory of Raphael
Where is Raphael buried?
Raphael Sanzio
Raphael Sanzio
Self-Portrait (detail)

Raphael Sanzio
Raffaello Sanzio
Raffaello Santi

(Raphael of Urbinî)
1483 - 1520

Biography of Raphael Sanzio
Raphael (his full name Raffaello Sanzi or Santi), Italian painter and architect of the Italian High Renaissance. Raphael is best known for his Madonnas and for his large figure compositions in the Vatican in Rome. His work is admired for its clarity of form and ease of composition and for its visual achievement of the Neoplatonic ideal of human grandeur.

"When he died, the heavens wanted to give one of the signs they gave when Jesus Christ expired... Here, people are talking about nothing but the death of this exceptional man, who has completed his first life at the young age of 37. His second life - that of his fame, which is subject neither to time nor death - will endure for all eternity..."
Pandolfo Pico della Mirandola to Duchess Isabella Gonzaga of Mantua on Raphael, 1521

Raphael's birth 1483
Franz and Christian von Hausen Riepe (Riepenhausen)
Raphael's birth on Good Friday in 1483
Engraving, 1816

One of the triumvirate of High Renaissance art (along with Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci), Raffaello Sanzio (or Santi), known as Raphael, was born in Urbino, Marche, Italy, on April 6, 1483. He was born on Holy Friday at three hours of the night. There are doubts regarding his exact date of birth. It’s either April 6 or March 28, 1483.

"Raphael's protective angel holds the newborn in his arms and gives him the Muses. Poetry, sound art and Mahlerei, accompanied by a small love God, is the smiling boy move towards and seem to greet him. Genii float in height and sprinkle him flowers."


April 6/7 or March 28?
The confusion over Raphael's date of birth hence comes down to the application of the correct date for Good Friday in 1483, which fell on March 28. This correction was not applied until later scholars noted Good Friday did not fall on April 6 in 1483. If we are to take the "Bembo" and Michiel records as the closest to the source, both of these seem to reference Good Friday in the present, namely April 6, 1520 with Raphael passing late into the night of that evening. Raphael's body did not lie in state for long, with records dated April 7 indicating his body had already been laid to rest in the Pantheon.
Barring the discovery of new documentary evidence, we can not conclusively state Raphael's date of birth as either Friday March 28, 1483 or April 6 1483 (Old style reckoning).

In 2003 publication collating primary sources relevant to Raphael, Professor John Shearman makes the sobering observation, "The archival system in Urbino is favorable to the survival of contracts and testaments, but not that of records of births or baptisms." Subsequently, we do not have a record of Raphael's birth or baptism. The ensuing debate around his date of birth revolves around later sources, commencing from the year of his death, and in both the 1550 and 1568/1569 editions of Vasari.


The illustrations and texts to them here and below
taken from the book:
Franz and Christian von Riepenhausen,
Life Raphael Sanzio of Urbino in twelve engravings

Frankfurt am Main, 1816

Leben Raphael
in a new window
See original
Raphael's childhood
Franz and Christian von Hausen Riepe (Riepenhausen)
From Raphael's childhood: on the lap of his father Giovanni Santi
Engraving, 1816

Early years at Urbino

Raphael was the son of Giovanni Santi and Magia di Battista Ciarla. His mother died in 1491. His father was, according to the 16th-century artist and biographer Giorgio Vasari, a painter "of no great merit." He was, however, a man of culture who was in constant contact with the advanced artistic ideas current at the court of Urbino. He gave his son his first instruction in painting, and, before his death in 1494, when Raphael was 11, he had introduced the boy to humanistic philosophy at the court.

Urbino had become a centre of culture during the rule of Duke Federico da Montefeltro, who encouraged the arts and attracted the visits of men of outstanding talent, including Donato Bramante, Piero della Francesca, and Leon Battista Alberti, to his court.

Although Raphael would be influenced by major artists in Florence and Rome, Urbino constituted the basis for all his subsequent learning. Furthermore, the cultural vitality of the city probably stimulated the exceptional precociousness of the young artist, who, even at the beginning of the 16th century, when he was scarcely 17 years old, already displayed an extraordinary talent.

Giovanni Santi (c. 1435 – 1 August 1494) was an Italian painter, decorator, and the father of Raphael. He was born at Colbordolo in the Duchy of Urbino. He was a petty merchant for a time; he then studied under Piero della Francesca. He was influenced by Fiorenzo di Lorenzo, and seems to have been an assistant and friend of Melozzo da Forlì. He was court painter to the Duke of Urbino and painted several altarpieces, two now in the Berlin Museum, a Madonna in the church of San Francesco in Urbino, one at the church of Santa Croce in Fano, one in the National Gallery at London, and another in the gallery at Urbino; an Annunciation at the Brera in Milan; a resurrected Christ in the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest; and a Jerome in the Lateran. He died in Urbino.


Raphael Sanzio:
Apprenticeship at Perugia

The date of Raphael's arrival in Perugia is not known, but several scholars place it in 1495. The first record of Raphael's activity as a painter is found there in a document of December 10, 1500, declaring that the young painter, by then called a "master," was commissioned to help paint an altarpiece to be completed by September 13, 1502.

It is clear from this that Raphael had already given proof of his mastery, so much so that between 1501 and 1503 he received a rather important commission - to paint the Coronation of the Virgin for the Oddi Chapel in the church of San Francesco, Perugia (and now in the Vatican Museum, Rome).

The great Umbrian master Pietro Perugino was executing the frescoes in the Collegio del Cambio at Perugia between 1498 and 1500, enabling Raphael, as a member of his workshop, to acquire extensive professional knowledge.
In addition to this practical instruction, Perugino's calmly exquisite style also influenced Raphael. The Giving of the Keys to St. Peter, painted in 1481-1482 by Perugino for the Sistine Chapel of the Vatican Palace in Rome, inspired Raphael's first major work, The Marriage of the Virgin (1504, Brera Gallery, Milan). Perugino's influence is seen in the emphasis on perspectives, in the graded relationships between the figures and the architecture, and in the lyrical sweetness of the figures.

Raffaello and Giovanni Santi
Raffaello led by Father Giovanni Santi to Perugia from Perugino

Nevertheless, even in this early painting, it is clear that Raphael's sensibility was different from his teacher's. The disposition of the figures is less rigidly related to the architecture, and the disposition of each figure in relation to the others is more informal and animated. The sweetness of the figures and the gentle relation between them surpasses anything in Perugino's work.

Three small paintings done by Raphael shortly after The Marriage of the Virgin - Vision of a Knight, Three Graces, and St. Michael - are masterful examples of narrative painting, showing, as well as youthful freshness, a maturing ability to control the elements of his own style. Although he had learned much from Perugino, Raphael by late 1504 needed other models to work from; it is clear that his desire for knowledge was driving him to look beyond Perugia.


Quick to Learn
Raphael Sanzio showed an early talent as a painter and architect, and at age 11, he was taken to Perugia, in Umbria, to be an apprentice under the painter Pietro Perugino. Imitating his style closely, Raphael's paintings under his master were so similar to his teacher's that it is difficult to discern who painted what. By the year 1500, when Raphael was only 17, he was already considered a master of his craft.
Four Interesting Facts About Raphael Sanzio by Melissa Sherrard

Farewell Raphael by his mother
Franz and Christian von Hausen Riepe (Riepenhausen)
Farewell Raphael by his mother to follow his father to Perugia
Engraving, 1816

Raphael and his teacher Pietro Vannucci
Franz and Christian von Hausen Riepe (Riepenhausen)
Raphael and his teacher Pietro Vannucci (Perugino) in Perugia
Engraving, 1816

Raphael in Florenz
Franz and Christian von Hausen Riepe (Riepenhausen)
Raphael in Florenz (At his side stands Fra Bartolomeo)
Engraving, 1816

Move to Florence

Vasari vaguely recounts that Raphael followed the Perugian painter Bernardino Pinturicchio to Siena and then went on to Florence, drawn there by accounts of the work that Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo were undertaking in that city. By the autumn of 1504 Raphael had certainly arrived in Florence.

It is not known if this was his first visit to Florence, but, as his works attest, it was about 1504 that he first came into substantial contact with this artistic civilization, which reinforced all the ideas he had already acquired and also opened to him new and broader horizons. Vasari records that he studied not only the works of Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Fra Bartolomeo, who were the masters of the High Renaissance, but also "the old things of Masaccio," a pioneer of the naturalism that marked the departure of the early Renaissance from the Gothic.

Still, his principal teachers in Florence were Leonardo and Michelangelo. Many of the works that Raphael executed in the years between 1505 and 1507, most notably a great series of Madonnas including The Madonna of the Goldfinch (1505; Uffizi Gallery, Florence), the Madonna del Prato (c. 1505; Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna), the Esterhazy Madonna (1505-1507; Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest), and La Belle Jardiniere (c. 1507; Louvre Museum, Paris), are marked by the influence of Leonardo, who since 1480 had been making great innovations in painting.


Raphael was particularly influenced by Leonardo's Madonna and Child with St. Anne pictures, which are marked by an intimacy and simplicity of setting uncommon in 15th-century art. Raphael learned the Florentine method of building up his composition in depth with pyramidal figure masses; the figures are grouped as a single unit, but each retains its own individuality and shape. A new unity of composition and suppression of inessentials distinguishes the works he painted in Florence. Raphael also owed much to Leonardo's lighting techniques; he made moderate use of Leonardo's chiaroscuro (i.e., strong contrast between light and dark), and he was especially influenced by his sfumato (i.e., use of extremely fine, soft shading instead of line to delineate forms and features). Raphael went beyond Leonardo, however, in creating new figure types whose round, gentle faces reveal uncomplicated and typically human sentiments but raised to a sublime perfection and serenity.

In 1507 Raphael was commissioned to paint the Deposition of Christ that is now in the Borghese Gallery in Rome. In this work, it is obvious that Raphael set himself deliberately to learn from Michelangelo the expressive possibilities of human anatomy. But Raphael differed from Leonardo and Michelangelo, who were both painters of dark intensity and excitement, in that he wished to develop a calmer and more extroverted style that would serve as a popular, universally accessible form of visual communication.


Raphael Sanzio:
Last years in Rome

Raphael was called to Rome toward the end of 1508 by Pope Julius II at the suggestion of the architect Donato Bramante. At this time Raphael was little known in Rome, but the young man soon made a deep impression on the volatile Julius and the papal court, and his authority as a master grew day by day.

Raphael was endowed with a handsome appearance and great personal charm in addition to his prodigious artistic talents, and he eventually became so popular that he was called "the prince of painters."

Raphael spent the last 12 years of his short life in Rome. They were years of feverish activity and successive masterpieces. His first task in the city was to paint a cycle of frescoes in a suite of medium-sized rooms in the Vatican papal apartments in which Julius himself lived and worked; these rooms are known simply as the Stanze.

The Stanza della Segnatura (1508-1511) and Stanza d'Eliodoro (1512-1514) were decorated practically entirely by Raphael himself; the murals in the Stanza dell'Incendio (1514-1517), though designed by Raphael, were largely executed by his numerous assistants and pupils.

Raphael's departure from Florence
Franz and Christian von Hausen Riepe (Riepenhausen)
Raphael's departure from Florence, the reputation of Pope Julius II.
To Rome Following (1507)

Engraving, 1816

The decoration of the Stanza della Segnatura was perhaps Raphael's greatest work. Julius II was a highly cultured man who surrounded himself with the most illustrious personalities of the Renaissance. He entrusted Bramante with the construction of a new basilica of St. Peter to replace the original 4th-century church; he called upon Michelangelo to execute his tomb and compelled him against his will to decorate the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel; and, sensing the genius of Raphael, he committed into his hands the interpretation of the philosophical scheme of the frescoes in the Stanza della Segnatura. This theme was the historical justification of the power of the Roman Catholic church through Neoplatonic philosophy. The four main fresco walls in the Stanza della Segnatura are occupied by the Disputa and the School of Athens on the larger walls and the Parnassus and Cardinal Virtues on the smaller walls. The two most important of these frescoes are the Disputa and the School of Athens. The Disputa, showing a celestial vision of God and his prophets and apostles above a gathering of representatives, past and present, of the Roman Catholic church, equates through its iconography the triumph of the church and the triumph of truth. 

Pope Julius II invite Raphael
Franz and Christian von Hausen Riepe (Riepenhausen)
Pope Julius II invite Raphael
Engraving, 1816

Raphael and Madonna with child
Franz and Christian von Hausen Riepe (Riepenhausen)
Raphael and Madonna with child
(from the right Evangelist Luke with the bull)
Engraving, 1816


The School of Athens is a complex allegory of secular knowledge, or philosophy, showing Plato and Aristotle surrounded by philosophers, past and present, in a splendid architectural setting; it illustrates the historical continuity of Platonic thought. The School of Athens is perhaps the most famous of all Raphael's frescoes, and one of the culminating artworks of the High Renaissance. Here Raphael fills an ordered and stable space with figures in a rich variety of poses and gestures, which he controls in order to make one group of figures lead to the next in an interweaving and interlocking pattern, bringing the eye to the central figures of Plato and Aristotle at the converging point of the perspectival space. The space in which the philosophers congregate is defined by the pilasters and barrel vaults of a great basilica that is based on Bramante's design for the new St Peter's in Rome. The general effect of the fresco is one of majestic calm, clarity, and equilibrium.

About the same time, probably in 1511, Raphael painted a more secular subject, the Triumph of Galatea in the Villa Farnesina in Rome; this work was perhaps the High Renaissance's most successful evocation of the living spirit of classical antiquity. Meanwhile, Raphael's decoration of the papal apartments continued after the death of Julius in 1513 and into the succeeding pontificate of Leo X until 1517. In contrast to the generalized allegories in the Stanza della Segnatura, the decorations in the second room, the Stanza d'Eliodoro, portray specific miraculous events in the history of the Christian church. The four principal subjects are The Expulsion of Heliodorus from the Temple, The Miracle at Bolsena, The Liberation of St Peter, and Leo I Halting Attila. These frescoes are deeper and richer in colour than are those in the earlier room, and they display a new boldness on Raphael's part in both their dramatic subjects and their unusual effects of light. The Liberation of St Peter, for example, is a night scene and contains three separate lighting effects - moonlight, the torch carried by a soldier, and the supernatural light emanating from an angel. Raphael delegated his assistants to decorate the third room, the Stanze dell'Incendio, with the exception of one fresco, the Fire in the Borgo, in which his pursuit of more dramatic pictorial incidents and his continuing study of the male nude are plainly apparent.

Raphael Adjusting his Model's Pose
Fragonard, Alexandre Evariste (1780-1850)
Raphael Adjusting his Model's Pose for his Painting of the Virgin and Child
(oil on canvas)

The Madonnas that Raphael painted in Rome show him turning away from the serenity and gentleness of his earlier works in order to emphasize qualities of energetic movement and grandeur.

His Alba Madonna (1508; National Gallery, Washington) epitomizes the serene sweetness of the Florentine Madonnas but shows a new maturity of emotional expression and supreme technical sophistication in the poses of the figures. It was followed by the Madonna di Foligno (1510; Vatican Museum) and the Sistine Madonna (1513; Gemaldegalerie, Dresden), which show both the richness of colour and new boldness in compositional invention typical of Raphael's Roman period.

Some of his other late Madonnas, such as the Madonna of Francis I (Louvre), are remarkable for their polished elegance. Besides his other accomplishments, Raphael became the most important portraitist in Rome during the first two decades of the 16th century. He introduced new types of presentation and new psychological situations for his sitters, as seen in the portrait of Leo X with Two Cardinals (1517-19; Uffizi, Florence). Raphael's finest work in the genre is perhaps the Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione (1516; Louvre), a brilliant and arresting character study.

Leo X commissioned Raphael to design 10 large tapestries to hang on the walls of the Sistine Chapel. Seven of the ten cartoons (full-size preparatory drawings) were completed by 1516, and the tapestries woven after them were hung in place in the chapel by 1519. The tapestries themselves are still in the Vatican, while seven of Raphael's original cartoons are in the British royal collection and are on view at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. These cartoons represent Christ's Charge to Peter, The Miraculous Draught of Fishes, The Death of Ananias, The Healing of the Lame Man, The Blinding of Elymas, The Sacrifice at Lystra, and St Paul Preaching at Athens.

In these pictures Raphael created prototypes that would influence the European tradition of narrative history painting for centuries to come. The cartoons display Raphael's keen sense of drama, his use of gestures and facial expressions to portray emotion, and his incorporation of credible physical settings from both the natural world and that of ancient Roman architecture.


While he was at work in the Stanza della Segnatura, Raphael also did his first architectural work, designing the church of Sant' Eligio degli Orefici. In 1513 the banker Agostino Chigi, whose Villa Farnesina Raphael had already decorated, commissioned him to design and decorate his funerary chapel in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo. In 1514 Leo X chose him to work on the basilica of St Peter's alongside Bramante; and when Bramante died later that year, Raphael assumed the direction of the work, transforming the plans of the church from a Greek, or radial, to a Latin, or longitudinal, design.

Raphael was also a keen student of archaeology and of ancient Greco-Roman sculpture, echoes of which are apparent in his paintings of the human figure during the Roman period. In 1515 Leo X put him in charge of the supervision of the preservation of marbles bearing valuable Latin inscriptions; two years later he was appointed commissioner of antiquities for the city, and he drew up an archaeological map of Rome. Raphael had by this time been put in charge of virtually all of the papacy's various artistic projects in Rome, involving architecture, paintings and decoration, and the preservation of antiquities.

Raphael's last masterpiece is the Transfiguration (commissioned in 1517), an enormous altarpiece that was unfinished at his death and completed by his assistant Giulio Romano. It now hangs in the Vatican Museum. The Transfiguration is a complex work that combines extreme formal polish and elegance of execution with an atmosphere of tension and violence communicated by the agitated gestures of closely crowded groups of figures. It shows a new sensibility that is like the prevision of a new world, turbulent and dynamic; in its feeling and composition it inaugurated the Mannerist movement and tends toward an expression that may even be called Baroque.

Raphael died on his 37th birthday. His funeral mass was celebrated at the Vatican, his Transfiguration was placed at the head of the bier, and his body was buried in the Pantheon in Rome.
Artinvest2000, International Arts Portal

Engraving, drawn by Joachim von Sandrart
(1606–1688), engraved by Philipp Kilian.
From: Joachim von Sandrart, Teutsche Academie, Nuremberg
1675–1679. Later colouring.
Berlin, Sammlung Archiv für Kunst und Geschichte.
Raphael's death
Franz and Christian von Hausen Riepe (Riepenhausen)
Raphael's death
Engraving, 1816

Raphael's death and Funeral

According to Vasari, Raphael's premature death on Good Friday (April 6, 1520), which was possibly his 37th birthday, was caused by a night of excessive sex with Luti, after which he fell into a fever and, not telling his doctors that this was its cause, was given the wrong cure, which killed him. Vasari also says that Raphael had also been born on a Good Friday, which in 1483 fell on March 28.

Whatever the cause, in his acute illness, which lasted fifteen days, Raphael was composed enough to receive the last rites, and to put his affairs in order. He dictated his will, in which he left sufficient funds for his mistress's care, entrusted to his loyal servant Baviera, and left most of his studio contents to Giulio Romano and Penni. At his request, Raphael was buried in the Pantheon.

His funeral was extremely grand, attended by large crowds. The inscription in his marble sarcophagus, an elegiac distich written by Pietro Bembo (1470-1547),
a Venetian writer associated with the Court of Urbino
who later became a cardinal, reads:
"Ille hic est Raffael, timuit quo sospite vinci,
rerum magna parens et moriente mori",

"Here lies that famous Raphael by whom Nature feared to be conquered while he lived, and when he was dying,
feared herself to die.

Mystery of death of Raphael
See also:

The "Transfiguration" was placed by Raphael's head as his body lay in state. According to Vasari, "the sight of that living picture in contrast with the dead body aused the hearts of all who beheld it to burst with sorrow." Raphael was "highly praised and publicly mourned.” In the procession from the artist’s studio to the Pantheon, one eyewitness reported that the artist’s coffin was accompanied by one hundred painters, all bearing torches.

Vasari wrote:
"When this noble craftsman died, "the art of painting might well have died with him;
for when Raphael closed his eyes, painting was left as if blind.”


Where is Raphael buried?

In his will, Raphael expressed his wish to be buried in the Pantheon, one of his favorite classical buildings, and left 1,500 ducats for its interior restoration. He requested that his tomb be placed beneath an altar and below a statue of the Virgin Mary.
This symbolized the merging of classical and Christian cultures, both revered by the artist. Lorenzo Lotti, one of Raphael’s assistants, modeled the Virgin after an ancient Roman statue of Venus that the artist had admired.

Ippolito Caffi Belluno
Pantheon (detailed)
c. 1840
Raphael and Maria Bibbiena's tomb
Raphael and Maria Bibbiena's tomb in the Pantheon
The Madonna is by Lorenzetto.

Bronze bust of Raphael on top of the artist's tomb
at the Pantheon in Rome

by Giuseppe de Fabris, 1833

Raphael's sarcophagus
Raphael's sarcophagus

The inscription in his marble sarcophagus, an elegiac distich written by Pietro Bembo, reads:
"Ille hic est Raffael, timuit quo sospite vinci, rerum magna parens et moriente mori", meaning:
"Here lies that famous Raphael by whom Nature feared to be conquered while he lived, and when he was dying, feared herself to die."

The opening of Raphael's grave
Francesco Diofebi. Born: 1781, Died: 1851
The opening of Raphael's grave in Pantheon 1833

Oil on canvas. 54,9 x 70,0 cm, 1836
Thorvaldsens Museum, Copenhagen

  The Renaissance artist Raphael was a cult figure in the 19th century, and some uncertainty as to where the famous painter was really buried led to the opening of his assumed tomb in the Pantheon on 14 September 1833. 75 distinguished figures had been invited. There were representatives of art, the Church, the City of Rome and, most important of all, medicine, who acted as judges. Thorvaldsen was naturally among the artists, the figure with the white hair behind the seated papal representative, Cardinal Vicario Zurla. As emerges from the painting, the tomb turned out to contain a skeleton, and it was determined by those present that these really were Raphael’s earthly remains.
From: Thorvaldsensmuseum
Raphael's Skeleton
Giambattista Borani
After drawing by Vincenzo Camuccini

Raphael's Skeleton at the Opening of his Tomb

c. 1833, Lithograph. 380 x 505 mm
  Raphael’s tomb in the church of Santa Maria della Rotonda (The Pantheon) in Rome was opened in September 1833 in order to see whether his skeleton was intact in its coffin. There was an old story to the effect that the skull of the Renaissance artist was not in the tomb. The skeleton was intact, and the artist Vincenzo Camuccini was given the sole right to portray the entire process of opening and closing the tomb. He did this in several drawings which were later made into lithographs by Giambattista Borani, so that they could be duplicated and sold in multiple copies. The present lithograph, showing the whole of Raphael Sanzio’s skeleton, is one of a series of four.  
Perpetuate the memory of Raphael

Fame crowning a bust of Raphael
Fame crowns a bust of Raphael in the presence of Nicolas Chaperon
1649. Etching

Monument to Raffaello Sanzio
Monument to Raffaello Sanzio

Marble Bust by Ernst Julius Hähnel,
Raphael as a child
Charles Rochet (French 1819-1900)
"Raphael Enfant" (Raphael as a child)
A Carrara marble sculpture signed and inscribed "Raphael Enfant" dated 1880

Raphael Sanzio

by Thomas Crawford, marble, 1855, High Museum

Raphael Sanzio
by Carlo Finelli, 1847

Sculpture by Ernst Julius Hähnel, c. 1852-69
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