Raphael Sanzio

 If there ever was an opposite to Michelangelo during the High Renaissance, it was Raphael. The fact that they were antagonists was clearly seen by their contemporaries. At the time, they both enjoyed equal fame, although Michelangelo is definitely better know today (with the possible exception of those in their late teens or early twenties who watched some cartoon about ill-behaved turtles with similar names). Anyway, Raphael combines the best of Leonardo's gentle modulation and the sculptural power of Michelangelo's figures to create works that are rich, beautiful and striking. It is Raphael's style that most art historians point to in order to define the High Renaissance. In his masterpiece, The School of Athens (c. 1510-11), above, Raphael pulls out all the stops to create the perfect Renaissance work. As in Leonardo's Last Supper, the cast of characters line up with Plato and Aristotle in the middle, while the Classical architecture acts as a backdrop, pulling the viewer into the work by means of 1 point perspective. Borrowing from Michelangelo, the figures are highly sculptural, twisting and turning with high movement. The theme looks back to the Classical era.........Greek philosophers, poets, mathematicians congregating in platonic dialogue........but in a way, the scene really isn't Greek at all: The space is actually a preview of the new St. Peter's (Bramante and Raphael were buds, you know) and the figures are not at all classicised. This fresco, which stands in the Stanza della Segnatura in the Vatican, is the epitome of Renaissance humanism.........looking back to Classical achievements while celebrating the rebirth of human know-how and ability.
 The painting to the right, Galatea (c.1513), also looks back to antiquity, but the similarities stop there. Unlike the austere, academic School of Athens, Galatea looks to mythology with a light and playful pagan theme. The important thing about this work is the grouping of the figures. . . . . . . not the architecture or background. The movement, the twisting and turning of the figures is very High Renaissance (and very Michelangelo, only with out the angst). Notice the placement of the figures.....the cupids create a triangular composition, while Galatea, the other nymphs, a cherub on the bottom and the reins of the dolphins create a circular movement and rhythm.  

 Raphael uses a different emphasis with the two paintings below, Madonna with a Goldfinch, below left, and the portrait of Pope Leo X, below and to the right. The Madonna shows us all the gentle tenderness of a Leonardo and the sculptural presence of a Michelangelo. (Notice the triangular composition.) The portrait of Pope Leo X, on the other hand, is a stark, in-your-face kind of presentation which is not at all idealized. What we see here is a powerful leader as the subject of a painting. Whoa......that's important!!! What could be more Renaissance than the glorification of a living individual rather than a Madonna, Christ or God himself? Very humanistic, don't you think? (For more Raphael madonnas, click on the image below and to the left.)

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