If Michelangelo exemplifies the solitary genius,
Raphael belongs just
as surely to the opposite type: the artist as a person of the world. The
contrast between the two was as clear to their contemporaries as it is
to us. Although each had his partisans, both enjoyed equal fame. Today
our sympathies are less evenly divided:
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.
(T. S. Eliot)
So do a lot of us, including the authors of historical novels and
fictionalized biographies, while Raphael
is usually discussed only
by historians of art. The younger master's career is too much a success
story, his work too filled with seemingly effortless grace, to match the
tragic heroism of Michelangelo. As an innovator, Raphael seems to
contribute less than Leonardo, Bramante, and Michelangelo, the three
artists whose achievements were basic to his. Yet he is the central
painter of the High Renaissance, for our conception of the entire style
rests more on his work than on any other artist's.
The genius of Raphael was a unique power of synthesis that enabled
him to merge the qualities of Leonardo and Michelangelo, creating an art
at once lyric and dramatic, pictorially rich and sculpturally solid.
This power is already present in the first works he made in Florence
after he completed his apprenticeship with
Perugino. The meditative calm of the Madonna del Granduca (fig.
reflects the style of his teacher (compare fig.
626), but the forms are
ampler and enveloped in Leonardesque sfumato. The Virgin, grave and
tender, makes us think of the Mona Lisa without engendering any
of her mystery.
Raphael. Madonna del Granduca.
Oil on panel,
Palazzo Pitti, Florence
665) is the Disputa, or Disputation
over the Sacrament, in which Christ sits enthroned between the
Virgin and St. John the Baptist, with God the Father behind Him, saints
and prophets to either side, and the Holy Spirit below. In the lunette
over the door to the left are represented The Three Legal Virtues;
beneath are The Granting of Civil Law (left) and The
Granting of Canon Law (right). The opposite doorway depicts
Parnassus, the sacred mountain of Apollo and the Muses.
THE SCHOOL OF ATHENS. Michelangelo's influence on Raphael
asserted itself somewhat later. Its full force can be felt only in
Raphael's Roman works. At the time Michelangelo began to paint the
Sistine Ceiling, Julius II summoned the younger artist from Florence and
commissioned him to decorate a series of rooms in the Vatican Palace.
The first room, the Stanza della Segnatura, may have housed the pope's
library, and Raphael's cycle of frescoes on its walls and ceiling refers
to the four domains of learning: theology, philosophy, law, and the
arts. To the right in our view (fig.
Of these frescoes, The School of Athens (fig.
666), facing the
Disputa, has long been acknowledged as Raphael's masterpiece and the
perfect embodiment of the classical spirit of the High Renaissance. Its
subject is "the Athenian school of thought," a group of famous Greek
philosophers gathered around Plato and Aristotle, each in a
characteristic pose or activity. Raphael must have already seen the
Sistine Ceiling, then nearing completion. He evidently owes to
Michelangelo the expressive energy, the physical power, and the dramatic
grouping of his figures. Yet Raphael has not simply borrowed
Michelangelo's repertory of gestures and poses. He has absorbed it into
his own style and thereby given it different meaning.
Body and spirit, action and emotion, are now balanced harmoniously,
and every member of this great assembly plays his role with magnificent,
purposeful clarity. The total conception of The School of Athens
suggests the spirit of Leonardo's Last Supper (fig.
635) rather than
the Sistine Ceiling. This holds true of the way Raphael makes each
philosopher reveal "the intention of his soul," distinguishes the
relations among individuals and groups, and links them in formal rhythm.
Also Leonardesque is the centralized, symmetrical design, and the
interdependence of the figures and their architectural setting. But
Raphael's edifice shares far more of the compositional burden than the
hall of The Last Supper. With its lofty dome, barrel vault, and
colossal statuary, it is classical in spirit without being at all Greek
in appearance. Inspired by Bramante, it seems like an advance view of
the new St. Peter's. Its geometric precision and spatial grandeur bring
to a climax the tradition begun by Masaccio (see fig.
590) and transmitted to
Raphael by his teacher Perugino.
665. Stanza della Segnatura, with
Raphael. Vatican Palace, Rome
Raphael. The School of
Fresco. Stanza della Segnatura, Vatican Palace, Rome
GALATEA. Raphael never again set so splendid an architectural
stage. To create pictorial space, he relied increasingly on the movement
of human figures, rather than perspective vistas. In the Galatea
667), the subject
is again classical: the beautiful nymph Galatea, vainly pursued by the
giant Polyphemus, belongs to Greek mythology. Here the cheerful and
sensuous aspect of antiquity is celebrated, in contrast to the austere
idealism of The School of Athens.
Its composition recalls The Birth of Venus (fig.
623), a picture
Raphael knew from his Florentine days. Yet their very resemblance
emphasizes their profound dissimilarity. Raphael's full-bodied, dynamic
figures take their expansive spiral movement from the vigorous
contrapposto of Galatea. In Botticelli's picture, the movement is not
generated by the figures but imposed on them from without, so that it
never detaches itself from the surface of the canvas.
PORTRAITS. Early in his career Raphael had already shown a
special talent for portraiture. It is another tribute to his genius for
synthesis that he combined the realism of fifteenth-century portraits
(such as fig. 625)
with the human ideal of the High Renaissance, which in
the Mona Lisa nearly overpowers the sitter's individuality.
Raphael did not flatter or conventionalize his subjects. Surely Pope Leo
X (fig. 668)
looks here no handsomer than he did in reality. His
sullen, heavy-jowled features have been recorded in concrete, almost
Flemish detail. Nevertheless, the pontiff has a commanding presence, his
aura of power and dignity emanating more from his inner being than from
his exalted office. Raphael, we feel, has not falsified the sitter's
personality but ennobled and focused it, as if he had been fortunate
enough to observe Leo X in his finest hour. The two cardinals, who lack
this balanced strength although they arc studied with equal care,
enhance by contrast the sovereign quality of the main figure. Even the
pictorial treatment shows a similar gradation: Leo X has been set off
from his companions, his reality heightened by intensified light, color,
Fresco, 3 x 2.2m.
Villa Famesina, Rome
Raphael. Pope Leo X
with Giulio de'
and Luigi de' Rossi,
Oil on panel,
154 x 119
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence
The distinction between Early and High Renaissance art, so marked in
Florence and Rome, is far less sharp in Venice.
the first Venetian
painter to belong to the new era, left the orbit of Giovanni Bellini
only during the final years of his short career.
THE TEMPEST. Among his few mature works, The Tempest (fig.
is both the most individual and the most
enigmatic. There have been many attempts to explain this peculiar image.
The most persuasive one is that the painting represents Adam and Eve
after the Fall. Their fate as decreed by God, whose awesome voice is
represented by the lightning bolt, is that man shall till the ground
from which he was taken, and that woman shall bring forth children in
sorrow. Adam, dressed in contemporary Venetian costume, is seen resting
from his labors, while Eve, whose draped nudity signifies shame and
carnal knowledge, suckles Cain, her first-born son. In the distance is a
bridge over the river surrounding the city of the earthly Paradise, from
which they have been expelled. Barely visible near the rock at river's
edge is a snake, signifying the Temptation.
The broken columns complete the tragic vision: they stand for death,
the ultimate punishment of Original Sin.
The Tempest was probably commissioned by the wealthy merchant
Gabriele Vendramin, one of Venice's greatest patrons of the arts, who
owned the picture when it was first recorded in
1530. It certainly reflects the predilection for
learned humanist allegories in Venetian painting, whose subjects are
often obscured, as here, by static poses and alien settings. The
iconography does not tell us the whole story of The Tempest,
however. It is the landscape, rather than Giorgione's figures, that
interprets the scene for us. Belonging themselves to nature, Adam and
Eve are passive victims of the thunderstorm seemingly about to engulf
them. The contrast to Bellini's St. Francis in Ecstasy (fig.
striking. Bellini's landscape is meant to be seen through the eyes of
the saint, as a piece of God's creation. Despite its biblical subject,
the mood in The Tempest is subtly, pervasively pagan. The scene
is like an enchanted idyll, a dream of pastoral beauty soon to be swept
away. Only poets had hitherto captured this air of nostalgic reverie.
Now, it entered the repertory of the painter. The Tempest
initiates what was to become an important new tradition.
669.Giorgione. The Tempest,
Oil on canvas,
Galleria del'Accademia, Venice
Giorgione died before he could explore in full the sensuous, lyrical
world he had created in The Tempest. This task was taken up by
(1488/90—1576), an artist of comparable gifts who
was decisively influenced by Giorgione and who dominated Venetian
painting for the next half-century.
BACCHANAL. Titian's Bacchanal of about
670) is frankly pagan,
inspired by an ancient author's description of such a revel. The
landscape, rich in contrasts of cool and warm tones, has all the poetry
of Giorgione, but the figures are of another breed. Active and muscular,
they move with a joyous freedom that recalls Raphael's Galatea (fig.
667). By this
time, many of Raphael's compositions had been engraved,
and from these reproductions Titian became
familiar with the Roman High Renaissance. A number of the celebrants in
his Bacchanal also reflect the influence of classical art.
Titian's approach to antiquity, however, is very different from
Raphael's. He visualizes the realm of classical myths as part of the
natural world, inhabited not by animated statues but by beings of flesh
and blood. The figures of the Bacchanal are idealized just enough
beyond everyday reality to persuade us that they belong to a long-lost
golden age. They invite us to share their blissful state in a way that
makes Raphael's Galatea seem cold and remote by comparison.
ñ. 1518. Oil on canvas,
THE PESARO MADONNA. This quality of festive animation
reappears in many of Titian's religious paintings, such as the
Madonna with Members of the Pesaro Family (fig.
671). Although we
recognize the composition as a variant of the sacra conversazione
(compare fig. 599),
Titian has thoroughly transformed it by replacing the
familiar frontal view with an oblique one. The Virgin is now enthroned
in a great barrel-vaulted hall open on either side, a High Renaissance
counterpart of the architectural setting in Bellini's Madonna and
Saints in S. Zaccaria (fig. 632).
Because the view is diagonal, open sky and clouds
now fill most of the background. Except for the kneeling donors, every
figure is in motion—turning,
the officer with the flag seems almost to lead a charge up the steps.
Yet the design remains harmoniously self-contained despite the strong
element of drama. Brilliant sunlight makes every color and texture
sparkle, in keeping with the joyous spirit of the altar. The only hint
of tragedy is the Cross of the Passion held by two angel-putti, hidden
by clouds from the participants in the sacra conversazione but not from
us, adding a note of poignancy to the scene.
Titian. Madonna with Members
of the Pesaro Family. 1526.
Oil on canvas, 4.9
m. Sta. Maria del Gloriosa dei Frari, Venice
PORTRAITS. After Raphael's death, Titian became the most
sought-after portraitist of the age. His prodigious gifts, evident in
the donors' portraits in the Pesaro Madonna, are even more
striking in the Man with the Glove (fig.
672). The dreamy intimacy
of this portrait, with its soft outline and deep shadows, still reflects
the style of Giorgione. Lost in thought, the young man seems quite
unaware of us. This slight melancholy in his features conjures up the
poetic appeal of The Tempest. The breadth and power of form,
however, go tar beyond Giorgione's. In Titian's hands, the possibilities
of oil technique—rich,
creamy highlights, deep dark tones that are transparent and delicately
modulated—now are fully
realized, and the separate brushstrokes, hardly visible before, become
increasingly free. We can see the rapid pace of his development by
turning from the Man with the Glove to the papal group portrait
Pope Paul III and His Grandsons (fig.
673), painted a
quarter-century later, whose formal composition is derived from
Raphael's Pope Leo X (fig. 668).
The quick, slashing strokes here endow the entire
canvas with the spontaneity of a first sketch (some parts of it are, in
fact, unfinished). In the freer technique Titian's uncanny grasp of
human character also comes out. The tiny figure of the pope, shriveled
with age, dominates his tall attendants with awesome authority.
Comparing these two portraits by Titian, we see that a change of
pictorial technique is not a surface phenomenon. It reflects a change of
the artist's aim.
Titian. Man with the
1520. Oil on canvas, 100.3 x
89 cm. Musee du Louvre, Paris
Titian. Pope Paul III
and His Grandsons.
1546. Oil on canvas,
1.7 m. Museo di Capodimonte, Naples
is even clearer in Christ Crowned with Thorns (fig.
masterpiece of Titian's old age. The shapes emerging from the
semidarkness now consist wholly of light and color. Despite the heavy
impasto, the shimmering surfaces have lost every trace of material
solidity and seem translucent, as if aglow from within. In consequence,
the violent physical action has been miraculously suspended. What
lingers in our minds is not the drama but the strange mood of serenity
engendered by deep religious feeling. The painting participates in a
widespread visionary tendency that was shared by other
late-sixteenth-century Venetian artists. We shall meet it again in the
work of Tintoretto and El Greco.
LATE WORKS. This correspondence of form and technique, which
we have already seen in the Dana'e
Titian. Christ Crowned
with Thorns, ñ 1570.
Oil on canvas, 2.8 x 1.8 m.