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The solemn and silent season of Lent had passed away; and, on the second evening of the joyful Easter, a house was seen brightly illuminated in one of the streets of Urbino. It was evident that a festival was held there on some happy occasion. The sound of music was heard, and guest after guest entered the mansion. No one, however, was more cordially welcomed than Pietro Perugino, the fellow-student of Leonardo da Vinci, at the school of the good old Andrea Verocchio.
Leo X. at Raphael's Bier.
With the approbation of Perugino and the consent of his parents, he repaired to Siena; here he was solicited to adorn the public library with fresco, and painted there with great success. But while he was busily engaged, his friend, Pinturrichio, one day entered. After looking at his friend's work very attentively, "Bravo!" he exclaimed, "thou hast done well, my Raphael--but I have just returned from Florence--oh, would that thou couldst behold the works of Leonardo da Vinci! Such horses! they paw the ground and shake the foam from their manes. Oh, my poor Raphael! thou hast never seen nature; thou art wasting time on these cartoons. Perugino is a good man and a good painter, I will not deny that--but Leonardo's horses!"
Raphael threw aside his pencil and hastily rose.
"Where now?" asked his friend; "whither art thou going so hastily?"
"To Florence," exclaimed Raphael.
"And what carries you so suddenly?"
"The horses of Leonardo," replied the young artist, sportively; "seriously, however, the desire of excellence implanted in my soul."
When he arrived at Florence he was charmed with the appearance of the city; but his whole mind was absorbed in the works of Leonardo da Vinci and of Michael Angelo, the rival artists of the age. As his stay was to be short, he did not enter upon laborious occupation. His mornings were passed in the reveries of his art; his evenings in the gay and fascinating society of Florence, where the fame of Perugino's beloved pupil had already reached. The frescos at Siena were spoken of; and the beautiful countenance and graceful deportment of Raphael won him the friendship of distinguished men. Taddeo Taddei, the learned friend of Cardinal Bembo, solicited him to reside in his house; he consented, and in return for the courtesy painted for him two pictures, in what is called his first style, that of Perugino.
One evening he retired to his couch at a late hour. He had been the hero of a fete, and love and beauty had heedlessly scattered their flowers in the path of the living Adonis. In vain he sought a few hours of slumber. He had quaffed the juice of the grape, emptying goblet after goblet, till his beating pulse and throbbing temples refused to be quieted. He started from his couch and approached the lattice; the heavens had changed their aspect, the still serenity of the evening had passed away, and the clouds were hurrying over the pale and watery moon. Nothing was heard but the low sighing of the wind, and now and then a sudden gust swept through the lattice, and threatened to extinguish the taper which was burning dimly on the table. A slight noise made him turn his eyes, and he perceived a note that the wind had displaced. He hastily took it up. It was Perugino's handwriting. He cut the silken cord that fastened it, and read:
"On me, my beloved Raffaello, devolves the task of informing you of the events which have taken place at Urbino. May this letter find you prepared for all the changes of life; a wise man will never suffer himself to be taken by surprise; this is true philosophy, and the only philosophy that can serve us! An epidemic has prevailed at Urbino, and has entered your paternal dwelling. Need I say more? Come to me, my son, at Perugia, for I am the only parent that remains to you. Pietro Perugino."
As he hastily arose, a crucifix which his mother had suspended to his neck at parting, fell from his bosom. Even the symbols of religion are sacred where the living principle has been early implanted in the heart. He pressed it to his lips: "Ah!" thought he, "what is the philosophy of Perugino, compared to the faith of which this is the emblem?" His thoughts went back to infancy and childhood, and his grief and remorse grew less intense. He dwelt on the deep and enduring love of his parents till he felt assured death could not extinguish it, and that he should see them again in a brighter sphere.
When morning came it found Raphael calm and composed; the lines of grief and thought were deeply marked on his youthful face; but the whirlwind and the storm had passed. He took leave of his friends, and hastened to Perugino, who received him with the fondness of a parent.
Here he remained some time, and at length collected sufficient resolution to return to Urbino, and once more enter the mansion of his desolated home.
It was necessary for him to reside at his native place for a number of months. During that time he painted several fine pictures. His heart, however, yearned for Florence, and he returned to it once more with the determination of making it his home. With far different sensations did he a second time enter the city of beauty. The freshness of his gayety was blighted; lessons of earthly disappointment were ever present to his mind, and he returned to it with the resolute purpose of devoting himself to serious occupation.
How well he fulfilled this resolution all Italy can bear witness. From this time he adopted what has been called his second manner. He painted for the Duke of Urbino the beautiful picture of the Saviour at sunrise, with the morning light cast over a face resplendent with divinity; the flowers glittering with dew, the two disciples beyond, still buried in slumber, at the time when the Saviour turns his eyes upon them with that tender and sorrowful exclamation, "Could ye not watch one hour?"
Raphael enriched the city of Florence with his works. When asked what had suggested some of the beautiful combinations of his paintings, he said, "They came to me in my sleep." At other times he called them "visions;" and then again said they were the result of "una certa idea che mi viene alla mente." It was this power of drawing from the deep wells of his own mind that gave such character, originality, and freshness to his works. He found that power within which so many seek, and seek in vain, without.
At the age of twenty-five Raphael was summoned by the pope to paint the chambers of the Vatican. The famous frescos of the Vatican need neither enumeration nor description; the world is their judge and their eulogist.
No artist ever consecrated his works more by his affections than Raphael. The same hallowed influence of the heart gave inexpressible charm to Correggio's, afterward. One of Raphael's friends said to him, in looking upon particular figures in his groups, "You have transmitted to posterity your own likeness."
"See you nothing beyond that?" replied the artist.
"I see," said the critic, "the deep-blue eye, and the long, fair hair parted on the forehead."
"Observe," said Raphael, "the feminine softness of expression, the beautiful harmony of thought and feeling. When I take my pencil for high and noble purposes, the spirit of my mother hovers over me. It is her countenance, not my own, of which you trace the resemblance."
This expression is always observable in his Madonnas. His portraits of the Fornarina are widely different. Raphael, in his last and most excellent style, united what was graceful and exquisite in Leonardo with the sublime and noble manner of Michael Angelo. It is the privilege and glory of genius to appropriate to itself whatever is noble and true. The region of thought is thus made a common ground for all, and one master mind becomes a reservoir for the present and future times.
When Raphael was invited to Rome by Pope Julius II., Michael Angelo was at the height of his glory; his character tended to inspire awe rather than affection; he delighted in the majestic and the terrible. In boldness of conception and grandeur of design, he surpassed Leonardo, but never could reach the sweetness and gentleness of his figures. Even his children lose something of their infantine beauty, and look mature; his women are commanding and lofty; his men of gigantic proportions. His painting, like his sculpture, is remarkable for anatomical exactness, and perfect expression of the muscles. For this union of magnificence and sublimity, it was necessary to prepare the mind; the first view was almost harsh, and it was by degrees that his mighty works produced their designed effect. Raphael, while he felt all the greatness of the Florentine, conceived that there might be something more like nature--something that should be harmonious, sweet, and flowing--that should convey the idea of intellectual rather than of external majesty. Without yielding any of the correctness of science, he avoided harshness, and imitated antiquity in uniting grace and elegance with a strict observation of science and of the rules of art.
It was with surprise that Michael Angelo beheld in the youthful Raphael a rival artist; nor did he receive this truth meekly; he treated him with coldness and distance. In the meantime Raphael went on with his works; he completed the frescos of the Vatican, and designed the cartoons. He also produced those exquisite paintings in oil which seem the perfection of human art.
Human affection is necessary to awaken the sympathy of human beings; and Raphael, in learning how to portray it, had found the way to the heart. In mere grandeur of invention he was surpassed by Michael Angelo. Titian excelled him in coloring, and Correggio in the beautiful gradation of tone; but Raphael knew how to paint the soul; in this he stood alone. This was the great secret of a power which seemed to operate like magic. In his paintings there is something which makes music on the chords of every heart; for they are the expression of a mind attuned to nature, and find answering sympathies in the universal soul.
While Michael Angelo was exalted with the Epic grandeur of his own Dante, Raphael presented the most finished scenes of dramatic life, and might be compared to the immortal Shakespeare--scenes of spiritual beauty, of devotion, and of pastoral simplicity, yet uniting a classic elegance which the poet does not possess. Buonarroti was the wonder of Italy, and Raphael became its idol.
Julius was so much enchanted with his paintings in the halls of the Vatican, that he ordered the frescos of former artists to be destroyed. Among them were some of Perugino's, but Raphael would not suffer these to be removed for his own; he viewed them as the relics of a beloved and honored friend, and they were consecrated by tender and grateful feelings.
Raphael collected from every part of the world medallions of intaglios and antiques to assist him in his designs. He loved splendor and conviviality, and gave offence thereby to the rigid and austere. It was said that he had a prospect of changing the graceful beretta for a cardinal's hat; but this idea might have arisen from the delay which existed in his marriage with Cardinal Bibiano's niece, whose hand her uncle had offered to him. Peremptorily to reject this proposal of the cardinal without giving offence would have been impossible, and Raphael was too gentle in his own feelings voluntarily to injure another's; but he was not one to sacrifice his affections to ambition.
Whatever were the struggles of his heart, they were early terminated. Amid the caresses of the great, the fond and devoted friendship of his equals, the enthusiastic love of his pupils, the adulation of his inferiors, while crowned with wealth, fame, and honor, and regarded as the equal of the hitherto greatest artist in the world, he was suddenly called away. He died on Good Friday, the day of his birth, at the age of thirty-seven, 1520.
We are sometimes impressed with veneration when those who have even drunk the cup of life almost to its dregs resign it with resignation and Christian faith. But Raphael calmly and firmly resigned it when it was full to the brim.
Leo X. and Cardinal Bibiano were by his bedside. The sublime picture of the "Transfiguration," the last and greatest which he painted, was placed opposite to him, by his own desire. How impressive must have been the scene! His dying eye turned from the crucifix he held in his hand to the glory of the beatified Saviour.
His contemporaries speak of him as affectionate, disinterested, modest, and sincere; encouraging humble merit, and freely giving his advice and assistance where it was needed and deserved.
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