5 Most Famous Paintings by Raphael
Raphael, born Raffaello Sanzio de Urbino, was a High Renaissance artist whose artworks are seen by many as the epitome of artistic ingenuity of the Renaissance era. Raphael’s paintings are most known for blending elegance and style in such an amazing manner that it brings the subjects to life, so to speak.
Raphael Sanzio was a prolific artist, considering the fact that he died in his late 30s. As a result of the immense impact he had in the world of art, he is often placed in the trinity of great masters of the Italian High Renaissance. The other two great masters were the geniuses Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.
Incorporating styles and techniques from those two great artists, Raphael was able to produce famous masterpiece after masterpiece, including the Resurrection of Christ, The School of Athens and many others.
Greatest Paintings by Raphael
Worldhistoryedu.com presents the 5 most famous paintings by Raphael, a genius who had a graceful way of showing emotions in spectacular detail.
The School of Athens (1511)
The School of Athens is arguably the most famous painting by Raphael. In the art world, it ranks up there, alongside masterpieces such as the Last Judgement (by Michelangelo) and The Last Supper (by Leonardo da Vinci), as one of the most famous paintings of all time. This painting, which was painted between 1508 and 1511, constitutes one of four frescoes that Raphael painted in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican.
Found on what is now called the walls of the Stanze di Raffaello, the painting depicts some of the most famous people from ancient Greek era, including Plato, Aristotle and Pythagoras. Raphael purposely chose the best ancient Greek philosophers, astronomers, ethicists, thinkers and mathematicians of that era in order to communicate the intellectual feats of his era.
Even though the subjects in The School of Athens lived in different times of the Classical period of ancient Greece, Raphael tries to depict them sharing their thoughts and interacting with each other in the same room. For example, by placing Plato and Aristotle in the center of the painting, Raphael pays enormous homage to the two great philosophers, as well as the tremendous impact they had on Western civilization and philosophy. Being a very a religious man himself, Raphael’s The School of Athens also takes cognizance of the influence those ancient Greek thinkers had on Western religion, Christianity in particular.
Did you know: Raphael’s The School of Athens was just one the numerous spectacular frescoes he painted on the walls of the upper floor of Apostolic Palace in the Vatican?
Disputation of the Holy Sacrament (1510)
Raphael finished the Disputation of the Holy Sacrament, also known as the Disputa, in 1510. Began around 1508, this painting was Raphael’s first major part of the frescoes used to decorate the Stanze della Segnatura (now commonly called the Stanza di Raffaello) for the Vatican. The painting was very important since it sort of launched the painter in what would be a mind blowing career in the art world.
The Vatican commissioned Raphael to produce a series of paintings for the Stanza della Segnatura of Pope Julius II. The Disputation of the Holy Sacrament forms part of four frescoes painted in the pope’s rooms, where the pope met important dignitaries and signed documents, hence its name “Room of the Signatura”. As such Raphael went for themes of theology, philosophy, poetry and law to support what the private rooms were all about.
Did you know: Those frescoes on the Stanze di Raffaello are sometimes called tondi which translates to “paintings that occupy a rounded area”?
In order to pull of such a beautiful masterpiece, Raphael used the space available brilliantly. The painting depicts the church in relation to earthly and heavenly beings. The subjects in the paintings are divided into two realms, with Christ appearing almost in the center. Christ is surrounded by an aureole and sitting on his throne. Behind Christ is God the Father while the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist are seated on both sides of Christ. In the background of Christ are a number of important saints of the church, apostles and martyrs, including St Peter, St Stephen, Moses and St James. Just beneath Christ’s feet appears to be the Holy Spirit and the books of the four Gospels.
The earth realm, which appears at the base of the painting, shows the images of people having a very animated discussion about truths in theology, particularly the Eucharist. Some of the characters are peering through books as if in search for the divine truth. This theme of critical examination and constructive debate run in parallel with what classical Greek philosophers like Plato and Socrates advocated.
Raphael purposely painted the Disputa opposite The School of Athens, which is an allegory for philosophy (science). The latter fresco depicts science in an enclosed building, a symbolism of how Raphael believed science was. However, the Disputa is shown without any enclosure to show how boundless theology can be.
Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione (1515)
Completed in the year 1515, the Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione is an oil painting that depicts one of Raphael’s closest friends, Baldassare Castiglione (1478 – 1529). The portrait was so famous that it became the standard for self-portraits, as the style and technique was used by artists such as Rembrandt, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingress, Titian and Matisse.
Who was Baldassare Castiglione? Baldassare was an Italian soldier, diplomat and a renowned author of the Renaissance era. Raphael honored the relationship between him and Baldassare with this magnificent portrait.
Did you know: One of Raphael’s pupils, Giulio Romano, designed a monument for Baldassare in 1529, the year Baldassare died?
The Transfiguration (1520)
Raphael’s painting, the Transfiguration, was painted between 1516 and 1520. This painting is full of religious themes and is considered one of Raphael’s most famous paintings. It was also one of the last artworks that he worked on before passing away in 1520.
The Transfiguration, which measures 159 inches by 109 inches, was commissioned by Cardinal Giulio de Medici (later Pope Clement VII) for Narbonne Cathedral in France. Although Raphael preferred making his masterpieces on canvases, he opted to paint the Transfiguration on wood.
The Transfiguration shows Christ levitating or elevated in illuminated clouds and flanked by two Old Testament prophets Elijah and Moses. Also in the background are three Apostles: James, John and Peter. To the left of those Apostles are saints Justus and Pastoi. It must be noted that those two saints have their feast day on August 6, the day of the Transfiguration. However, there have been some claims that the saints in the painting are Saint Agapitus and Saint Felicissimus, both of whom were martyred.
In the lower part of the painting, Apostles gather around an ill-looking boy as they await the return of Christ. The boy, who many think is possessed by a demon, ultimately gets healed upon Christ’s arrival. The Transfiguration therefore carries the theme of Christ’s power over spiritual things.
There have been some historians that have stated that Raphael could not finish the Transfiguration before he died. Many claim that the completion of the painting fell to Raphael’s student Giulio Romano.
Did you know: The Transfiguration portrait was seized and held in France between 1797 and 1815, when it was returned to Italy following the demise of Napoleon? Today, the painting is kept in the Vatican Museum.
Sistine Madonna (1514)
Another very famous painting by Raffaello Sanzio de Urbino is the Sistine Madonna. This painting shows the Madonna carrying the Christ Child in her bosom in a very warm manner. The facial expression on both the Madonna and the Christ Child is completely amazing. On both sides of the Madonna can be seen two very important saints – Saint Sixtus and Saint Barbara.
And just at the base of the painting is an image of two winged cherubs – an image that is without doubt the most famous cherubs in the modern era, as they have been reproduced on things from clothes, playing cards, postcards to gift wrappers.
There exist many misty cherub figures in the background of the painting. It has been stated that Raphael took inspiration from the children that lived around him to paint those cherub figures.
There are a number of stories surrounding how Raphael produced this beautiful masterpiece of his. Some stories claim that Raphael was inspired by the Divine to paint the masterpiece; while other popular legend states that the Sistine Madonna makes those who gaze upon it have immense and out of this world religious ecstasy.
Painted in 1514, the Sistine Madonna is considered one of the last paintings made by Raphael, having died at the age of thirty-seven in 1520. This painting, similar to numerous other paintings of Raphael, was commissioned by Pope Julius II in 1512. Measuring at 265 cm by 196 cm, the Sistine Madonna was to serve as an altarpiece for the San Sisto Piacenza church in Piacenza, Italy. Having stayed in the church for more than four decades, the Sistine Madonna was sold to King Augustus III of Poland (1696 – 1763) in 1754 for about 110,000 francs.
During World War II, the Sistine Madonna was saved in the nick of time least it would have been destroyed during the bombing of Dresden. Moscow then became the paintings new home. However, following the death of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, the painting made its way back to Germany, where it remains to this day as one of the most famous paintings in at the Gemaldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden.
Did you know: Raphael’s Sistine Madonna is just one of the many paintings in Raphael’s Madonna series? Other famous paintings in Raphael’s Madonna series include Madonna of Baldacchino, Madonna and Child Enthrone with Saints, Madonna del Cardellino, Madonna of Loreto, etc.
Other famous masterpieces by Raffaello Sanzio de Urbino
Christ Falling on the Way to Calvary (1514-1516)
Portrait of Pope Julius II (c. 1511)
The Deposition (1507)
Raphael’s Self-Portrait (c. 1503)
The Triumph of Galatea (1514)
Raffaello Sanzio de Urbino: Fast facts
Full name: Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino
Birthday: March 28 or April 6, 1843
Place of birth: Urbino, Duchy of Urbino
Died: April 6, 1520
Place of Death: Rome, Papal States
Cause of death: Natural illness
Burial place: The Pantheon, Rome
Parents: Giovanni Santi and Magia di Giovanbattista Ciarla
Education and training: Primarily at Perugino’s workshop
Inspired by: Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci
Art style: High Renaissance
Movement: High Renaissance
Most notable works: Sistine Madonna, Transfiguration, Raphael Rooms, The School of Athens