Raphael Research Paper

Before artists began working on a panel or canvas they usually explored ideas on paper. The preparatory sketches for Raphael’s painting of Saint Catherine provide a useful insight into this creative process.

Two sheets of drawings (currently at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford) contain a number of preparatory studies for the painting. A rapid sketch reveals that Raphael initially considered the subject for a full-length composition.

The full-length composition
Raphael, 'Study for Saint Catherine', about 1507
The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Presented by a Body of Subscribers, 1846
© Copyright in this Photograph Reserved to the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Exploring the three-quarter length compostion
Raphael, 'Four studies for Saint Catherine', about 1507
The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Presented by a Body of Subscribers, 1846
© Copyright in this Photograph Reserved to the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

In another drawing he explores his final composition, a three-quarter length portrait.

On the other side of the sheet of paper the head of Saint Catherine is studied in more detail.

Raphael, 'Head of Saint Catherine and sketches of cupids', about 1507-8
The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Presented by Body of Subscribers, 1846
© Copyright in this Photograph Reserved to the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford 

Using cartoons

Often, Raphael relied not only on preparatory drawings but also on a cartoon. A cartoon is a full-size drawing made for transferring the composition to the painting support by pouncing or tracing.

Pouncing involves pricking the outlines of a cartoon and dusting powdered charcoal or pigment through the holes on to the support. The resulting dots would then be joined up to complete the design. Tracing involves blackening a sheet of paper with charcoal or black chalk. This paper is laid between the prepared panel and the drawing. The artist then follows the outline of the drawing with a stylus, creating a copy of the drawing on the panel below.

The Saint Catherine cartoon

A pricked cartoon for Raphael’s 'Saint Catherine' is kept at the Musée du Louvre in Paris.

Raphael, 'Cartoon for 'Saint Catherine'', about 1507
Musée du Louvre, Paris. Département des Arts Graphiques
© RMN, Paris. Photo Michèle Bellot 

Raphael’s use of this cartoon to transfer his design has been confirmed by infrared examination of the painting, showing pounced dots under the paint along some of the outlines.

Raphael carefully followed most of the outlines of the cartoon in his painting. However, he changed the position of the head and the facial features. When he began to paint, he also omitted the knot of drapery on the saint’s right shoulder. The knot was faintly drawn in the cartoon and pricked for transfer. It is present in the underdrawing on the panel.

Detail from infrared reflectogram showing the head of Saint Catherine 

The faintly drawn knot of drapery, ommited in the final painting, shows up in the infrared reflectogram

During a time when Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci were the prime artists in Europe, a young man by the name of Raffaello Sanzio was starting to attract major attention with his artworks.

The Italian high Renaissance was marked by paintings expressing human grandeur and very humanistic values. No one better portrayed the Italian high Renaissance then Raphael Sanzio, with his painting s clarity and ease of composition, Raphael was easily one of the greatest painters of this period.

Born in an artistically influenced town in Italy called Urbino, Raffaello Sanzio was first taught by his father, Giovanni Santi, how to compose works of art at a very early age. At the age of fourteen, Raphael s father realized his son s potential and sent him to a very talented teacher by the name of Pietro Perugino. Pietro Perugino lived from 1478 to 1520, and had a strong influence on Raphael s early artworks. Perugino was a Umbrian painter who loved to incorporate beautiful landscapes into

his paintings. Raphael s early works resembled Perugino s so much that paintings such as the Crucifixion with the Virgin, Saint John, Saint Jerome, and Saint Mary Magdalene were thought to be Raphael s until the church of San Gimingniano proved that they were in fact Perugino s. "Raphael was only 14. It is undoubtedly a Perugino calmly emotional, and pious rather than passionate. Unlike the other great painters of this time, such as Michelangelo and Da Vinci, Raphael was born with a great understanding of art and required little instruction if any. Because of Raphael s great understanding of the arts, he quickly surpassed his teacher and ventured out on his own to the great city of Florence in 1504.

At the same time Raphael arrived in Florence, the other great painters of time, Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci were the popular painters of the city. Because of the competitive environment of Florence, Raphael adopted many new painting techniques such as shading, anatomy, and frozen action.

Both Michelangelo and Da Vinci s styles influenced Raphael while he was in Florence. Raphael s energetic paintings with softness and balance such as the "Small Cauper Madonna", were influenced directly from Michelangelo. While Raphael was in Florence, Duke Guidobaldo employed him to paint a painting for King Henry VII of England. In the painting "Saint George and the Dragon", Raphael portrays Saint George as a brave warrior fighting against a dragon right outside it s lair. In contrast to the action of the painting, the background is peaceful and serene. In the story of Saint George, after the dragon is slain, the town all converts to Christianity, symbolizing the triumph of Christianity over all. Raphael stayed in Florence until he decided to go to Rome where he could branch out and away from his two competitors.

Once in Rome, Pope Julius II immediately commissioned Raphael because of his uncanny gift for painting sacred and secular paintings. Julius II had Raphael paint the rooms of the Vatican apartment, which brought life to the otherwise dull walls of the stanze.

When Raphael arrived at the Vatican palace, Michelangelo was busy painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Raphael started the stanze walls around 1508 and didn t finish until 1511. Raphael had painted the walls to celebrate the four aspects of human accomplishment: theology, philosophy, arts, and law. To represent theology, was the "Disputation of the Sacrament". To represent philosophy was the famous "School of Athens", in which Raphael paints Michelangelo and himself in amongst the philosophers. To represent the arts was "Parnassus" and finally to represent law was "Cardinal Virtues". When fused together, these four aspects marked the transition from the middle ages to modern times.

(Taylor, 59)

After he finished the frescos in the Vatican Palace, Raphael went on to fresco the Stanza d Eliodoro between the years 1511 and 1514. Again Raphael depicted four historical events that illustrated salvation by divine intervention with his unparalleled gift for painting Christian Paintings.

Throughout Raphael s artistic career, he went back to painting s portraying the Madonna and child many times. "The Alba Madonna", was one of Raphael s most famous Madonnas because it was so different from traditional Roman art. The Madonnas of this time were usually shown sitting on a throne, but Raphael painted her in the middle of a field which I think added a realism without getting rid of her holy image. Raphael also painted the Alba Madonna in a classic symmetrical triangle, which was a popular painting technique of that time. Raphael s painted more then forty Madonnas before his death in 1520.

After suffering in bed for fifteen days, Raphael Sanzio died on his birthday at the young age of 37. Raphael seemed to blend harmony and balance perfectly into his paintings. Two of Raphael s most famous artworks, that I found to be the most astounding, seemed to symbolize his never ending quest to create the perfect masterpiece. In the painting "The School of Athens", Raphael immortalizes all of the great philosophers for all of time by capturing them in the height of the Italian Renaissance. Also in Raphael s "The Deliverance of Saint Peter from Prison", the angel of the Lord seems to strike fear into the hearts of the soldiers that are guarding Saint Peter s cell. Raphael captures the heavenly light from the divine being in such a way that one can almost see the action taking place.

If one analyzes Raphael s works, there are reasons for the harmony and realistic perspective. Raphael looked back to ancient Roman architecture when painting buildings, the subjects always came from antiquity, such as Plato and Socrates. The bodies of Raphael s figures were muscular and idealized and full of motion and gestures, further adding to the realism. In the short thirty-seven years of his life, Raphael summarized and epitomized the entire course of Italian humanism. Even though Raphael did not live as long as Leonardo or Michelangelo, he will always be ranked along with them as one of the greatest artists of all time.

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