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( Originally Published 1913 )
Turning to the life of Raphael after studying that of Angelo is like turning from the restless sea, chafing constantly upon the shore, tossed and fretted to and fro, ever moaning, never quiet, to the flow of a peaceful river that moves along through happy meadows, sunlit hills and tranquil woodlands. Possessed of rare beauty, popular throughout his life, attended by fortune and favor, Raphael's years sped along so pleasantly that those who believe true genius must inevitably be accompanied by heavy crosses and vain strivings, have been perplexed as to whether he was a genius at all. That he drew like an angel there was no disputing; that he probably produced the greatest painting which the world has ever seen many believe -but he did it all so easily that the vast majority, who find life frequently disappointing, have better understood the stern master of stone.
Raphael was born in 1483, near Florence. His father was an artist, and when a young lad, Raphael worked in his father's studio, grinding colors and cleaning brushes. His mother died when he was quite young and the father married again. Contrary to tradition, his step-mother proved his steadfast friend, caring for him and looking after his interests after her husband died. Raphael was sent to study the art that he dearly loved with Perugino. In 1505 he came to Florence, then the great art center of Italy. Angelo and da Vinci were already famous, and a score of lesser painters were making still more attractive the City of Lilies.
It would seem that Raphael was unusually fond of Madonna pictures, for he painted at least one hundred. The Madonna of the Goldfinch was one of the first to bring him fame. After he had done considerable work in Perugia, the Pope called him to Rome to decorate a suite of rooms in the Vatican. While Raphael was thus occupied, Angelo was painting his soul into the Sistine ceiling; but there was no friendship between the two artists. It is said that Angelo was jealous of his art and could not tolerate a rival. Stories remain of unfriendly words passing between these men. Angelo scorned Raphael's retinue of admiring students, who often attended him when he went abroad. "There you go, like an officer with his posse!" Angelo is credited with having said as he met Raphael in the street. "Yes, and you-like the executioner, alone," Raphael replied. And thus it was: the handsome young artist, surrounded by friends, making no enemies-unless Angelo be considered one --on the one hand; the other, with his face furrowed with care and anxiety, repelling many by his abrupt manner, solitary and alone.
Leo X. commissioned Raphael to draw cartoons for tapestries to be hung in the Sistine Chapel. They pictured ten acts of the Apostles and were sent to Flanders to be woven in silk, wool, and gold. Three years were consumed in making them. In the year 1520 they were hung in this beautiful chapel. However, in 1527 Rome was sacked and these tapestries were stolen. An attempt was made to extract the gold threads in them by burning the curtain. The experiment with one proved unsuccessful. From one to another they exchanged hands and were at last recovered, faded and shorn of their earlier beauty. Raphael's fame rests largely upon the two Madonnas by which he is generally known: the Madonna of the Chair and the Sistine Madonna. For years he sought in vain for a model that would personify his ideal of the mother and child. At last, late one afternoon, far in the country, he saw a woman with her two children, one in her arms, the other at her knee. Snatching the cover of a wine cask, he sketched the picture with a few lines, then hurried home to fill it out. The result was the famous Madonna of the Chair. This typifies tender motherhood, the human element being particularly emphasized.
The last painting finished by Raphael was his Sistine Madonna. It was painted for a banner, but was used as an altar piece. In this the spiritual element is predominant. As the curtains are drawn back, the Mother is seen advancing on the clouds, offering her Child to the world, quite conscious of the trials before him. It is said that the two little cherubs were not orginally in the picture, but were added by the artist after seeing two little boys leaning forward over the railing before his picture.