Raphael, Kind of Like an Old Boyfriend

I’ve been doing a blog course (thanks Kerry Clare of Pickle Me This!) to help me think about and refine what I want to write on this blog/website. For Kerry’s third module, the assignment was to: “Take the Reader by the Hand and Show them What You Love.” So this post is why my yearlong focus on Raphael.

This is an excuse to post
a picture of Colin Firth.

I love Raphael because in some ways he is like a first boyfriend. He is the subject of my first book, The Sidewalk Artist, coauthored with Janice Kirk. The year was 2002, and I sat down to write my first book. I wanted to write a Bridget Jones-y travel novel and had a few pages composed. Janice and I were meeting somewhat regularly, having formed a somewhat writers group after meeting in a French class. And she built on the idea to the point where I said, “let’s write it together.” She agreed, and we were off to the races.

We decided that our protagonist, a young woman named Tulia, should meet a very interesting man on the first stop of her trip to Europe, and boom – the sidewalk artist was born. But what was he drawing on that Parisian pavement? Raphael’s angels popped out, and so our hero was decided.

Iconic image: These little angels look like they are up to no good.

Thus began my love affair with Raphael. In the course of researching the novel, I learned about his likable personality and what people in the early 1500s thought of him. I learned of his sad childhood, orphaned as a boy and sent off to apprentice as a painter due to his prodigious skill. And I learned of his love life, with all its discrepancies and unknowns, allowing us to fill in the gaps. Why did he never marry the cardinal’s daughter? Did he really love the baker’s daughter, or was that all Vasari-driven rumour? That was rich fodder for a novel, and as we wrote it, we truly felt like we were telling the reality of what happened to Raphael, that we were channeling him to share his actual story with the world, and that he would surely be quite appreciative of our efforts.

The cover that made me cry.

When the publisher sent me the first copy of The Sidewalk Artist in 2006, I actually cried as I touched the cover. And thus Raphael became like my first boyfriend, someone I thought of fondly from time to time over the years, holding a special place in my heart although I had long moved on. I had a brief fling with him again as we wrote The Wolves of St. Peter’s, but he was not the main arc of the story, more like bumping into an old flame and having an impromptu coffee together to reminisce about old times.

However, as I recently embarked on a solo writing career and launched this blog/website in the spring, Raphael resurfaced. It occurred to me that the 500th anniversary of Raphael was in just one year’s time, April 2020. So much fuss has been made over Leonardo for his 500th this past May. Less than a year out, it seemed like not much was planned for my man Raphael, and so I felt it my duty – and my pleasure – to remedy the problem.

The man himself.

And so, my romance with Raphael has been rekindled. I am compelled to research him again and share my thoughts with the universe (hello?). I learn new things all the time as I research my blog posts, about his life and his art. I have developed a renewed appreciation of just how beautiful and important his works are, how perfect and lovely and inspiring. And so I say buongiornio again to Raphael, even if just for a fleeting moment, until it is time to bid him a final arrivederci.

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Neither a sign nor a plaque, but how could I not post this gorgeous sidewalk Renaissance masterpiece that I recently spotted outside the ROM in Toronto?

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