Raphael: A Visual Salve for Stressful Days

Well, the day is upon us. Monday April 6 is the 500th anniversary of Raphael’s death, which has been the focus of my blog since I started it almost a year ago. 

I had planned to write one final bangup of a post on it, going into all the salacious rumors of how he died at the age of 37, young for a man even by sixteenth-century standards (from a fever inspired by too much sex?) to the reality of his funeral and burial at the Pantheon in Rome (thousands attended this Renaissance celebrity event), culminating with all the reasons why Raphael’s paintings (beauty, grace, technical skill) continue to endure all these centuries later. 

Death of Raphael, engraving by John Sartain, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

But at this time of a global health crisis, I want to focus on life, particularly all the life Raphael showed in his art.

For instance, he portrayed the mischievousness and innocence of children in those famous little cherubs at the bottom of his Sistine Madonna.

He showed the pure love and deep bond between not only the Virgin Mary and Christ but also between any mother and her child in his many Madonna paintings. My favorite is the Madonna della Seggiola.

He captured intimacy and eroticism in La Fornarina, The Baker’s Daughter. Was she his great love? Sadly, we’ll never know for sure. (I explore the possibilities in my coauthored novel, The Sidewalk Artist.)

He displayed the physical manifestation of philosophy, wisdom, and scholarship in The School of Athens.

He expressed the beauty and strength of women in The Triumph of Galatea (personally my absolutely favorite Raphael).

He put forth the intelligence of men and true courtiers with his lost Portrait of a Young Man.

He exhibited the fragility of old age in his Portrait of Pope Julius II, a man who used to be known as the Warrior Pope, especially ironic.

And he gave us a glimpse into his own soul with his Self Portrait of 1506.

He created at least 42 paintings, made countless sketches and cartoons, and was a key part of the Italian Renaissance.

Whether you see them in person or, these days, on a screen (for instance, you can take a virtual tour of the Raphael Rooms in the Vatican or one of the blockbuster Scuderie show), looking at his artworks can prove a healing salve for these especially stressful days.

We are all the richer today for having had Raphael in the world five hundred years ago.

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