Coming from all over the world, the artist’s biggest masterpieces are there together: the haunting portrait of Raphael by his own hand (on loan from the Uffizi museum) faces one of his Madonna with Child, the intimate painting of Baldessare Castiglione with his piercing blue eyes (on loan from the Louvre) stands not far from the portrait of the strikingly handsome Bindo Altoviti (on loan from the National Gallery of Art in Washington). Giant tapestries he designed hang alongside reproductions of his frescoes, such as those monumental ones housed in the Vatican Palace.
The exhibition not only reacquaints us with Raphael’s unfathomable talent as a painter but also reveals the universal aspect of his art, from architecture and design to archaeology and poetry.
It follows the stellar path of the young prodigy – described as a master at the age of 17 – from his early career in Urbino where he grew up and most likely trained with his father, court artist Giovanni Santi, and then Perugia and Florence.
Taught by the most forward-thinking artists in Florence, he internalised the ability to animate his characters with a sense of inner life and expressiveness, and carefully absorbed the works of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and sculptor Donatello.
A rare gathering of Raphael’s paintings of the Virgin and Child includes pictures dating from his time in Florence, as well as paintings executed during his first years in Rome, where he moved in 1508 to work for one of the great patrons in Western art history, Pope Julius II.
The exhibition unearths the many aspects of Raphael’s dynamic career and how his art changed throughout his life: his entrepreneurial talent, hard-working ethic and ability to re-invent himself, foraying into new art forms and techniques. These include the mosaic techniques used to decorate the dome of Agostino Chigi’s chapel in Santa Maria del Popolo and ground-breaking work as a designer for tapestries and the collaborative creative process behind these great projects, involving painting assistants and draughtsmen as well as, of course, the weavers in the Netherlands who created the finished works.
Bindo Altoviti (about 1516-18)
But for all the exhibition’s greatness, what stays with you are the portraits of Raphael’s friends and patrons: the exquisite tenderness of his portrait of The Donna Velata – most likely the love of his life – with the delicate wisp of hair, the portrait of Julius II, looking sick and exhausted, his self-portrait with Giulio Romano, showing the very intense personal relationship with his fencing master.
They tell of the warm human connections and close friendships Raphael made throughout his life and his precursory talent to depict his models’ personalities and humanity.
Book your slot for the exhibition now before it sells out!
|What||Raphael exhibition, National Gallery review|
|Where||National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London, WC2N 5DN | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
09 Apr 22 – 31 Jul 22, Open daily 10am – 6pm, Friday until 9pm
|Website||Click here for more information|