Raphael Sanzio (1483–1520) was born in Urbino, Italy. While still a
child, according to Giorgio Vasari, he was placed by his father, over
the objections of his mother, in the shop of Perugino, a master of the
Italian High Renaissance. His mother died in 1491, when Raphael
was only eight. His father died in 1494. Raphael’s guardian then
became his paternal uncle, Bartolomeo, a priest.
It is generally agreed that Raphael’s association with Perugino
began at about the turn of the century, when Perugino was engaged in
Perugia decorating the hall of the Corporation of Bankers (the Collegio
del Cambio). At this age Raphael would have been an assistant
rather than a pupil.
Raphael’s early paintings may be divided into altarpieces, made
for Cittа di Castello and Perugia, and smaller works, both devotional
and secular, many of them made for the court at Urbino. Raphael
seems to have traveled a great deal during the first eight years of the
new century; he is recorded in Urbino in 1504 and 1506 and twice in
1507. He kept in contact with the court, which flourished after some
troubles in 1502 and 1503.
Raphael arrived in Florence soon after October 1504, where he made
friends with some young artists, including Aristotile da Sangallo and
Ridolfo Ghirlandaio, and studied the works of Masaccio, Leonardo da
Vinci, and Michelangelo. He was then hired by Pope Julius II to decorate
one of his rooms, known as the Stanza della Signatura, and later the Stanza
d’Eliodoro. His decorations established Raphael as one of the leading
artists in Rome. His reputation was enhanced even more by the prints,
made after his designs, that began to appear during the same period.
Angels are depicted in a number of Raphael’s paintings, such as
the frescoes in the Vatican and his Madonna di San Sisto, which was
painted for the high altar of the rebuilt church of St. Sixtus in Piacenza.
Raphael’s angels, especially in his later works, are sexless, spiritual,
graceful, and, at the same time, the personification of intelligence and
power. These characteristics are found in the illustration of the
archangel Michael, as well as in the Expulsion of Heliodorus from the
Temple, which is found in the Stanza della Signatura in the Vatican.
The representation of St. Michael conquering Lucifer was a commission
from Lorenzo de’ Medici, who presented it to Francis I. The
subject was chosen by Raphael as a compliment to the sovereign, who
was the grand master of the Order of St. Michael, the military patron
saint of France. It was originally painted on wood, and in 1773 it was
transferred to canvas and restored three years later
At the beginning
of this century the restorations were removed.The beautiful young angel hovers in the air
and lightly touches with his foot the shoulder of
the demon in vulgar human form, fiery in color,
with horns and a serpent’s tail. The expression
of the angel is serious and majestic as he gazes
down upon the writhing Satan, whose face is
full of malignant hate. Michael grasps his lance
with both hands, and his head, with its light and
floating hair, is juxtaposed against the background
of his brilliant wings; his armor is gold
and silver, a sword hangs by his side, and an
azure scarf floats from his shoulders.
Raphael’s representation of angelic visitors
to Abraham in the fourth arcade of the loggia of
the Vatican is one of the best known and most
beautiful pictures on this subject. Both light and
color play a large part in Raphael’s Deliverance of
St. Peter, the radiant angel in which has been
described as compounded of air and light, without
mortal weight. Above the Deliverance of St.
Peter are the ladder and angels appearing to
Jacob in his famous dream. Here Jacob’s face is
turned toward the ladder, on which are six
angels, and Jehovah appears above with outstretched
arms and surrounded by glory.
Another significant painting is the Coronation of the Virgin in the
Vatican Museum. In this two-part composition the coronation is
painted on the upper register, and shown below are the apostles gathered
around the empty tomb. The Virgin is surrounded by several
angels, some of whom are represented with baby heads with little
wings folded under the chin.
The Disputa del Sacramento, in the Stanza della Signatura in the
Vatican, is an ambitious orchestration of nearly life-size figures in
space that occupies most of the field of vision. In the golden sphere of
the vault of heaven, angels, many only barely discernible, attend God.
Other significant representations of angels are contained in
Raphael’s Virgin and Child with St. Raphael and St. Michael and in the
Vision of Ezechiel, both in Florence’s Uffizi Museum.