The beginning of the 16th century saw a couple of great achievements in Italy: Leonardo da Vinci paints the Mona Lisa in 1503, Michelangelo sculpts the David in 1504, St. Peter's Church started in Rome in 1506, and Raphael begins his work on the Vatican for Pope Julius II in the fall of 1508. These great masters of the sixteenth century were thought to have shared and produced, through art, the ideals of their predecessors. Such ideals are evident in Raphael's School of Athens, where philosophy is its main focus. Raphael portrays each one of the scholars as individuals, all of them are having different conversations at the same time, alluding to the humanist emphasis on individual freedom.
The School of Athens stands opposite the Disputa. The placement of these two frescoes is rather interesting, as they convey two different approaches to knowledge. The Disputa represents theological knowledge based in faith while The School of Athens represents philosophical knowledge based on reason. The School of Athens' perspective, is a metaphor for the foundations and philosophies apart from the Christians perspective and insight, it depicts the rising secularism in the Renaissance. This perspective, humanism, was a revolutionary way of thinking. This is mainly because educational practice was revolutionized by ancient documents and the rejection of institutionalized authority. Humanism was a new outlook on life, but how did visual art become influenced by humanism? Although painting still focused on the religious themes of the Middle Ages, a change gradually occurred in the figures and subjects. Throughout this paper I will discuss how one subject moves from Giottos "Ognissanti Madonna", to Raphael's "School of Athens". I will take a look at the evolutionary process of these changes and the evolution of the two different approaches to knowledge; from Christian theology to Secular Humanism.
Bramante is widely recognised as one of the most passionate artists in the sixteenth century. As a matter of fact, it is documented by Vasari that Bramante was responsible for Raphael’s arrival in Rome between 1445 and 1523. Raphael was renowned to be a student of Perugino Petro. Nevertheless, it was Michelangelo that was commissioned y Julius II and he was charged to put up the monument of David where the old St. Peters was situated. Michelangelo and Raphael were great rivals in the field of art. Having this in mind, Pope strike a balance between them by granting them similar opportunities. Michelangelo was assigned the duty of working on the ceiling of Sistine Chapel whereas Raphael was given the mandate to decorate the papal apartments which comprised of three stanzas (rooms). Burckhardt describes Raphael’s painting as conveying three aspects of truth; poetic truth, philosophical truth, and theological truth. Poetic truth was conspicuously conveyed through Parnassus. The disputa (disputation over Holy Sacrament) conveys a theological truth while the paintings of the Stanza della Segnatura conveyed a philosophical truth. The paintings of Raphael bring on board both the historical arts and modern approach to artistic work.
Through the use of light-related values as well as symphony with clearly outlined rules to govern the measurements, Raphael does his painting so as to produce a gentle but delicate style. Michelangelo painted the ceiling of Sistine chapel by incorporating biblical figures as well as stories. Vasari describes his style as incorporation of fresh ways of expressing dramatic stories that depicts human freedom. He traces his style on the history of man as presented in the story of creation. This clearly depicts Christian perspectives in the artwork. Michelangelo artwork illustrates the volume of his painting uniquely using a very complex composition style. This is strongly supported by his choice of colour and light which brings a clear contrast and decisiveness in the paintings.
It is alleged that Raphael was secretly taken to view the works of Michelangelo in the Sistine chapel and this radically changed his perception in painting. As opposed to Michelangelo who employed complex style of painting, Raphael employed the use of simple composition with clear message inscribed. He is best remembered for composition the figure of Vatican in Rome and Madonnas. However, his work was mostly dominated by secular humanism than Christianity which was the case with Michelangelo.
It is not clearly known the period that Raphael Sanzio landed in Italy. However, many scholars stipulate that it would have been in 1495. His first ever documented painting dates to c. 1500. This was followed by the famous commissioning that gave him the chance to work on an altarpiece in 1502. At this point, his excellence in painting was clearly evident to many and so he was referred to as a “master”. As a result, he won another commissioning between 1501 and 1503 when he charged with the task of painting the “Coronation of the Virgin” in San Francesco, currently known as the Vatican museum. This and many other painting granted Raphael a great opportunity to gain wide-ranging and professional experience. Raphael also took advantage of the tranquilly superb style exhibited by his teacher Perugino Petro.
Raphael’s first major work ‘The marriage of the virgin’ was greatly influenced by Perugino’s painting in Sistine Chapel known as ‘Giving of the Keys to St. Peter’. This is deduced from the perspectives and the lyrical charm that Raphael employed in relating figures and architectures. However, the sensibility employed by Raphael greatly differs from that of his teacher. He disposes figures in a flexible manner in relation to the architecture. The relationship between figures is full of animation and informality. With this style, his paintings portray sweetness in the figures as well as the relationship between the figures which is evidently absent in Perugino’s work.
This implies that Raphael deviated slightly from the Christian perspective that was relayed to him by his predecessor, Perugino Petro as well as his great rival Michelangelo. “The vision night”, ‘St. Michael’, ‘Three Graces’, and ‘The marriage of Virgin’ all portray youthfulness and a mature ability that characterised Raphael’s work. This also shows that he could adequately govern every element of his composition style. His thirst for knowledge accounts for the different models that he employed in his work since he looked above the skills that he had learned from his teacher Perugio. This is also the main reason why he deviated from Christianity to secular humanism.
Raphael was later drawn by the works of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci in Florence. He arrived in Florence in 1504 where he came into contact with artistic civilisation. He was able to incorporate many experiences he had gathered as well as widen up for new and broad prospects. He closely studied the work of Michelangelo, Fra Bartolomeo, and Leonardo da Vinci who were renowned masters of high renaissance. He also took time to learn from ‘the old times of Masaccio’, an art that utilises that naturalism hence depicting a revolution from ancient renaissance to gothic. Nevertheless, his main tutors in the artwork were Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. Most of the work he produced prior to 1507 shows more of Leonardo da Vinci’s influence of simplicity and intimacy in artwork.
From Florence, Raphael learnt how to incorporate pyramidal figures in his style of composition. The Florentine method of painting grouped all figures as an entity while each figure maintained their individuality as well as shape. It is worth noting that most of his paintings in Florence explored the lighting techniques of Leonardo da Vinci in which he draws a sharp contrast between light and dark. The works that he painted in Florence were distinct in regard to the unity in composition and inhibition of unnecessary elements. He also transcends the techniques of Leonardo da Vinci by incorporating gentle faces that discloses the emblematic human sentiments with lifted serenity and idealism.
In 1507, Raphael was charged with the responsibility of painting the ‘deposition of Christ’. Even though he borrowed much of Michelangelo in expression of human anatomy, he added calmly features as well as an extroverted style. This provided adequate visual communication to the audience. In 1508, he was renowned as the prince of painters because of his outstanding work in Rome. He lived in Rome for about 12 years.