National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION

Tour: Raphael
Overview

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The National Gallery is fortunate to possess this country's finest collection of paintings by Raphael, the youngest of the three artists whose styles epitomize the High Renaissance. What Leonardo achieved by sheer intellect and Michelangelo through passionate intuition, Raphael acquired by persistent study and assimilation. Through the works in this room we can trace the process by which he transformed the fifteenth-century style of his earliest teachers into something new and of enduring influence. For later generations, Raphael's art came to represent an ideal of perfection, the very definition of easy grace and harmonious balance.

Raphael must have studied first with his father, a painter at the court in Urbino. After his father's death, Raphael entered the workshop of Perugino, whose graceful, open landscapes and gentle figures were widely admired. An adept student from the outset, Raphael mastered his teacher's delicate, ornamental style. Late in 1504 Raphael moved to Florence, where he responded quickly to the innovations of Florentine painters, especially those of Leonardo da Vinci. Leonardo's works must have seemed stunningly new. Softly shadowed forms recreated the appearance of reality to an extent never before achieved. Figures were convincingly integrated into their settings and related naturally to each other. In the words of Vasari, a sixteenth-century artist and biographer, Raphael "stood confounded in astonishment and admiration: the manner of Leonardo pleased him more than any other he had ever seen...."

Raphael's artistic evolution continued when he moved to Rome in 1508. There he was influenced not only by the idealized, classical art of the city's ancient past but also by the more energetic and physical style of Michelangelo, whose works he also had studied in Florence.

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