What did the 11-year-old Raphael do when his father died in 1494?
Summary: He probably learned his craft with Evangelista di Pian di Meleto, whether or not in his father’s workshop, until about 1500.
Le jeune Raphael qu’est-ce qu’il faisait après la mort de son père en 1494?
Sommaire: Probablement il apprenait son métier à Urbino en travaillant chez un artiste d’Urbino, peut-être Evangelista di Pian di Meleto, jusqu’à 1500.
Che cosa faceva l’undicenne Raffaello dopo la morte di suo padre nel 1494?
Sommario:Probabilmente studiava il suo mestiere da un artista urbinate, forse Evangelista di Pian di Meleto, fino al 1500.
As I have said before, Vasari in the Lives of the Artists says that he was sent to Perugia by his father (i.e. before 1494, the year of his father’s death) to be Perugino’s pupil. This story is highly unlikely, however, for many reasons. For me the clincher is that, according to Vasari, Raphael’s mother Magia was very upset when he left home (“non senza lagrime e pianti grandissimi della madre lo menò a Perugia”). Hardly surprising, if it were true, as she died in 1491 when her son (born in 1483) was only eight. Therefore, if Vasari is right, Raphael left home before his mother’s death, when he was eight years old or younger. Titian was 10 when he left his home in Pieve di Cadore to train as an artist in Venice, which suggests that a boy as young as eight would not have been sent away as an apprentice. Probably Raphael did work with Perugino, but not until about 1502, when he was eighteen.
So at the age of eleven Raphael would have probably already started his training in his father’s workshop. Did Santi’s workshop continue to operate after its master’s death? There is no documentary evidence to suggest that it did, though absence of evidence is not the same as evidence of absence. Santi did not mention the workshop in either of his wills (cited by Anna Falcioni, Documenti urbinati sulla famiglia Santi in Raffaello e Urbino, Milano, 2009), which left his property equally between his brother Bartolomeo, a priest, and his son Raphael. Scholars assume that the workshop went to Raphael (see Henry and Plazzotta in Raphael: from Urbino to Rome, London, 2004, p.18) and if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.
We know that Raphael was in Urbino in 1500, because he was present at a legal hearing related to his father’s will: “Constitutus personaliter [personally present] … illustris Raphael quondam Iohannis Peruzzoli [son of the late Giovanni, grandson of Peruzzolo] de Urbino” (cited by Falcioni as above). The document refers to him as illustrious, which indicates that he had already acquired a certain status in his native city.
So from documentary evidence to plausible speculation: where was Raphael between 1494 and 1500?
Maria Rosaria Valazzi, in Rafaello e Urbino, cat.25, has attributed to Santi’s workshop a detached fresco from Pesaro’s duomo, or cathedral. Based on this attribution, she concludes that Santi’s workshop was operating in 1498-99 and Raphael was active in it. Frustratingly, she doesn’t tell us explicitly on what she bases the date 1498-99 (or am I missing something?).
Madonna and Child with Sts Peter and Jerome. Deposition of Christ. Attr Giovanni Santi’s workshop. Thanks to the Ministero per i Beni e le Attivita’ Culturali.
Looking at the fresco, I can see what she’s getting at. There are some Santi-esque elements: – the characteristic tilted oval of the Madonna’s face, with the almond-shaped eyes, as in the Buffi altarpiece below.
Giovanni Santi: Buffi altarpiece for the church of San Francesco in Urbino, now in the Palazzo Ducale, Urbino. Thanks to the Ministero per i Beni e le Attivita’ Culturali.
The dead Christ is also reminiscent of Santi’s Dead Christ, now in the Ducal Palace in Urbino.
Whether or not you are convinced by Valazzi’s attribution, and hence the existence of Santi’s workshop after 1494, it is likely that between 1494 and 1500 Raphael was learning his craft from local artists, who may or may not have been managing Giovanni Santi’s workshop on his son’s behalf.
Top candidate for his master is the elusive Evangelista di Pian di Meleto, an artist who certainly existed, (see, eg, Falcioni above, p 277) but none of whose works survive and to whom no works have been indisputably attributed. Just so you know I’ve done my homework, other possibilities are Girolamo Genga and Timoteo Viti, but these are less convincing.
Evangelista appears in 1483 as Giovanni Santi’s famulus or servant (Henry in Raphael from Urbino to Rome, cats 15,16). He then pops up from time to time in various legal documents unconnected with Raphael, but Evangelista’s most important link with his late master’s son is their joint commission in 1500, to paint the Coronation of St Nicholas of Tolentino for the Baronci chapel of the church of Sant’Agostino, in Città di Castello. This only survives in a fragmentary condition: below are two fragments joined together, now in the Capodimonte Museum in Naples.
Raphael and Evangelista: Fragments of the Coronation of St Nicholas of Tolentino. Thanks to the Ministero per i Beni e le Attivita’ Culturali.
The Virgin’s head is tilted and she has heavy-lidded, almond-shaped eyes, in (as Kenneth Clark would have it) dear old Mr Santi’s typical style. Significantly, in the commission Raphael is named first and as a master (magister). So we can assume (again!) that from 1500 on he was responsible for his own workshop. Referred to as both illustris and magister, he had already gained recognition as a considerable and independent artist at the age of 17.
If you want an idea of just how good Raphael was at 17, having been taught by the worthy Evangelista, look at his drawings for the Coronation.
Raphael: Studies for the Baronci altarpiece, Coronation of St Nicholas of Tolentino, recto. Thanks to the National Gallery.
Raphael: Studies for the Baronci altarpiece, Coronation of St Nicholas of Tolentino, verso. Thanks to the National Gallery.
Now we come to my favourite example of his father’s influence on Raphael: the crown. For the Baronci altarpiece Raphael kept and re-used the crown which God the Father is holding. It came originally from his father’s workshop, and appears more than once in Giovanni Santi’s work, for instance in the Buffi altarpiece above, and in the Tiranni Chapel altarpiece below.
Giovanni Santi: Tiranni chapel altarpiece, San Domenico, Cagli. The crown is hanging above the Virgin’s head. Thanks to the Ministero per i Beni e le Attivita’ Culturali.
So we leave Raphael in 1501, having completed his first documented commission. His work is still derivative, but from his draughtsmanship we can tell that no ordinary artist is waiting to burst forth.
For this post I have relied heavily on two exhibition catalogues: Raphael: from Urbino to Rome, London, 2004 and Raffaello e Urbino, Milano, 2009. I am pleased to acknowledge my debt to them.