Giovanni Santi, Raphael‘s father, was not a bad artist himself – see June Osborne’s book, Urbino, the story of a Renaissance City, by June Osborne: Frances Lincoln, 2003. (University of Chicago Press in the USA) which I referred to in my previous post. Although Giorgio Vasari in his “Lives of the Artists”described Santi as a “pittore non molto eccellente” (not a very distinguished painter), he added “uomo di buono ingegno e atto a indirizzare i figliuoli per quella buona via” (a man of good intelligence and capable of directing his sons along that good path).
The curators of the exhibition, “Raphael and Urbino” at the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche in the Palazzo Ducale in 2009, think that Raphael learnt his trade from his father and not from Perugino. They say there is no evidence other than Vasari’s statement, in The Lives of the Artists, that Raphael studied under Perugino. Santi was quite the Renaissance man, being a poet as well as a painter. He wrote an epic poem in terza rima (same rhyme scheme as Dante’s Divina Commedia or Divine Comedy) in honour of his patron Guidobaldo’s father, “La Vita e Le Gesta di Federico di Montefeltro” (1482 -7) and, again according to the Urbino curators, was steeped in Renaissance culture.
Having read the introductory chapter to the catalogue of the (English) National Gallery’s art exhibition, “Raphael from Urbino to Rome”,(London; National Gallery, 2004) I can now offer a more nuanced account. Although it is unlikely that Raphael was ever apprenticed to the artist Perugino or was his pupil, as Vasari tells the story, he probably did work with Perugino from about 1502-3. According to the helpful timeline in the exhibition catalogue, Raphael was documented as being in Perugia in 1503.
In fact, Raphael probably became familiar with Perugino’s work via his father Giovanni Santi, who knew and admired it, describing Perugino as a “divin pictore” in his epic poem. The two artists may have got to know each other in Fano c1488, when they were both working for the church of Sta Maria Nuova. Perugino was painting an “Annunciation” ( the Angel Gabriel tells Mary that she will become the mother of Jesus, from the Gospel of Luke ch 2. vv 26-38), and a “Virgin Enthroned with Saints“or “Sacra Conversazione”, (commissioned in 1488 and dated 1497),
while Giovanni was painting a “Visitation” (the Virgin Mary’s visit after the Annunciation to her cousin Elizabeth, pregnant with the future John the Baptist, from the Gospel of Luke ch 1 vv 39-56).