In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Raphael

  • Introduction
  • Primary Sources, Documents, and Reference Resources
  • Monographs
  • Catalogues Raisonnés
  • Anthologies
  • Portraiture
  • Architecture
  • Drawings
  • Prints
  • Legacy

Renaissance and Reformation Raphael
Jeryldene Wood
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 July 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0074


Raphael (b. 1483–d. 1520), the son of the painter, writer, and courtier Giovanni Santi, was born at Urbino but achieved his lasting reputation in Rome. Artists, scholars, and the general public have admired his paintings for six centuries. In accordance with Vasari’s mid-16th-century biography, scholars usually divide Raphael’s career into three phases: the early years in Umbria (c. 1499–1504), the Florentine period (1504–1508), and the years in Rome (1508–1520). The young Raphael painted mostly devotional panels of the Madonna and Child, whose gentle beauty and tender charm have made them among his most popular works. His magnificent frescoes in the Vatican papal apartments are the most esteemed and influential of his paintings, inspiring generations of artists from the painter’s era to our own. Critics and historians consider the compositional harmony of these frescoes, in which graceful figures act out the narratives in clearly conceived, luminous spaces, to be the epitome of the High Renaissance classical style. The favor of critics and collectors, the circulation of prints after his paintings, and the copies made by artists visiting Italy spread the knowledge of Raphael’s paintings across Europe; his oeuvre thereby became the model for subsequent classical revivals, especially the neoclassicism of the 18th and 19th centuries. In the past, scholars of his art largely concentrated on issues of attribution, style, and iconography, but more recent methodologies have shifted the focus to Raphael’s patrons, his role in raising the status of artists, the function of drawings and other workshop practices, the importance of engravings in his career, and his antiquarian and architectural interests.

Primary Sources, Documents, and Reference Resources

The biographies of Raphael by Paolo Giovio and Giorgio Vasari are essential starting points for any study of the artist (Giovio 2003, Vasari 1996, and Vasari 1997). A member of the papal court, Giovio knew Raphael personally and commemorated his friend by appending his vita to his volume of uomini illustri. Vasari was too young to have met Raphael, yet he was acquainted with his assistants, most notably consulting Giulio Romano for information on his teacher. Vasari famously transformed the facts of Raphael’s life into legend and cast him as the ideal courtier-artist (see Rubin 1995, cited under Raphael in Context). His text remains the foundation for subsequent studies of the painter despite its unreliable dates and intermittently confused subject matter. Both Vasari’s “Life of Raphael” in the original volumes of 1550 and in the revised edition of 1568 are in Vasari 1997. Ludovico Dolce’s Dialogo della Pittura of 1557 analyzes Raphael’s achievements from a non-Florentine perspective (Roskill 2000). Several modern collections of archival documents are fundamental to any analysis of the artist and his oeuvre. Schlosser 1924, a pioneering study of the literature on art, and Barocchi 1971–1977, a more recent volume of 16th-century writings, continue to be important sources for Raphael and Renaissance studies. The compendium of documents in Golzio 1971 has long served as a key resource; however, Shearman’s magisterial two-volume opus has superseded it (Shearman 2003). In addition to new transcriptions and helpful translations of the Latin and Italian documents, Shearman’s introduction offers an insightful commentary on the value of archival research and calls for more careful scrutiny in distinguishing between authentic and dubious documents. Waldman 2004 and other scholars continue to search archives for documents that clarify Raphael’s career.

  • Barocchi, Paola, ed. Scritti d’arte del Cinquecento. 3 vols. Milan and Naples, Italy: R. Ricciardi, 1971–1977.

    Collection of 16th-century writings on art, arranged thematically by medium and theoretical concept and subdivided by author. Includes Raphael’s life by Giovio (Vol. 1), his letter to Castiglione on imitation (Vol. 2), and his letter thanking Calvo for his translation of Vitruvius (Vol. 3).

  • Giovio, Paolo. “Raphaelis Urbinatis Vita.” In Raphael in Early Modern Sources (1483–1602). 2 vols. Edited by John Shearman. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003.

    With Leonardo and Michelangelo, comprises a trilogy of famous artists. The brief biography of Raphael praises the artist’s narrative skills, the grace of his painting style, and his commitment to antiquity in preserving monuments and designing architecture. His selection of works and themes influenced Vasari’s better known biography. Originally written in 1525. Also translated into Italian in Barocchi 1971–1977.

  • Golzio, Vincenzo. Raffaello nei documenti, nelli testimonianze dei contemporanei e nella letteratura del suo secolo. Farnborough, UK: Gregg International, 1971.

    This was the premier source of documentary information on Raphael until Shearman 2003. It is divided into four parts: the documents organized chronologically; Raphael’s poetry; Raphael and 16th-century writers; and a catalogue of his works. Includes the author’s 1970 corrections and addenda. Originally published in 1936.

  • Roskill, Mark W. Dolce’s “Aretino” and Venetian Art Theory of the Cinquecento. 2d ed. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2000.

    Originally published in 1968. Parallel text edition of Lodovico Dolce’s Dialogo della Pittura (Venice, 1557). The dialogue debates which is the superior approach to painting: Florentine-Roman or Venetian. The speakers, who bestow praise and blame on the living Michelangelo and Titian, mostly laud Raphael.

  • Schlosser, Julius von. Die Kunstliteratur, Ein Handbuch zur Quellenkunde der neueren Kunstgeschichte. Vienna: A. Schroll, GES m.b.H., 1924.

    Divided by periods from medieval to the 18th century, Schlosser summarizes a wide range of primary sources from the 15th-century treatises of Alberti and Ghiberti’s Commentari to Vasari’s 16th-century biographies of artists. He furnishes detailed bibliographies for each section and a helpful city and region index. Available in Italian as La letteratura artistica: Manuale delle fonti della storia dell’arte moderna, translated by Filippo Rossi (Florence: La Nuova Italia Editrice, 1964).

  • Shearman, John. Raphael in Early Modern Sources, 1483–1602. 2 vols. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003.

    Containing over 1,000 documents on Raphael, his work, family, friends, and property, this culmination of Shearman’s life’s work on the artist is an indispensable resource for scholars. The freshly transcribed documents, each with a commentary and bibliography, are organized chronologically. Volume 2 contains a concordance of documents and an eighty-page bibliography without parallel.

  • Vasari, Giorgio. The Lives of the Painters, Sculptors, and Architects. 2 vols. Translated by Gaston du C. de Vere. New York: Knopf, 1996.

    English translation of Le vite de’ più eccellenti pittori, scultori e architettori (Florence, 1568) is the invaluable basic text on the artist. Narrates Raphael’s life and work: his birth and family; training and artistic evolution; his important projects, patrons, and students. His vivid descriptions of the paintings suggest their initial reception. Originally published in ten volumes in 1912.

  • Vasari, Giorgio. Le vite de’ più eccellenti pittori, scultori e architettori: Nella redazioni del 1550 e 1568. Edited by Paola Barocchi and Giovanna Gaeta Bertelà. Florence: Studio per Edizioni Scelte, 1997.

    Provides both the 1550 and 1568 editions of Vasari’s biographies with commentaries on his revisions. The parallel texts and critical apparatus are especially useful for graduate students and scholars.

  • Waldman, Louis A. “A Raphael Riddle Resolved.” The Burlington Magazine 146.1220 (November 2004): 753–757.

    Contests Cagliotti’s identification of a Raffaello di Giovanni who gilded the girdle for Michelangelo’s David and painted a Madonna for the priors’ audience chamber in the Palazzo Vecchio as the famous Raphael because documents normally refer to Raffaello Sanzio “of Urbino,” and never Raffaello di Giovanni. Raphael’s stature in 1508 precluded his undertaking a project that required a mettidoro, not a painter; instead, Waldman proposes the artist is Raffaello di Giovanni Riccomani.

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