(Roughly) Daily

“I like ruins because what remains is not the total design, but the clarity of thought, the naked structure, the spirit of the thing”*…

 

Raphael

The Chigi Chapel at Santa Maria del Popolo, designed by Raphael

 

Poor Raphael! This year, the five-hundredth anniversary of his death, was to have been his year of glory. After major exhibitions of Michelangelo in 2018 and Leonardo da Vinci in 2019, the museum world was in the midst of celebrating the third member of the glorious trinity of High Renaissance art. Then fear of a new coronavirus forced museums everywhere to take down their banners, chase away visitors, and close their doors…

It’s a kind of tragic coincidence, or perhaps poetic injustice, that celebrations of Raphael’s achievement were interrupted by a deadly virus. It was a viral pneumonia ripping through the papal court that killed Raphael himself, aged thirty-seven, on April 6, 1520. The overworked and exhausted artist was carried off, biographers tell us, by a grandissima febbre. His greatest patron, the Medici pope Leo X, died suddenly of pneumonia a year and a half later, aged forty-six. The most fruitful partnership between artist and patron in High Renaissance Rome had lasted just over seven years. Among the casualties was Raphael’s career as an architect, cut off just as it was beginning to blossom…

Humanists since Petrarch had mourned the destruction of Rome’s ancient fabric and dreamt of restoring the city’s physical grandeur. Earlier pontiffs such as the humanist pope Nicholas V had begun to rebuild Rome in a more classical style. But it was Raphael, supported by Pope Leo and his humanist advisers, especially Baldesar Castiglione and Angelo Colocci, who undertook the serious work of surveying the ruins of Rome and attempting to reconstruct the appearance of the ancient city district by district, building by building. It was this quasi-philological project that fired the imaginations of Renaissance literati and led them to praise Raphael as the greatest architect of the age.

Yet Raphael’s Plan of Rome, with its reconstructions of major monuments—temples, baths, theaters, palaces, fora, and public buildings—was not simply a learned contribution to antiquarian studies. It was a practical project, designed to serve architects and patrons interested in building in the modern classical style, the Renaissance style. In his work as a painter Raphael was famous for collecting the designs of other artists throughout Italy and making their inventions and techniques his own. Michelangelo and his coterie sneered at him, with appalling injustice, as a mere magpie, stealing his best ideas from other artists. As an architect Raphael practiced the same kind of recombinant classicism, choosing elements from innumerable antique structures but reassembling them in harmonious, creative ways. He understood, as modern educational theory does not, that creativity is the child of knowledge…

James Hankins appreciates Raphael’s brief turn as an architect: “Raphael, interrupted.”

* Tadao Ando

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As we reappraise famous men, we might spare thought for a predecssor of Raphael’s, Lorenzo di Pietro; he died on this date in 1480.  Better known by his “work name,” Vecchietta, he was painter, sculptor, goldsmith, and architect of the (earlier) Renaissance.  He was born and did much of his work in Sienna– work prized highly enough in his times to earn him a spot in He is among the artists profiled in Vasari‘s Le Vite delle più eccellenti pittori, scultori, ed architettori (The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects often known simply as The Lives).

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Self-portrait. Detail of a fresco in Collegata di Castiglione Olona

source

 

Written by LW

June 6, 2020 at 1:01 am

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