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The Italian Renaissance is regarded as one of the high points of Western civilization and it has left an enduring artistic legacy. Traditionally, the three great master painters of the era are regarded as Michelangelo, Leonardo, and Raphael. Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino (1483-1517), better known as Raphael, is often cited as one of the
great painters of all time and one of the most influential. He was not only a great artist who produced great works but made a real contribution to the Renaissance, in several areas. Raphael’s work was revolutionary, and he changed the history of art in this epoch both in Italy and beyond. Indeed, he inspired new artistic schools. He was a Renaissance man and a pioneer in printmaking, indeed he was one of the first artists to use this medium. Moreover, he was crucial in the modern conception of the artist.
[[File: Raphael 1.jpg|200px|thumb|left|Self-portrait by Raphael]]
==Life and times of Raphael==
Raphael was born on April 6, 1483, in Urbino, Italy. At this time Urbino, a small dukedom in the Papal States and one of the centers of the Renaissance. His father was Giovanni Santi, who was the court painter for the Duke of Urbino. It appears that Raphael’s father taught him the basics of painting at an early age. His childhood was idyllic, but his mother died when he was eight and his father died when he was just eleven. Remarkably, while still a child it is claimed that he took over his father’s workshop and he became an accomplished painter <ref>Gould, Cecil, The Sixteenth Century Italian Schools (National Gallery Catalogues, London 1975), p. 13</ref>. This story may be apocryphal, because the young man was later apprenticed to the well-known painter Perugino, in Umbria. While serving his apprenticeship he worked on frescoes and learned new techniques. Raphael soon developed his own unique style as seen in the Oddi Altar place, completed in 1503. From an early age, he was committed to demonstrating the grandeur of humanity, probably under the influence of Neoplatonism. After completing his apprenticeship, the young painter moved to Florence, where he studied the works of Leonardo and others. He composed a series of paintings on the Madonna (Virgin Mary) and this made him famous. He attracted the attention of Pope Julius II who commissioned him to paint the Vatican ‘Stanze’, a suite of reception rooms in the Papal Palace. Raphael painted a number of massive frescoes, among the most famous of these is the School of Athens, a painting of the great ancient Greek philosophers. He labored for over four years to create a cycle of frescoes that include the Triumph of Religion. These images express the Christian humanist philosophy that was prevalent in Rome at the time. These paintings were very well-received, and the Pope commissioned another set of frescoes in other Vatican room, the Room of Heliodorus. These works are considered among the greatest works of the High Renaissance. At the same time, Michelangelo was painting the Sistine Chapel and he came to dislike the younger painter. He began to suspect that Raphael was conspiring with others against him. Michelangelo accused the young man from Urbino of plagiarising his work, but no one took this seriously. <ref>Liebert, Robert S. "Raphael, Michelangelo, Sebastiano: High Renaissance Rivalry." Source: Notes in the History of Art 3, no. 2 (1984): 60-68</ref>. While working on the Vatican Rooms, Raphael, established a workshop, where, he and his assistants, produced a great many paintings of the Virgin Mary, including the renowned Sistine Madonna. He also painted many notable portraits at the time, including that of Pope Julius II and two cardinals (1519) and the astounding character study of the writer Baldassare Castiglione (1516). Raphael was a tireless worker and he also produced many great cartoons and he is widely regarded as one of the greatest draughtsmen in all western art. Raphael like the other great Renaissance figures was a man of many talents, and he was also an architect. Raphael had great respect for the classical past and he was one of the first to display an interest in archaeology. He urged the Pope to stop the destruction of ancient ruins. It was often the case that old buildings were pulled down and their materials recycled in new buildings. Raphael was appointed the commissioner of antiquities for the city of Rome by Julius II and in this role, he preserved many ruins, collected inscriptions and drew up a map of the archaeology of Rome. By 1512, the painter was in charge of all the Papacy’s artistic projects. He was a very popular figure in Rome and was notorious for his many affairs. He became engaged to a niece of a Cardinal but appears that he was reluctant to marry because he was deeply in love with his mistress and model, Margarita Luti, known as La Fornarina whom he painted many times. Raphael fell gravely ill and died on Good Friday 1517, which many believe was also the date of his birth. It has been suggested that he died of overwork, but given the unhealthy environment of Rome, he could have died of some infectious disease. In his will, he left most of his estate to his beloved Margarita. Raphael was buried in the Pantheon in Rome, a singular distinction and indicates his fame at the time of his death. His early death possibly meant that he did not achieve even more.