Raphael Biography: Ancient Rome, and the last years.
Raphael's love for the Ancient Rome
One of the many sides of Raphael was a passionate love for the discovery and resuscitation of the ancient Rome, carried so far as to make him hope that he might bring back the City to something like its former shape and splendor. Partly from this love, and partly because he was asked to build also, he followed with devotion the unearthing of the precious ruins. In 1515, Pope Leo X appointed Raphael as a Supervisor of the preservation of the Vatican collection of classical antiquities, and in 1517, he was made Commissioner of antiquities for the City of Rome.
Meanwhile, however, he not only placed before the eyes of the world the remains of classical antiquity, but in his usual way he gave to that antiquity a new form, so much more adapted to our comprehension that we still see the antique through the lovely vision by which he expressed it. It became with him a means of expression. He not only dressed Greek fable and story in his own shape, opening to the common mind what before was the privilege of a few, but he dressed in its way and manners the ancient Bible and the whole Christian story. The scenes of the Old Testament and those of the New are still in our minds tinged with the classical feeling— semi-pagan—which Raphael chose to clothe them in.
Most of the antiques which he uncovered are inferior in their own spirit, if one may so say, to that spirit which he discovered in them. The ornamental decorations which he uncovered in ancient ruins are only in a very few exceptional cases as rich, and largely understood, as the imitations which he or even his disciples made out from the original.
Raphael's last years
The days of his personal work were drawing to a close. After 1517, his personal sharing in the work done is small. Nonetheless, the amount of work which he directed or prepared or retouched continued increasing.
In 1519, the paintings of Chigi and of the Vatican were not yet finished. Daily, however, he was asked to undertake new work, to draw cartoons for frescoes, or designs for ornaments, or for dies for coinage. Foreign princes asked their ambassadors for pictures from him. The Envoys found the Master unable to satisfy them, though he accepted, and pretended to believe that he might carry out the orders. He lived surrounded by pupils and assistants, and he was beginning to feel for the first time the pressure of his gigantic work. He was giving designs for architecture in which the serenity of his paintings is visible. He attended to the excavation of ancient Rome.
The last of the great Raphael's paintings, The Transfiguration, was executed between 1517-1520. The painting was commissioned by the Cardinal Giulio de' Medici, the future Pope Clement VII, for the Cathedral of San Giusto in Narbonne. In his pages dedicated to Raphael's biography, Vasari says that this is the "most beautiful and the most divine" of all works. But the future was to be closed for Raphael, as he died on Good Friday, 1520, his body laying in state before the unfinished picture. The work was finished shortly after the death of the master by his assistant, Giulio Romano.
The cord had been stretched too far and snapped. The longest life of any artist had not produced as much as this short career of thirty-seven years, a course accomplished without failure and in so far happier, perhaps, than a longer one with a possible decline. All the more bright seems this young rounded life. All the more do we think of a Raphael perpetually young. Italy felt his death; with him had departed the serenity and sweetness of the classical revival.
The Life of Raphael Sanzio: