The Exhibition Layout
The exhibition begins with the story of the cultural world of Urbino, where Raphael (“Raphael Urbinas”) was born. The city enjoyed a particularly lively period under the Signoria of Federico da Montefeltro, with a close eye on all the latest cultural developments in Italy and abroad. In the closing years of the fifteenth century, Piero della Francesca, Leon Battista Alberti, Luca della Robbia, Luciano Laurana and Francesco di Giorgio Martini all worked there, and Flemish painters were also brought in. The works of Giovanni Santi, Raphael’s father and a painter, intellectual and poet, give an idea of this cultural setting. Young Raphael also had other external models, which we see in the exhibition in the works of Pinturicchio, Signorelli and Perugino. According to Giorgio Vasari, Perugino was Raphael’s master, based on similarities in terms of faces, painting technique and the compositions of their works.
We can see the young Raphael’s voracious curiosity in the Libretto veniziano, a notebook compiled in the early sixteenth century by a pupil and collaborator, who put into fair copy the graphic notes his master took during his travels. The pages show how his eye was on the latest artistic research by Pinturicchio, Pollaiuolo, Perugino, and Leonardo, how he admired Mantegna, whom he knew from engravings, but also his careful study of works by the ancients.
In 1500, aged just seventeen, Raphael was already referred to as a “magister”: this was the beginning of a whirlwind career, alternating great altar paintings with little liturgical works, and paintings for private devotion, all of the very highest technical quality and the gradual formation of a personal style grounded in guarded equilibrium and incomparable spontaneity.
The exhibition continues with an investigation around the Saint Sebastian, a painting made for private contemplation, with just the face and shoulders of the saint, who is dressed as a fashionable gentleman. When creating it, Raphael had a clear idea of other famous paintings, from Flemish portraits set against landscapes, through to Perugino’s intense images of saints against dark backgrounds.
The Saint Sebastian arrived in Bergamo in 1833, at a time when artists and collectors were rediscovering the early works of the master and becoming fascinated by his biography, which was held up as a model for contemporary issues such as the relationship between figurative art and reality, and the social prestige of artists.
As the century wore on, there was a preference for individual episodes of powerful emotion, which aroused great feeling in the public, such as his legendary love for La Fornarina, the radiant, dark haired beauty who became part of the legend. The subject of his loves fascinated Ingres, an artist who studied Raphael intensely, and who repeatedly it in a number of works, and it was often taken up by Italian painters. Here too, versions in which sophisticated allusions prevail were later followed by others that focus on intimacy, particularly in its more poignant aspects.
In the gallery devoted to the contemporary world, Raphael is viewed not as an echo or a legend, but as an inescapable, living presence. The painter from Urbino has been a benchmark for the studies of many artists over the past hundred years, and they have meditated on his works, at times with a spirit of emulation and tribute, at times with a view to investigating his compositions and forms. These include Picasso, who was influenced by his way of arranging figures in space, while Salvo, Ontani and Vezzoli measure their affinities with Raphael in the form of self portraits. Christo, Galliani and Bettineschi offer literal quotations from his works, and the large canvas by Mariani takes a modern look at the great frescoes in the Stanze della Segnatura.