Raphael was born in Urbino in 1483. We do not know much about his training, which nevertheless took place in his father Giovanni Santi’s studio. The scintillating world of the court in Urbino, which was steeped in antiquity, with a taste for the minutiae of Flemish painting, and a knowledge of artists such as Perugino, Luca Signorelli and Pinturicchio are just some of the sources of inspiration that we find in his earliest works.
In 1504, when Raphael painted The Marriage of the Virgin (Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan), he was already a well-established artist. At the end of that year, he moved to Florence, where he was able to see the works of Leonardo and Michelangelo, which he reformulated in a series of paintings of the Virgin and Child for private patrons. In 1507, he painted the Baglione Entombment (Galleria Borghese, Rome), a youthful masterpiece considered to be the culmination of a long period of study and experimentation.
In early 1509, Raphael was in Rome, called by Pope Julian II, who had started an extraordinary work of artistic and urban redevelopment both of the city and of the Vatican, with artists such as Bramante and Michelangelo. His first commission was for the Vatican apartments, and this was followed by a series of commissions from the Pope and from personalities linked to the papal court. In 1514, upon the death of Bramante, Raphael took over management of the construction of St Peter’s, and a year later he began work on the cartoons for the tapestries in the Sistine Chapel. When he had finished work on the Stanze, Raphael worked on the Vatican Loggias where he was assisted by a now sizeable studio.
In 1515 he was appointed Prefect of Roman Antiquities. His continuing study of antiquities led in 1519 to a letter to Leo X on classical architecture, pointing to the need to protect and preserve the remains of ancient Rome.
To satisfy the increasing numbers of requests for works that came from all over Italy, Raphael organised his studio as a real enterprise, capable of working on increasingly challenging and varied assignments. During these years, his cooperation with the engraver Marcantonio Raimondi, who circulated prints of his works, played a very important role.
He died unexpectedly at the age of thirty-seven on the night between 6 and 7 April 1520. Some unfinished works remained in his studio, including The Transfiguration (Vatican Pinacoteca, Rome), which were completed by his pupils. His life was brief, and yet long enough to earn himself a place of honour among the greatest artists of all time.