“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”
—Robert Anson Heinlein
From 1404 to 1472, lived Leon Battista Alberti, renowned Italian architect, humanist, poet, philosopher, artist, linguist, and cryptographer. Perhaps these accomplishments were hardly idiosyncratic during that artistically superfluous time, if taken individually. However, their coalescence is what distinguishes Alberti from all other aesthetic personalities of the Renaissance; he was the prototype of the archetypal Renaissance Man. He stated that “a man can do all things if he will.” The notion embodied one of the chief precepts of Renaissance Humanism; that man was at the centre of all realms of existence, and that his limitless potential should champion all areas of knowledge, most notably focusing on intellectual, cultural, social, and physical areas of development.
The Renaissance ideal is best expressed through Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man.
It can be understood, therefore, that the Renaissance ideal for greatness was decidedly dissimilar from the preexisting doctrine. What was more astonishing was the high number of prodigiously gifted individuals who took it upon themselves to further Alberti’s seemingly impossible challenge. It must be noted that the Renaissance has been constructed as the first such ‘periodization’ that not only emphasised the ‘object’ or the ‘idea’ but also celebrated the accompanying human element, the ‘artist’, the ‘architect’, the ‘poet’, the ‘humanist’ and such on a much larger scale. Even today, apart from all its other scintillating achievements, the Renaissance is perhaps best known for the contributions of such extraordinary polymaths; the Renaissance Men so to speak.
The very pinnacle of this extraordinary period arguably lies within three such highly skilled and remarkably versatile figures who exemplify its far-reaching beliefs; from establishing novel perspectives to widespread cultural reforms, and relying on inductive reasoning to new innovatory methods; to the point of becoming synonymous with that time and all its glorious convictions for time immemorial— Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo Buonarroti, and Raphael Santi, strictly in the chronological order of their births.
It is a fact of ubiquitous critical record and intense artistic sentiment that these prodigies were unusually talented, principally in the same sphere of the visual arts around the same time; conditions which necessitated that they had to compete against one another amidst the remarkable artistic output of the High Renaissance. Although Leonardo was acknowledged as a mentor by Raphael later on, there was not much love lost among them— the notorious incident of Raphael being allowed a peek into the Sistine Chapel by Donato Bramante while Michelangelo was away sounds deceivingly mythical, but on the contrary, it has been acknowledged as true by that unparalleled archivist of the time, Giorgio Vasari. The selfsame Vasari was again involved in ‘one of the most extraordinary projects in Renaissance art’ that directly pitted Leonardo against the younger Michelangelo, who, as the chronicler writes, was commissioned explicitly “in competition with Leonardo”, in painting cryptic, horrific yet majestic images of war, through the Battles of Anghiari and Cascina, on the walls of the Council Hall of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. In addition, Raphael was famous for assimilating influences into his own style and sensitising them into his own objectives, most particularly drawing a portrait of Michelangelo as Heraclitus in The School of Athens, along with some of his earlier frescoes in the Stanze di Raffaello (Raphael Rooms) influenced in turn from the five female Sibyls and twenty supporting figures of the male Ignudi of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, as well as being inspired by classical Roman sarcophagi in his Pala Baglione, along with utilising Leonardo’s approach of pyramidal structuring of subjects in his version of Madonna del Prato (Madonna of the Meadow). Such developments were not always seen favourably, certainly not by Michelangelo, who accused the young painter from Urbino of instigating several conspiracies against him, and labelled him a plagiarist. Years after Raphael’s demise, in c. 1541, he grumbled in a letter saying that ‘everything he knew about art he got from me.’
The extent of their genius, and resultantly, their interconnected rivalry ushered in a phase of enormous and exquisite artistic and architectural output, that was encouraged by the Popes to extend their fame, and that laid waste to the city’s finances in the process. Indeed, it is easy to be swayed by the unerring detail of miserable faces and contorted limbs, and the depth of hopelessly enigmatic smiles and oblivious stares brought to life in the countless works produced among them. Such has been the case for most, the grandeur and perfection ascribed to the High Renaissance is too compelling a distraction to wholly turn away from; and yet, it would undoubtedly be fascinating to chart the origins of such precocious skill. To comprehend the very beginning of the flair that they would reveal later on, allows a deeper insight into the workings of their unique technique and the gradual maturing of their methods.
Leonardo da Vinci was born in, as his name states, in the town of Vinci that lies in present-day Tuscany. The absence of a surname is conspicuous; he was born in 1452 out of wedlock to a wealthy Florentine notary, Piero Fruosino di Antonio, and Caterina, a peasant’s daughter; his father would have to marry thrice to beget legitimate heirs. Much of the great man’s early life is the subject of surmise, yet Vasari’s accounts in his magnum opus, Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, from Cimabue to Our Times, or Le Vite de’ più eccellenti pittori, scultori, e architettori da Cimabue insino a’ tempi nostri in the original Italian, provide a fair few details, especially introducing Leonardo as follows—
“In the normal course of events many men and women are born with various remarkable qualities and talents; but occasionally, in a way that transcends nature, a single person is marvellously endowed by heaven with beauty, grace and talent in such abundance that he leaves other men far behind… Everyone acknowledged that this was true of Leonardo da Vinci, an artist of outstanding physical beauty who displayed infinite grace in everything he did and who cultivated his genius so brilliantly that all problems he studied were solved with ease. He possessed great strength and dexterity; he was a man of regal spirit and tremendous breadth of mind…”
As a child, Leonardo reportedly drew two paintings, one of which was lost and the other, as stated by Vasari, was that of the head of Medusa on a wooden shield, after applying a white paint mixture (gesso), breathed it into being by dissecting ‘lizards great and small, crickets, serpents, butterflies, grasshoppers, bats, and other strange kinds of suchlike animals’. He also made a dragon shield on the request of his father who was given the round shield by a local peasant and was requested to have it painted for him, but the creature spewing fire was so appalling that it steered towards the juvenile. It was sold by his father to a Florentine art dealer who in turn, sold it to the Duke of Milan.
Leonardo was given an informal education in geometry, mathematics, and Latin, but he displayed a remarkable proficiency which was impeded by his volatility and desire to learn about multiple subjects; he was advancing towards the Renaissance ideal of the Uomo Universale even at that young age, almost subconsciously to the point of self-afflicted harm. When Piero was made aware of his son’s immense talent, he persuaded his friend, renowned Italian painter and sculptor, Andrea del Verrocchio, to take Leonardo as an apprentice. It was while assisting Verrocchio that his latent gift was to rear its magnificent head for the first time.
Leonardo collaborated with Verrocchio on The Baptism of Christ (finished in c. 1475) and according to Vasari, that was not uncommon by any means as most of the work produced in a workshop would be done by the employees. While assisting Verrocchio on that particular work, he painted an angel holding Jesus’s robe; all by himself. The master was so astounded and chagrined by his pupil’s work that he resolved never to touch a brush again. The oil painting was done on wood, and parts of the landscape appear to bear Leonardo’s hand. The torso of Christ is again said to be the young apprentice’s work, and the assumption is rational; these parts consist of the most part that are painted over the tempera in the then experimental technique of oil glazes while the remainder is left as is, all of it on a poplar panel.
Note the angel on the left of the painting and the intricate folds where Christ’s robe is held.
Around the same time, Leonardo collaborated with Verrocchio yet again, along with another of the latter’s apprentices, Domenico Ghirlandaio, on Annunciation (dating from c. 1472-1475) was another oil and tempera on poplar panel, which was based on the eponymous Biblical subject. The angel Gabriel was first recognised by the German émigré artist Karl Eduard von Liphart in 1869 to have been painted by young Leonardo, and while there are no clear differences between this part and the remainder of the work, it can be seen that while the Virgin Mary is more spatial in its portrayal, and its relation to the marble table bears unmistakable signs of an immature hand, the angel Gabriel has been painted with a firmer hand. The Virgin Mary is surrounded by small, bluish freckles of paint, indicating perhaps what is conventionally portrayed as an ethereal aura. Ironically, the angel Gabriel from heaven does not bear any such marks. Indeed, Mary has a much fairer complexion compared to Gabriel, considering that angels are classically portrayed as being fairer than mortal beings. Incidentally, Verrocchio used lead-based, heavy paints throughout his career whereas Leonardo used light brush strokes devoid of lead. An X-ray test showed that Gabriel and parts of the background were rendered invisible because those parts did not have lead, thus proving Leonardo painted Gabriel and fragments of the background. It is highly possible, of course, that this might be the earliest remaining work of Leonardo in its entirety, suggesting that he might have borrowed tropes from his master’s vast repertoire.
The contrast can be ascertained between the spatial palette and the firmer one of the Virgin Mary and the angel Gabriel, respectively. Also, note the aforementioned minuscule freckles of bluish paint on the Virgin Mary.
The altar painting Tobias and the Angel (completed in c. 1470-c. 1475) is also said to have contributions by the young Leonardo; he painted the fish as well as the dog in the painting, according to art historians Martin Kemp and David Alan Brown respectively. Both give the reason that, when compared to the rest of the painting, the animal figures are painted by implementing an unusually high degree of detail. The style aesthetically matches with that of Leonardo at the time.
The dog and the fish have been drawn with an unusual attention to detail, considering they are animal figures.
Even after having passed as a Master in the Guild of Saint Luke and his father setting him up in his own workshop, he continued linking with Verrocchio and it was in 1473 that we come across the drawing of an emblematic neo-classical European semi-urban landscape, which is said to be Leonardo’s first work done wholly by himself. The pen and ink sketch has an inscription on the top left, that reads (translated from the original Italian)— “(feast) of Saint Mary of the Snow/ – day of August 5th, 1473”. With infallible accuracy, it helps us locate Leonardo when he was merely twenty-one years old, and therefore, making this sketch his earliest surviving work done entirely by him. While the location could never be accurately pinpointed, it could most probably be a panorama of the Tuscan hills around Vinci. The drawing shows ample proof of Leonardo’s skill; the faint lines indicate an initial rendition that he made at the site, and then reinforced the lines of pen and ink inside his studio, with the occasional golden flourish of his brush. There is an intrinsic element of movement in the drawing, and it shows the young artist’s ability to engineer natural forms according to his will. The delicate balance between light and space was surely original, certainly separate from Verrocchio’s work, and this manifests in his rapid growth as a begetter.
The exploration of the Tuscan landscape- drawing of the Arno valley in 1473.
While Leonardo’s initial foray in art was punctuated by numerous collaborations before finally creating his own works with some degree of regularity, Michelangelo’s superb faculties was wholly utilised by him from a relatively younger age. Born in Caprese near Arezzo, Tuscany, Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni was born in 1475 to Ludovico di Lionardo, the Judicial and local administrator of Caprese and Chiusi, and Francesca, who died after a prolonged illness when Michelangelo was only six. Following this tragedy, the young boy resided with a stonecutter’s family in Settignano, a quaint frazione, or parish, in northern Florence, where his father owned a small farm and, more significantly, a marble quarry. It is here that Michelangelo would inculcate a lifelong, deep-seated appreciation of nature and the knack of handling the hammer and chisel, the two instruments of his impending brilliance.
According to historian Charles de Tolnay, young Michelangelo was sent to study grammar under the Florentine humanist Francesco da Urbino, but he, like many such savants throughout the course of human history, never possessed any interest towards conventional schooling, instead preferring to derive inspiration from the sudden renewal of Classical scholarship and architecture throughout the city. He was particularly drawn to the old churches whose outer alcoves and interiors were overlaid with a gallery of works of sculpture and frescoes by the consummate professionals of the time, to name a few—the progenitor of the Renaissance from the late Middle Ages, Giotto di Bondone; Filippo Brunelleschi, who established two churches, San Lorenzo’s and San Spiritu, after years of extensive scrutiny of Classical Roman architecture; Lorenzo Ghiberti, whose formidable work on the bronze doors of the Baptistry which, as remarked by Helen Gardner in Art Through The Ages, was reverently alluded to by Michelangelo as “The Gates of Paradise”; along with the Early Renaissance sculptor Donatello, and the prominent Quattrocento painter Masaccio.
With such a pronounced bent of mind towards the arts, it was natural that the boy would have to be apprenticed to a suitable teacher. Incidentally, one of Leonardo da Vinci’s former co-apprentices under Verrocchio, Domenico Ghirlandaio, was called to the Vatican during that time, among other highly eminent painters, to adorn the walls of the Sistine Chapel. He had the largest workshop in Florence at the time and therefore in 1488, Ludovico Buonarroti immediately arranged for his son, at the age of thirteen, to be placed under the tutelage of the pre-eminent artist.
It was not too long before Michelangelo was sent to the Medici Humanist academy to showcase his undeniable expertise; being incited by Neo-Platonism and privy to the discourses of the most esteemed literati back then, chiefly Marsilio Ficino, and Poliziano. Under these conditions, Michelangelo fashioned two marble relief structures, the Madonna of the Stairs, and the Battle of the Centaurs. Together, these formed the initiation of arguably the most profound creative stream in all of the Renaissance.
Framed in the shallow relief tradition popularised by Donatello, the Madonna of the Stairs is among the earliest works of Michelangelo, certainly his earliest surviving work, as it dates from c. 1491. Shallow relief differs from bas-relief in the sense that the former is extremely flimsy, and seemingly merges into the engraving; here, it is evident that the sculptor uses the chisel to pencil in the drapery of the Madonna’s gown to present it as an illusory image; slightly lowering the plane so as to leave the gown marginally above the sculpted portions of the slab, and therefore heightening the reality of the cloth in terms of its aesthetic feel, its folds and sway. The use of shallow relief is also seen in the stairs as well, admirably presenting the deception of relative heights between the steps. While its more direct influence is likely to be the Quattrocento period, the influence of the Greek stele form, most notable universally in the Code of Hammurabi and the Lapis Niger, is evident from its waxy contours, the Classical nature of Mary’s profile, and religious content presented as shallow relief. The four youths in the background handle a long piece of cloth, conveying an image of premonition, as it is most likely to allude to the cloth used to lower Christ from the cross or a chrisom. The work is unusual in a number of ways as can be observed, and part of which pertains to the figure of the Christ Child as well. Michelangelo chooses not to reveal the face of the Child, instead he suggests a powerful image of protection offered to the divine Child by the human, mortal, Virgin Mother as the Child is tucked in drapery. The physiology of the Child is also abnormally muscular; the exposed right arm and back calls for attention in this respect. While this can be explained vis-à-vis the relative inexperience of the sculptor, it must be remembered that Michelangelo was a prodigy and produced most of his best work before turning thirty. Perhaps this depiction is thoroughly intentional, with the motive to portray the strength of divine purpose derived from a mother’s love and the Christian God’s will.
The technique of rilievo schiacciato is evident in the work, affecting the portrayal of multiple elements of the sculpture.
The story of the mythic battle between the Lapiths, members of the Thessalian people, and the Centaurs would be told to Michelangelo by the aforementioned Classical scholar Poliziano; this would encourage him to forge the Battle of the Centaurs in c. 1492— his second oldest extant work and his last under the patronage of Lorenzo de’ Medici. The sculpture was pivotal in the context of determining Michelangelo’s uniqueness; for the first time, he would define his own parameters of perfection and would carve out his own niche in Renaissance art, shattering stereotypes and preordained customs along the way. While there was some degree of compliance in proliferating an ancient theme of Greek myth and reflecting the triumph of civilisation over barbarism, his methods of reproducing Bertoldo di Giovanni’s The Equestrian Battle in the Ancient Manner, and the subtle way of emphasising his preference of sculpted permanence over natural temporality were entirely dissimilar from all other sculptors in the High Renaissance. Firstly, he would move on from a static model of distinct, parallel planes to a highly dynamic model of seemingly infinite planes, and would then sculpt independently of his preliminary sketches, thereby adopting a technique significantly removed from that of the then established masters, Ghiberti and Donatello. This would allow him the freedom to construct a mass of shapes three-dimensionally, thereby resulting in figures, and their articulation in particular, that appeared more lifelike. The left side of the sculpture is where the effects of this new method are most evident; amidst the entangled mess of the belligerent Lapiths and the Centaurs, contorted figures become a prime example of artistic beauty. The reflections of noted Michelangelo biographers Antonio Forcellino and Allan Cameron have been well documented in this regard, and they have described this technique and by extension, the sculpture in question as Michelangelo’s “own personal revolution”. Secondly, this sculpture would be the first in a line of several figures following the ‘non finito’ tradition, indicating that this sculpture was left unfinished. Almost all the historical evidence insinuates that the young sculptor deliberately left the work incomplete; he used specialised tools to convey the impression of incompleteness, one of which, according to biographers Eric Scigliano and Georgia Illetschko in their separate works, was using the subbia chisel, a conventional sculpting tool, in an unconventional way— leaving punched marks to effectively present the impression of inadequacy while actually remaining as “a conscious compositional element.”
This sense of sparseness makes the Battle of the Centaurs more crucial in appreciating the older Michelangelo. Not only is this sculpture significant from a purely external, artistic point of view, by determining the methods of much of Michelangelo’s later work, it is also significant from an internal, psychical viewpoint as well, especially when it is known that in his later years, he remarked to his aide and biographer Ascanio Condivi that the incompleteness of the carving was the manifestation of all the regret he felt when he engaged in other pursuits at the cost of sculpture.
We find the non-finito tradition in Michelangelo beginning with this work, followed by Taddei Tondo and Pitti Tondo.
This would prove to be the impetus that the young sculptor would then need, launching into a span of highly acclaimed artistic output. He would construct a larger-than-life marble statue of Hercules and send it to France, but it would disappear sometime in the eighteenth century. Two independent crucifixes are also attributed to him around this time, one of which was a polychrome wood carving possibly made for the Church of Santa Maria del Santo Spirito in Florence, Italy. His first known sculpture in marble, the Head of a Faun (c. 1489), is also lost; there remain no traces of it anywhere. Incidentally, this work was what secured Lorenzo de’ Medici’s patronage for the gifted youth if Vasari is to be believed, and as such, this proved to be the genesis that, again expressed through that incomparable chronicler’s sentiments, propelled him to the pinnacle of all artistic achievement since the beginning of the Renaissance.
The final one-third of the great Trinity came a mere eight years after Michelangelo did, who challenged and chased his overwhelming stature almost throughout his existence, and clashed at almost every conceivable sphere of public achievement and private life, only to finally imbibe himself with a greatness unique to him and present in no other, from a lifespan that ended much before his time. Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino; anglicised to Raphael Santi of Urbino; was born in 1483 in the small but artistically relevant city of Urbino. He was the only one out of the three maestros to have a painter, albeit a mediocre one, for a father, who was court artist to the Duke of Urbino; the source of inspiration was much closer home. What strikes most significant about young Raphael is not a proclivity towards the arts, rather it was the wholesome upbringing he received from his parents which placed him in a singular position. As Vasari wrote—
“And truthfully, most of the artisans up to that time had received from Nature a certain trace of madness and wildness which, besides making them unmindful and eccentric, had also caused them, on many occasions, to reveal inside themselves the shadow and darkness of vices rather than the clarity and splendour of those virtues which make men immortal. Hence, Nature had ample cause, on the other hand, to make clearly resplendent in Raphael all those rare virtues of mind, accompanied by as much grace, study, beauty, modesty, and fine manners as would have sufficed to cover up any flaw, no matter how ugly, or any blemish, no matter how large. ”
Indeed, it was the foremost objective of Giovanni, his father, to provide him with a better childhood than the hardship he had lived through, and therefore, there was a pronounced moral growth maturing rapidly alongside his artistic talents as he helped his father in several of his commissions in the city. This would persist into his adulthood; he would achieve glorious fame not only as a master artist but, and more significantly in retrospect, also as an innately gentle, humble, and soft-spoken man, notwithstanding that ‘peek’ into the Sistine Chapel, of course.
This skilful self-portrait; currently housed at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford; was one of the initial signs of Raphael’s limitless talent.
It was soon clear to Giovanni that he could no longer teach his son anything of consequence, and resultantly, worked out to take him to the Renaissance master of the Umbrian school, Pietro Perugino. It is remarkable to note that Perugino followed in the tradition of Domenico Ghirlandaio, Michelangelo’s first master— Perugino was also an apprentice in the venerable workshop of Verrocchio, alongside Leonardo da Vinci. The matter of Raphael’s age when he began as an apprentice to Perugino is ambivalent at best; he was merely eight at the time and, according to historians Roger Jones and Nicholas Penny, quite possibly learnt from Timoteo Viti, the court painter in Urbino, before going to the Umbrian maestro.
Raphael had always possessed a superhuman affinity for imitation; in fact, it would go on to influence much of his early work predominantly, initially taking after the approach of Perugino, which was natural, and also the two indubitable greats, Leonardo and Michelangelo, after his travels to Florence sometime around 1504. His earliest work, especially the Baronci Altarpiece, bears unmistakable signs of Perugino’s influence. Vasari noted that had it not been for Raphael’s signature, (an R interlinked with a V, the latin usage for U; he was chiefly known as Raphael Urbinas at the time) the Resurrection of Christ could not be distinguished from Perugino’s work, so convincing was his emulation, right down to light and heavy brush strokes and use of the colour palette. Heinrich Wölfflin, Swiss art historian of the highest authority, stated unequivocally—
“…probably no other pupil of genius has ever absorbed so much of his master’s teaching as Raphael did. ”
By the turn of the century, Raphael was entirely trained, and moved out of Perugino’s workshop, now qualified as a ‘master’. Around this time, he received his first commission jointly with Evangelista da Pian di Meleto, a seasoned painter from Giovanni’s workshop (as per the annals of art), the Baronci Altarpiece (c. 1500- c. 1501). The now fragmented artwork was a commission to paint extensively for the altar dedicated to Saint Nicholas of Tolentino, a thirteenth-century Italian mystic and patron saint of particularly frail and/or indisposed persons such as animals; both sick and healthy, babies, dying people, and holy souls as well as boatmen, mariners, and the diocese of Mati and Cabanatuan in the Philippines, among others, inside the Church of Sant’Agostino in the Città di Castello, situated halfway between Perugia and Urbino. The painting portrayed an ornate archway, under which stood Saint Nicholas with the devil beneath him, whereas ‘God the Father’ was placed above, a lackadaisical visage coupled with a crown on his hands heavily suggests the fragility and futility of life and the disillusionment of material gain, being synonymous with the creed of Saint Nicholas. God the Father is surrounded by the faces of cherubim, and the Virgin Mary as well as Augustine of Hippo, one of the most important Church Fathers in Western Christianity, make an appearance as well. Owing to a massive earthquake in c. 1789, the painting accrued considerable damage, following which the unimpaired portions were sawed off and put up for display. There are currently six fragments, four fragments of the chief painting— God the Father and Blessed Virgin Mary, both of which reside in the Museo di Capodimonte in Naples; Angel, in the Pinacoteca Civica Tosio Martinengo, Brescia; and another Angel, in the Louvre in Paris; along with two painted-upon platforms of the altar, or predellas— Saint Nicholas of Tolentino Restoring Two Partridges to Life and Saint Nicholas of Tolentino Rescuing a Boy from Drowning, both currently housed at the Institute of Art in Detroit, Michigan.
God the Father surrounded by cherubim.
Angel (the fragment located at the Pinacoteca Civica Tosio Martinengo, Brescia)
Angel (the fragment located at the Louvre, Paris)
The Resurrection of Christ (c. 1499- c. 1502), another one of Raphael’s earliest works, was originally thought to be derived from an unknown predella, but could be one of the misplaced parts of the Baronci Altarpiece. owing to a similarity in the date of composition. However, this work first marks his departure from Perugino’s gentler approach; Raphael established his unique dynamic as opposed to his old master’s poetic, and the entirety of the painting is characterised by an all-pervading, stark and complex, yet harmonising geometry. While beautifully showcasing the interactions between the mundane and the divine, as well as the quality of persistent rhythmic movement reminiscent of Leonardo’s sketch of the Arno Valley all those years ago, it also highlights the painter’s substantial expertise in the existing Florentine aesthetic habitat, in addition to, according to historians Julia Barone and Luiz Marquez, amassing influence from the Italian painters Pinturicchio and Melozzo da Forlì. The spatial approach heightens the sense of transcendence, conveying a sense of transportation from the material realm and the painting shows a distinct lack of divinity, in spite of portraying a scene that essentially ascribes to a divine vindication of sorts; Jesus is shown to be almost human in his forbearance, as he makes his disapproval known to the frightened sinners on the ground. The sweeping impression is that of a highly unconventional orchestra, with the slightly opened coffin lid acting as its source; the pièce de résistance. The congregation of angels in the background appear smaller, it draws obvious inspiration from the foreshortening technique of Forlì. The lack of divinity as well as the spatial perspective employed by Raphael are evocative of Leonardo’s Annunciation; the angel Gabriel is portrayed as decidedly corporal in the latter.
Note how the slightly ajar coffin lid heralds the eponymous event depicted in the work, and the meticulous placement of the varied elements shown.
These works principally laid down the foundation for Raphael to progress rapidly as an artist and architect. In his brief life, he produced an extraordinary amount of work, mainly due to his precocious skill, but in no small part due to friends and connections he easily made because of his charming ways. It has been stated that towards his later years, he regularly abandoned his own work to help other painters, and such benevolence can be traced back to his roots. In other words, he greatly respected life which in turn he poured into his art and as such, he grew into something more than a mere painter; in Vasari’s own words—
“…he lived more like a prince…”
The original intention of this thesis was to chart the beginnings of perhaps the greatest repository of talent in all of human history, and the presented examination of their works along with their fledging milieu presents a novel perspective on their life’s work. However, it needs to be clarified that such rare greatness can never truly be mechanically deciphered, or manually comprehended. Perhaps, it is wiser to simply savour their immortal legacy, and instead of harbouring obsession for debating their greatness, and getting embroiled in the complexities of their work, one would do well to realise that these three geniuses began with nothing more than a brush or a chisel in their hands, and a newfound love for the blank canvas.
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