The compassionate eyes of St. Sebastian look out from the canvas.
The martyr is dressed in Raphael’s signature deep reds and blues.
Next to the painting of St. Sebastian, Mary Magdalene strikes a similar pose, in a portrait by Raphael’s teacher Perugino.
The resemblance is a clue that Raphael’s brush evolved within his community of mentors and friends in his home town Urbino.
Now Urbino is honoring its most famous son 500 years after his death, with a new exhibition “Raphael and his friends from Urbino” which juxtaposes his paintings with those of his contemporaries.
The show offers a new take on the making of a genius: that iconic artists from any era emerge from a milieu of contemporaries, all pushing the envelope towards new heights.
Raphael was a contemporary of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, but was also influenced by fellow painters from his hometown of Urbino, such as Timoteo Viti and Girolamo Genga.
“The idea behind the exhibit is to draw a comparison among the lives of three artists, that share Urbino as their birthplace,” says exhibit curator Silvia Ginzburg. “And through the milestones of their biographic and stylistic journey, tell the story of the grand transition from the 1400s to the 1500s.”
Born in Urbino in 1483, Raphael was first influenced by his father, Giovanni Santi. Santi was a prominent intellectual and follower of Renaissance Humanism, the 15th century movement which studied and revived the themes of classical antiquity to create a cultural resurgence which became known as the Renaissance.
“Raphael was raised in the teachings of the ancient thinkers, with the idea that they had to be realized. In truth, the idea of realization belongs to all artists of that time. But the way Raphael built his language, combining many different models and creating a new language, is absolutely unique to him—the result of his humanistic upbringing in Urbino.” she adds.
Raphael was one of the most innovative artists of his time who combined perspective, soft light and high contrast to create beautiful and harmonious images.
From Urbino he went to Perugia to train under Perugino. There he met Domenico Alfani, a painter who used Raphael’s sketches for his own canvas, as seen in a tempera (painting style) featured in the exhibit called the “Holy Family with St. Anne, St. Jack and little St. John.”
From Perugia, Raphael went to Florence and then to Rome in 1509, where he later worked as chief architect under the protection of Pope Julius II.
“He’s the genius and everybody else is the second level, apart from Michelangelo and Leonardo of course,” says Peter Aufreiter, Director of the Marche National Gallery inside the Duke’s Palace.
With its 85 works, including 17 paintings and three sketches by Raphael, the “Raphael and his Friends from Urbino” exhibit took 2 years to organize and cost 1 million Euros—one of the biggest budgets ever seen in Urbino, which counts just 15,000 inhabitants.
Aufreiter says that if you have not been to Urbino, you can not claim to understand the mastery of Raphael.
“Who is not going to Urbino in the Raphael year, we can say, did not understand Raphael, because it is very important to know where he was born, what was his first education,” Aufreiter says.
The collection came from world-class museums all over world: the Uffizi Museum in Florence; the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin; the National Gallery of London; The Gallery of Saint Hermitage in St. Petersburg; the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Lille and the Liechtenstein Museum in Vienna.
The exhibit runs at the city’s Duke’s palace until January 19, 2020, spearheading celebrations for the 500th anniversary of the death of Raphael.