SINCE, besides the art of painting, in which all men acknowledge your excellence, you were considered by Bramante to be so skilled in architecture that he, when dying, spoke of you as worthy to succeed him as head architect of St. Peter’s Church, we . . . . do hereby appoint you to that office with a salary of three hundred golden scudi a year.” The brief addressed by Leo X. to Raphael on the 1st of August, A. D. 1514, of which these are the opening words, was issued at a time when he was already so overwhelmed with commissions and burthened with responsibilities, that he might well have shrunk from accepting a charge so onerous ; but apart from the fact that the offer was tantamount to a command, it was too honorable to be refused, and he not only took it, but retained it for the remainder of his life with all its obligations of superintending the carrying out of accepted plans, and suggesting advisable departures from them.
His work at St. Peter’s, which will be spoken of in a later chapter in connection with that of Bramante, Michelangelo, and their successors, was begun in the year when he painted the Galatea, the ” Madonna del Pesce,” the Vision of Ezekiel, and an altar-piece typifying the triumph of celestial over terrestrial music, for the Duglioli Chapel in the church of ” San Giovanni in Monte “‘ at Bologna. In this picture the patron saint of the divine art is represented as a young and beautiful woman, listening with a rapt expression to a choir of angels in a glory of light above her head. They are
“Pouring forth music like the scent of fruit, And stirring all the incense-laden air,”
while St. Cecilia stands amid broken instruments of music, with a small organ in her hands, having on her right and left the nobly draped and grandly conceived figures of Saints Paul, John, Augustine, and the Magdalen, patron saints of the donatrix, a noble Bolognese lady named Elena Duglioli dall’ Olio, who had been commanded in a dream to build and endow the chapel.
Raphael sent this beautiful picture to Bologna in 1517, with a letter to his friend Francesco Francia, asking him to repair any injuries which it might have received during its journey from Rome, and to retouch it in those parts which he considered defective. The general admiration which it excited when it was put in its place over the altar had hardly spent itself, when it was again roused by the Vision of Ezekiel,a picture painted for Count Ercolani of Bologna, which, though but of cabinet size, seems of vast dimensions, so colossal is its spirit. Floating in space with his arms extended and sustained by angels, with a brightness round about him ” as the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain,” the Creator (whose Jove-like character betrays a classic influence which in all other instances Raphael carefully shunned when treating Biblical types) sits enthroned upon the mystic symbols of the Evangelists.
As in this small masterpiece Raphael equalled Michelangelo in grandeur of style, so in his next great work, the fresco of the ” Incendio del Borgo ” (Fig. 17) at the Vatican, did he rival him in the treatment of the nude. In many of Michelangelo’s works the display of the naked human form is purely arbitrary. Tempted by the delight which he felt in treating what he best understood, he often took occasion to display his knowledge of anatomy where it was not demanded by the nature of the subject. Raphael, on the contrary, never introduced undraped figures into his ccmpositions unless their presence was fully justified, as in this case, where the victims of a conflagration fly from their beds in an unclothed or half-clothed state. The Borgo, a quarter of Rome near the Vatican, had been saved from complete destruction in the eighth century by the prayers of Pope Leo IV., and it was to perpetuate this tradition, and to commemorate a similar disaster in the same quarter of the city during the reign of Leo X., that Raphael represented the Pope interceding with Heaven for the lives and property of his subjects from the window of a palace in the background. The scene is laid in a city square surrounded by houses out of which the terrified inmates escape as best they may. Some hurry to extinguish the flames, some address themselves to the task of saving those who are too young or too infirm to save themselves, and others are paralyzed with fear. A new pious AEneas, followed by another Ascanius, carries another aged Anchises on his back to a place of safety; a woman from the top of a high wall confides an infant in swaddling-clothes to the upstretched arms of a young man who stands on tiptoe to reach the precious burthen; while a naked man grasping the top of the same wall hangs against it as he drops to the ground, showing all the muscles of his body in extreme tension. As the boy, the youth, the full-grown man, and the aged father represent the male nude figure at four different periods of life, so do the infant, the young woman, the mother, and the aged matron illustrate four periods of woman’s life, and thus every variety of human existence is depicted. The most striking figure in the composition is that of a young woman hurriedly descending a flight of steps to the right, with a jar of water on her head and another in her hand. The wind blowing violently from behind has loosened her hair, and as it drives the folds of her dress close against her limbs, fully displays the grand lines of her figure. Turning her earnest face towards a group of terror-stricken women kneeling in the foreground, she seems to cry, ” God helps those who help themselves ; this is a time for action, not for prayer.”
In dramatic power the ” Incendio ” is surpassed by the Heliodorus, but it surpasses it in the greater variety of emotion displayed by the actors in the drama. Agitation pervades both, but in the Heliodorus it proceeds from a supernatural cause which all feel to be irresistible, whereas in the ” Incendio ” it is excited by a material enemy, whose presence, as it calls forth the active resistance of some and causes helpless despair in others, produces strong contrasts in the expression of a common sentiment of alarm which are taken advantage of to give variety to the composition. Raphael’s work in the Vatican chambers ended here ; for although he designed the other frescos in this same room, as well as those in the Hall of Constantine, they were executed after his death by his pupils, whose weakness when deprived of his guidance is manifest. The Justification of Leo III. and the Coronation of Charlemagne are mural decorations, which show how wide is the gulf that separates talent from genius, but taken with the four circular pictures by Perugino in the ceiling, and the “Incendio” by Raphael, they have au historical value as representing the decline of a school of which the first illustrate the source and the second the culmination.
Knowing as we do that while Raphael lived he was constantly assisted by his scholars in all his great works to an extent which, judging from the immense number of commissions which he accepted and nominally executed during his Roman period, must have been even greater than is generally supposed, it is interesting to compare their work under his eye with that which they did when it was no longer upon them; but the first is not always easy to identify. Many pictures pass as Raphael’s which were for the most part painted by his pupils. After he had drawn a composition on wall or canvas, Giulio Romano perhaps sketched it in colors and left it for Raphael to complete. Copies were then made of it, which he retouched, and these eventually passed as his work. His letter to Francia about a portrait of himself which he had promised to paint for him clearly indicates that this was the ordinary practice. “I have as yet,” he says, “been too much occupied to paint it myself, as I promised to do. I might have had it painted by one of my pupils, and then have retouched it, but this under the circumstances would not have been right.” It is hardly necessary to say that the above remarks apply only to pictures painted after Raphael left Florence, for up to and including the Borghese Entombment he can have had no such assistance, for the simple reason that he had no pupils under him. When the great works which he had on hand after he came to Rome rendered his need of assistance pressing, he received many young artists of talent into his studio, and the skill which they acquired in the work confided to them made them every year more and more competent to carry out his ideas up to that point beyond which none but the mind which had conceived them could advance. No argument is needed to convince us that such a picture as the Sistine Madonna is the work of Raphael from first to last. Its improvised character, its wondrous beauty, and its absolute unity of thought, feeling, and execution preclude any other supposition ; and for the reason that division of labor in portraiture is less possible than in any other branch of art, we may also believe that he only painted upon such portraits as those of Leo X., Julius II., Inghirami, and Castiglione.
On the other hand we cannot doubt that in many of Raphael’s most celebrated easel pictures, frescos, altar-pieces, and cartoons, he was greatly assisted by Giulio Romano, Francesco Penni (Il Fattore), Giovanni da Udine, and Polidoro Caldara (da Caravaggio), all of whom could be safely intrusted with a great deal of preparatory and even advanced work. The generally reddish hue of the “Spasimo di Sicilia” at Madrid, for instance, suggests the collaboration of Giulio Romano, but no other hand than that of his master could have painted the face of Christ, in which exalted dignity and complete resignation to physical suffering are so marvellously blended as to make it perhaps the most touching of all representations of the “man of sorrows ” in pictorial art. It is in such episodes from the life of our Lord, where the divine element is veiled, that the highest triumphs of art have been achieved. In their representations of the Passion, the Deposition, the Entombment, as well as of the child Jesus, the greatest painters of the Italian and German schools have approached the ideal of attainment; but since the days when rude images of our Lord were painted on the walls of the Catacombs, down to our own time, no artist has fully realized that conception of Christ as teacher which is conveyed to us in the noble simplicity of the sacred text. Something which lives only in its words is wanting even in the heads of Christ in the Last Supper, by Lionardo da Vinci, in the Tribute Money by Titian, and in the cartoons by Raphael. Nothing, indeed, could be nobler in style or more perfect in composition than the cartoon of the Charge to Peter, in which the Saviour stands pointing to the flock which he commits to the kneeling Apostle, or than that of the Miraculous Draught of Fishes, in which our Lord’s dignified form is clearly defined against the evening sky; and yet in neither does the central figure satisfy us as the complete rendering of a type which would seem to be beyond the reach of art. That this should be so does not appear strange if we reflect that the love, the goodness, the sympathetic pity, the justice, the tenderness, in short, all the elements of Christ’s divine and human nature, would have to be concentrated into a single form, endowed with a more than manly strength and a more than feminine gentleness, adequately to represent him as he appeared in the fulfilment of his mission upon earth. The words which fell from his lips in pregnant sentences express all his qualities and attributes, but the pictures and statues which represent him as uttering them, limited as they are to the expression of a single thought, fail to satisfy us who know how much remains unexpressed. Raphael seems to have felt that even his powers were inadequate to treat the Gospel narrative in which Christ the teacher constantly figures, for in his cartoons designed for tapestries, to be hung upon the lower part of the walls of the Sistine Chapel on festal occasions,8 he continued the cycle of Scripture subjects already painted there by others taken from the Acts of the Apostles.
The survival of seven of them after the unparalleled vicissitudes which they have undergone seems almost miraculous. Of all the countless treasures of art which England holds in trust, other nations may with most reason envy her the possession of these precious works, which in style, in composition, in the cast of draperies, in attitudes, and in the rendering of character approach perfection. Let us look at them for a moment under each of these heads, that we may realize how justly they merit their great reputation; and first as regards style, which being throughout noble raises us at once into a pure atmosphere of thought and feeling. Diverting our attention for the moment from the significance to the rendering of the subjects, we recognize them as the creations of a richly cultivated intellect, whose mode of expressing the most important parts and the most trivial details in pictorial language is lofty, natural, and unexaggerated.
In composition they fulfil the highest requirements; for while the arrangement of the forms represented and their surroundings are regulated by the most profound knowledge of the laws of art, these are so kept out of sight that the result appears as unstudied as that of scenes in real life, where the actors have grouped themselves with accidental picturesqueness. In the cast of draperies they are no less admirable. These are related to the forms which they cover but do not conceal, as are musical melodies to the underlying harmony which sustains them. Their folds are broadly treated and carefully disposed ; they have their raison, d’être in the forms beneath them, and falling in lines of con-summate beauty which contradict no facts of nature, are no less logical than graceful. The attitudes of the persons represented singly or in groups are natural, appropriate, and infinitely varied. Everywhere the outlines are contrasted with the happiest effect, while the action of the figures always expresses the feeling incident to the situation, whether it be quiet like that of the Christ pointing to his flock, or energetic like that of the St. Peter kneeling at the Saviour’s feet. The heads are of every variety of type, from the highest ideal to the most realistic, and so absolutely are the Apostles, the groping Elymas, and the squalid and repulsive beggar at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple individualized, that they become identified in our minds with the persons whom they represent. To thus create final types is what none but the most exalted genius can do. More than any other artist, Raphael has so filled out the ideal of Prophets, Saints, Apostles, heroes, kings, and beggars. If we read in the Acts how Paul preached on Mars Hill, the image which we see is that which he painted ; or if of the Sacrifice at Lystra, we see it as he has represented it, with the pagan altar and the two lovely boys who stand beside it, and the victims ready for the sacrifice, and the surging multitude who take Paul and Barnabas for gods. So is it with the Death of Ananias, the Charge to Peter, the Elymas struck with Blindness, the Miraculous Draught of Fishes, and the Peter and John at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple.
No one can study the cartoons without being struck with the exceeding beauty and fitness of their landscape and architectural back-grounds, whose character is always in perfect keeping with the subject of which they are an integral though properly subordinate part. This perfect balance between that which though important should from its nature be accessorial, is kept by Raphael in all his mural and easel paintings, and justly forms one of his titles to renown, for there is perhaps no part of a picture in which a master shows himself more clearly. At the height of his fame, Rubens rebuked a rash pupil who had made light of the difficulties involved in painting a background, by proposing to take lessons of him, knowing full well that it may utterly mar a picture, or enhance its beauties a hundred-fold. But although the Flemish painter was eminently skilful in this part of his art, he did not give his backgrounds a real importance in themselves and yet keep them subordinate. It was rather by gradation of tones, and cunning artifice in the use of shades of color, that he led the eye off into space, whereas Raphael used clearly defined forms of trees and hills and buildings for the same purpose, – a much more difficult feat because these are more likely to interfere with the main action. His special excellence in this respect shows itself from the first. In his early pictures his landscapes, though not exempt from the formalism of Perugino’s school, are lovely in line and elaborate in detail. Valleys, mountains, green hills clothed with verdure, meadows carpeted with fiowers and studded with slender budding trees, are painted in them with scrupulous care and fidelity. In the works of his Roman time, as, for instance, in the cartoons, the backgrounds are broader and bolder in treatment, but not a whit less admirably composed. The quiet lake and wooded shore in the cartoon of the Miraculous Draught of Fishes, the hill and far-stretching plain studded with trees and buildings in that of Christ’s Charge to Peter, are instances in point, and many more might be referred to in the frescos of the ” Loggie.” In the Sacrifice at Lystra, where the masses of buildings disposed on either hand are broken by an open space enriched with a statue of Mercury standing in the square beyond, in the Death of Ananias, the Elymas, and the Healing of the Cripple, the backgrounds are necessarily architectural, as the scenes depicted take place in city squares or the interior of buildings, and in these, as in the School of Athens, the Miracle of Bolsena, and the Heliodorus, Raphael shows equal mastery.
The ” Loggie ” (open galleries looking into the court of the Vatican, built by Raphael after the death of Bramante) are decorated with forty-eight frescos, sometimes called the Bible of Raphael, representing incidents taken from the Old and New Testaments, and with arabesques and grotesques in color and in stucco. When these were in all the freshness of their beauty it must have been difficult for the most enthusiastic lover of nature to turn his eyes from them, even to look over Rome to the Campagna and the distant mountains, but at present no such temptation exists, for not only have the arches been filled with glass, but the building has been continued round the two opposite sides of the court, thus shutting out much of the splendid view then visible.
These frescos are so well known through drawings and engravings that it seems unnecessary to describe them. Look through the series and see how naturally they relate in forms the histories which all know in words ; observe how knowledge of every sort is displayed in them with so little parade that they seem to have been improvised ; mark how there is not one composition which does not contain some exquisite group, such as that of the women who cluster around Pharaoh’s daughter like a flock of doves just alighted on the river-bank (Plate VII.) ; or that of Rachel and Leah, who, meeting Jacob at the well, turn their modest eyes upon the stranger as he recognizes in them those whom he has come to seek. Raphael must have watched his pupils closely while they were painting these frescos, so thoroughly are they filled with his spirit. We may fancy that often while he was painting upon one of the great frescos in the “Stanze” he laid down his brush and wandered into the ” Loggie ” to see what progress they had made. To correct an outline or the expression of a face, he would take the pallet from the hands of Penni or Buonaccorsi, and this done would forget himself and paint in a figure or a group, working for hours until interrupted by a summons to attend the Pope in the Borgia chamber, or to receive him at the door opening into the ” Loggie ” which he was coming to inspect. Since his last visit some one or more of the thirteen arcades had perhaps been cleared of its scaffoldings, and we may imagine the satisfaction felt by his Holiness as its combined historical, allegorical, and ornamental decoration was offered to his view.
It was by that union of the classical with the modern spirit which gives what we call the Renaissance its peculiar character, that Raphael made these galleries so uniquely beautiful. Inspired by those admirable examples of antique mural decoration lately discovered in the Baths of Titus, he designed grotesques and arabesques for the “Loggie” as full of rich invention as their prototypes.
Grotesques may be compared to waking dreams; for although fanciful and bizarre in the highest degree, they are systematized and con-trolled by the reason. In them the artist rearranges the elements of nature as his fancy dictates, associating realities in strange though logical combinations. He lays the world of nature and art under contribution, and works out new and strange forms. Architectural elements, plants, flowers, leaves, fruits, sirens, griffins, tritons, centaurs, hypogriffs, and other combinations of animal forms are the materials with which he works, making them orderly in their disorder, so that the sense of fitness may not be shocked by the violation of fundamental principles of growth and arrangement. Raphael not only did this, but he often gave an interest to his fanciful creations by associating them in meaning with the historical subjects. Thus, for instance, around the Temptation and the Fall he painted genii fighting with harpies, lions, and tigers, symbolic of the struggle between Divine love and the passions of our fallen nature ; and about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah he represented a combat of fantastic monsters. Many of the arabesques are simple overflowings of poetic imagination without ulterior meaning, as, for instance, Chimeras bearing baskets of flowers on their heads ; Loves with vases ; Fauns placed as Telamones on either side of a temple, supporting a semicircular frame filled with a little landscape ; swans, and fantastic animals, such as the phoenix or the hypogriff, in the midst of flowers, leaves, and festoons.
Many of these capricious expressions of artistic fancy were designed and executed by Giovanni or Nanni, called da Udine from his birth-place, an artist of distinguished talent as an ornamentist, who had studied the old Roman decorations in the Baths of Titus with Raphael. He came to Rome after the death of his first master, Giorgione, bringing as his credentials a letter to Count Castiglione, and a book full of animals, birds, plants, and flowers painted from nature in the rarest perfection ; and as his talent exactly fitted him for the work then in hand, the decoration of the “Loggie,” he was employed in it with the happiest results. Time and restoration have dealt so cruelly with his decorative paintings in the lower gallery that we can have but a faint idea of their original excellence ; but there are other works of his, such as the arabesques in the ceiling of the so-called Borgia chambers, and above all the stuccos in the second storey of the “Loggia,” which fully justify his great reputation. In these he stands in the position of a reviver of one of the lost arts. The secret of preparing a white, durable, and perfectly plastic stucco which like that of the ancients would preserve its sharpness of outline for centuries, was unknown, and the young artist directed his efforts to its discovery. Undeterred by the fruitless result of many experiments, he persevered until he found the desired material in a mixture of white marble dust and travertine, and in this he modelled an infinite number of gods and goddesses, amorini, centaurs, tritons, and nereids in low relief upon the ceilings and pilasters of the ” Loggie,” and many subjects illustrative of the work going on around him. The mason preparing the wall for the fresco-painter, the pupil pouncing the outlines of a design, and the modeller fashioning his reliefs, all served him in turn, and even the Pope, as he passed through the gallery and paused to give his blessing to a kneeling penitent, did not escape his quick eye and ready hand.
Animated by the presence of Raphael, the work of decoration went on with wonderful speed and success in all its branches. Since Phidias directed the labors of his skilled assistants at Athens, no such many-handed and one-minded enterprise had been attempted, nor can any one see the result, even in its present state of ruin, without feeling that the old system – under which talent served genius, and the clever, of whom the world is full, became mediums for inspired artists, of whom there are but few – was the true system. It matters little if many lesser lights are swallowed up in one great light ; the stars are invisible while the sun shines in the heavens. It was right that such a master as Raphael should absorb the artistic capacities of all around him, because his productive power, limited by the shortness of his life, could only have attained its maximum through the aid of pupils so trained in his style that their individuality was merged in his. As they became the agents of his will, and the workers-out of his thoughts, the world lost what they would have produced without his aid, – a mass of second-rate work by which it would have profited little ; but this was a light loss as compared with the great gain obtained by the subserviency of inferior men who were most useful when employed in giving material aid to their superior through such measure of technical skill as it was possible for them to reach.
From these reflections let us turn to consider the Madonna di San Sisto and the Transfiguration, with which Raphael crowned his short and wonderful career. He was commissioned to paint the first of these great masterpieces by the monks of the convent of St. Sixtus at Piacenza, about the year 1518. They wanted an altar-piece, and in it he gave them what generations of painters had failed to attain, the ideal expression of that belief in the divinity of Christ which is the corner-stone of the Christian faith. He painted the infant Jesus of more than earthly beauty in the arms of the Madonna. The picture seems like a vision, – too beautiful to last.
A curtain has been drawn aside, and the mother and her Divine Son are revealed. No halo or external attribute indicates his divinity, nor are his features and limbs other than those of a mortal child. Only by his celestial beauty and his inspired look is his real nature made known. A heavenly light from within illumines his brow and shines in his eyes. Their glance is soft and yet awe-inspiring, for it is that of the Redeemer and the Judge combined. It fills us with opposite emotions of trust or dread, and according to our mood impresses us with the tender mercy of a nature which though divine could stoop to relieve the needs of sinners, or gives us a sense of its pure justice. In many pictures before and after Raphael there are heads of beauty, of power, heads noble, saintly, and inspired, but in none is there one so divine as this of the infant Saviour; none which so fully realizes the type of an incarnate Godhead. So also the representation of her who, as his mother, was blessed among women, is unsurpassed in beauty, in modesty, in dignity, and in grace. Pope Sixtus and Santa Barbara, kneeling on either side of the central group, and the two beautiful cherubs below it gazing upwards as if to lead our eyes with theirs to the celestial vision, form the human links by which our connection with the Christ-child is established.
The spontaneous flow of line, and the seemingly unstudied ease with which this picture is painted, give it the effect of an improvisation. As it now hangs in a gallery, removed from its proper atmosphere, which is that of a church, where the silence is broken only by the sound of the organ or the subdued accents of prayer and praise, its power is due to itself alone. Even the thoughtless are hushed to silence ; and is a voice raised above a whisper, a low Hush ! runs through the room to recall the offender to a sense of the respect due to its majestic and divine beauty.
As the series of pictures in which Raphael represented the infant Christ is here closed by his glorification, so is that in Which he portrayed the Redeemer closed by his transfiguration. The Transfiguration (Plate VIII.) was long regarded as Raphael’s masterpiece and the greatest of all pictures ; but although its transcendent merits are in some respects still fully acknowledged, it does not occupy so high a place among his works as it once did, and this on account of certain defects of composition, and the want of transparency in its shadows. For the latter Giulio Romano may be considered responsible. It is evident that he painted a great deal upon this picture, as he was paid two hundred and twenty-four gold ducats out of the six hundred and fifty-five originally agreed upon as the price for it. Had Raphael lived to finish it, there can be no doubt that it would have had a very different appearance. He was aware that when Cardinal Giulio de’ Medici commissioned him to paint the Transfiguration for the church at Narbonne of which he had been made bishop, he had also ordered a picture of the Resurrection of Lazarus from Sebastiano del Piombo for the high altar of the church of San Pietro in Montorio at Rome, and knowing that he would have to compete not only with the Venetian painter in effects of color, but with Michelangelo in drawing, he endeavored to meet the first on his own ground by throwing a broad light on the upper part of the picture, and contrasting it with masses of shadow below ; and the second by giving it the utmost nobility of style. This he did with wonderful effect, and had the shadows been painted with a Venetian transparency and depth, the Transfiguration would have surpassed the Resurrection of Lazarus in this as in all other respects.
Surrounded by a brilliant light, our Lord is transfigured before the eyes of the Apostles, and floats in the air between Moses and Elias, above the summit of Mount Tabor. Peter, James, and John lie prostrate, as if unable to support the glory of the apparition, and overcome with awe at the sound of the voice which says to them, ” This is my beloved Son, hear ye him.” Strongly contrasted with this beatific vision is the scene of human suffering below the Mount. A boy possessed by a devil is brought by his father to the Apostles that he may be cured. They point upwards to Christ as the only helper; but this connection of the terrestrial with the celestial is so imperfect that the mind does not at once seize it, and unity, that first and greatest quality of a composition, seems wanting. Each episode being complete in itself appears to be a separate subject, and the line of the hillock which cuts the picture makes this conspicuous. Of the two that which should be dominant is not so. The eye wanders from the Vision, which should be the chief centre of interest, to the group formed by the boy, the Apostle, and the majestic woman kneeling in the foreground, and the picture seems faulty when judged by Raphael’s own canons, because the touching scene of human suffering below the mount so completely absorbs our attention, as it does that of those who take part in it, that, despite the outstretched arm of the Apostle, we also forget the wondrous spectacle in the heavens. Generally when a celestial and a terrestrial scene are represented in the same picture, both are in repose, or one only is in action, as, for instance, in Raphael’s Dispute of the Sacrament, where the foreground is filled with moving figures, while those which form the celestial hierarchy are motionless. This is not the case in the Transfiguration or in Titian’s splendid picture of the Assumption; but for the most part great painters have felt the importance of keeping the attention undivided by concentrating movement, which attracts the eye, into one half of the picture. These violations of a reasonable law by two of the greatest painters the world has known may be set down as exceptions to be met with in the productions of men of genius, which prove nothing against its soundness.
The Cardinal de’ Medici evidently considered the Transfiguration superior to the Resurrection of Lazarus, since, contrary to his original intention, he placed the first over the high altar of San Pietro in Montorio, and sent the last to Narbonne. There was, it is true, a reason quite independent of the question as to which was the finer picture of the two, which may have influenced his decision, namely, deference to and sympathy with the popular feeling, which would have asserted itself against the removal of the last and as many thought the finest work of the great artist. Thousands of persons of all ranks had seen it suspended above the couch upon which Raphael’s body was exposed in the room where he died, on Good Friday, April 6, 1520, and had it been taken away from Rome all would have felt as if the painter himself were a second time snatched from them.
When Castiglione wrote to his mother, “Rome is no longer Rome now that my dear Raphael is dead,” he expressed a feeling which was widely shared, for he had as much identified himself with the ancient city by reconstructing the plans of her temples and palaces from their great ruins, as with the modern by decorating her palaces with frescos which she then counted and still counts among her greatest treasures. A malignant fever had snatched him away at the early age of thirty-seven, in the midst of projects half formed and plans half carried out, and when Castiglione wrote he had just been buried at the Pantheon in a tomb which he had himself selected and prepared. Although his last resting-place was marked by a marble group sculptured by Lorenzetto in accordance with directions given in Raphael’s will, it was believed by many persons that his body lay at Santa Maria sopra Minerva, in a chapel belonging to the Urbinese residents at Rome. The doubt was not solved until 1833, when the tomb at the Pantheon was opened and found to contain his skeleton in a good state of preservation. “As you read these lines,” wrote the painter Over-beck on this occasion to his friend Philip Veit, “you will feel some-what of the pious emotion which penetrated us when we looked upon the bones of the dear master.”
For a whole month after their discovery they were exposed to public view, in a coffin raised upon a catafalque, surrounded with lighted candles. Again, after an interval of three hundred and thirteen years, a Roman crowd pressed around them and witnessed the imposing ceremonies attendant upon their reburial in the tomb which they had so long occupied, and where it may be hoped they will henceforth lie undisturbed.
It is perhaps in some measure because these ” spoglie immemore di tanto spiro” have been seen and touched by men of our own time, that the death of Raphael is brought very near to us. The death of any man of genius brings with it a sense of personal regret. We mention the year and the day when it took place with a certain emotion, for his works have made us his friends. We know that we are so much the happier and better for his existence, and are grateful to him because he has planted our standard of the beautiful so much nearer the ideal. Identified with his works in our minds, known to us in his personal appearance and in all the incidents of his career, he is often more really our acquaintance than nine tenths of the people with whom we live, especially if we sympathize with the peculiar character of his mind and love the kind of work which he did in the world. Living with, and actively influenced as we are by those with whom we come in contact, the links which bind us to the men of the past are in many cases stronger than those which hold us to those of the present, for the foundations of our intellectual being were laid before we were born ; and as in old family mansions we value the pictures, books, chairs, and tables left us by our grandsires far more than those which we have added to them, so in our minds we most value those treasures which we have inherited. Again, between us and living men of genius there is often a material barrier, which only death can break down. Excepting in rare cases, we do not know them at their best, nor can we take in their lives at a glance, but see them partially and incompletely. Their peculiarities of temper or disposition perhaps prevent free intercourse, and a sense of our own inferiority keeps us at a distance from them ; but when nothing is left upon the earth but the fruits of their labor, we approach these freely, and know no bounds to our enjoyment save that which is imposed by the limits of our appreciation. All may know Michelangelo now that he is dead, whereas while he was alive this was possible but to few. Raphael was more accessible to his contemporaries, and yet as an artist they could not appreciate him as we can, because they could not like us compare him with his successors. We who know what followed in Italy after his death and that of Michelangelo, can better measure their greatness ; and though change of taste and fashion has so obscured the judgment of some men of our time that they permit themselves to speak of the common estimate of Raphael as exaggerated, he still ranks in the judgment of the world at large where his own time placed him.
To substantiate his claim to the highest rank, we need only define the qualities of a great painter, and then measure him by the standard thus formed. A great painter is one who through the medium of line and color so expresses the sentiments excited in him by Nature as to raise others to that perception of her perfections of which they would be incapable without his aid, and who so portrays the passions and feelings of humanity through human forms as to inspire those who see his works with the same measure of enthusiasm which filled his own mind when he delineated them. To do this he must have the poetic temperament which sympathizes with and assimilates all good things ; he must have an eye trained to perceive beauty wheresoever it exists, a hand which through discipline has become the obedient instrument of his every thought, a profound insight into character, and a comprehension of the ideal with a grasp of the actual, which will prevent him, while giving rein to his imagination, from overstepping the bounds of truth and falling into exaggeration and manner-ism. His technical knowledge, which includes that of the laws of composition, of design, of light and shade, of color, of drawing, and of perspective, must be complete, and with a fine feeling for form he must have that perfect comprehension of the just relation between hues and forms which will enable him to associate them harmoniously. Finally, all his powers must be under the steady control of an en-lightened judgment, which will guide him as if by intuition in selecting those materials in nature best suited to the perfect accomplishment of his purpose. Neither Raphael nor any other man ever had all these gifts and acquirements in equal proportion. Titian and Giorgione ex-celled him in color, Michelangelo in grandeur of style, and Lionardo in subtle delicacy of handling; but even in these particulars he was surpassed by such artists only, and none of them had the sum of qualities which he possessed in such admirable balance. No one among artists is more full of variety than Raphael, and yet the very evenness and perfect level of his genius makes him appear wanting in it to superficial observers. To such as they the summer sea is tame, the cloudless sky uninteresting. Take one of his great compositions, such as the School of Athens, and see if among the many figures which it contains there be one which resembles another in attitude, in physiognomy, in drapery, in action. Look through his Madonnas and Holy Families, and see if there be any two which, barring a certain unavoidable sisterhood, are alike in expression or in arrangement of pose, coiffure, or drapery ? Again, in respect to character, who has rendered the men of his day with greater fidelity, or created ideal types of historical persons more perfectly in keeping with what history tells us of them ? It would be hard to say which are the more real to us, the Saints Peter and Paul whom he drew from his imagination, or the Julius II. and the Leo X. whom he painted from life. Unlike Rubens, whose eye was ” rather a mirror than a penetrating instrument,” calculated to reflect the exterior rather than to seize the inmost spirit of those whose faces he painted, Raphael saw and revealed the inner man to observers of all time. He was not one of those who softened physical defects to please his sitters or their friends, – witness the cross-eye of Inghirami, the sallow, shrivelled cheeks of Julius, and the sensual features of Leo ; nor did he in his ideal heads depart from truth lest he might shock the over-sensitive, – witness the head of the beggar asking alms at the gate of the Temple, and the distorted features of the possessed boy in the Transfiguration. The wide range between such heads as these and those of the Madonnas and Angels and Saints in which he expressed his highest conceptions of female beauty, shows complete mastery over every kind of human type. We recognize the fertility of a genius which, though dealing with the same subject, is ever new in its expression, when we separate the heads of beauty from those of character, and contrast like with like, such as his Madonnas in the ” Cardellino ” and the “San Sisto”; his infant Christs in the “Belle Jardinière ” and the ” Seggiola “; his Saints in the Saint Catherine and the Saint Cecilia; and his angels in the ” Pesce ” and the Liberation of St. Peter.
We cannot close this enumeration of Raphael’s excellences without dwelling for a moment upon his just perception of the limits beyond which the expression of a sentiment or a passion cannot be carried without risk of exaggeration, and the consequent weakening of effect. The terrible beauty of the angel who rushes as on the wings of the wind to chastise Heliodorus, is the beauty of supernatural strength which has limitless power in reserve, and cannot like mortal energy exhaust its forces by any effort ; but to express this reserve, and yet give the impression of irresistible power, was a problem which none but an artist who had the keenest sense of just limitations could have solved. Throughout all his works there is not an expression of face or a contour, whether of muscle or drapery, which is not exactly suited to its end ; nor in the thousands of figures which he drew or painted can we recall an ungraceful or a mannered line or pose. This was because of all artists since the Greeks he had the most perfect feeling for true beauty. The beautiful was his special field, and hence he is first among his kind. Lionardo had more depth, Michelangelo more grandeur, Correggio more sweetness; but none of them approached Raphael as an exponent of beauty whether in young or old, in mortals or immortals, in earthly or divine beings. In the Sistine Chapel we are stirred as with the blast of a trumpet, carried out of ourselves as by the sound of a language more powerful than the speech of men ; but in the “Stanze” of the Vatican we feel the influence of a genius of which grace was the essence, moderation the principle, and beauty the guiding star. Raphael was in truth the greatest of artists, be-cause the most comprehensive,18 blending as he did the opposing tendencies of the mystics and the naturalists into a perfect whole by reverent study of nature and of the antique. Bred in a devotional school of art, and transferred to an atmosphere charged with classical ideas, he retained enough of the first, while he absorbed enough of the second, to make him a painter of works Christian in spirit and Greek in elegance and purity of form and style.19 The epitaph inscribed upon his tomb, here given in the version of Pope, is a fitting conclusion to this record of his life.