Monday, September 7, 2020

Quote of the Day (Ingrid Rowland, on Raphael, ‘Artistic Entrepreneur’ of the Italian Renaissance)

“As the mature man's skill and sophistication are gradually stripped away, we realize how remarkable his [Raphael’s] career really was, and how utterly unlikely: how many factors, how much hard work and ruthless self-criticism, combined to transform a promising young painter into an artistic entrepreneur of a kind that Italy had never seen before: painter; architect; designer of jewelry, sculpture, and graphics; pioneer of historical preservation; artistic theorist.”—Univ. of Notre Dame professor of architecture and history Ingrid Rowland, “The Virtuoso,” The New York Review of Books, Aug. 20, 2020

I never got around back on April 6 to take note of the 500th anniversary of the death of Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, a.k.a. Raphael. Unlike contemporaries Leonardo da Vinci or Michelangelo, he never had the chance to live to late middle age or even old age, having passed away on his 37th birthday.

Maybe it’s better that I didn’t write about it then, because I might have felt less inclined to consider Ms. Rowland’s appreciation of Raphael’s legacy in The New York Review of Books. She hails not only his “natural facility” as a painter (“on a par with Mozart’s in music and Michelangelo’s in stone”) but also the way he interacted with—and, in turn, influenced—Rome in this “veritable age of entrepreneurs, every one of them giddy with the excitement of intercontinental exchange.”

It is curious that Rowland—using her review of this year’s Raphael exhibition at Rome’s Scuderie del Quirinale—does not tie the painter’s temperament to his ability to attract such a large spectrum of work and patrons.

To the extent that this is possible, I turned to Giorgio Vasari’s short biography of him in Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors and Architects (2nd edn, 1568), which relates how Raphael created a ton of admirers among his fellow painters through his aura of amiability:

“[T]hey were overcome both by his courtesy and by his art, and even more by the good disposition of his nature, which was so full of gentleness and so overflowing with loving kindness, that it was seen that the very animals, not to speak of men, honored him. It is said that if any painter who knew him, and even any who did not know him, asked him for some drawing that he needed, Raffaello would leave his own work in order to assist him. And he always kept a vast number of them employed, aiding them and teaching them with such a love as might have been the due rather of his own children than of fellow craftsmen; for which reason he was never seen to go to Court without having with him, as he left his house, some fifty painters, all able and excellent, who kept him company in order to do him honor. In short, he lived not like a painter, but like a prince.”

All of this stood in sharp contrast to most craftsmen of the time, Vasari insisted, who were afflicted with “a certain element of savagery and madness, which, besides making them strange and eccentric, had brought it about that very often there was revealed in them rather the obscure darkness of vice than the brightness and splendor of those virtues that make men immortal.”

Rowland’s discussion of Rome as an entrepreneurial beehive of the Renaissance has made me want to pick up again a book I laid aside for lack of time: Niccolo Rising, the first installment in Dorothy Dunnett’s sprawling sequence of eight historical novels, The House of Niccolo. Not just a novelist but also an accomplished portrait painter, constant traveler and active philanthropist, she would have been in a unique position to explain to readers how so many influences combined to create the likes of Raphael.

(The image accompanying this post is a self-portrait of the artist from the Art Archive/Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence/Alfredo Dagli Orti.) 

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