DISEGNO III: Raphael


“The divine” Raphael Sanzio of Urbino (1483 – 1520), is the greatest draughtsman of the Western tradition. In his lifetime, his drawings were prized by collectors. The same remains true today: on 6 December 2012, a Raphael black-chalk drawing of a head of an apostle, from the collection of the 6th Duke of Devonshire, was sold at auction by Sotheby’s for £ 29.7 million ($ 50.7 million), a record for a work on paper. Before that sale, the record price for a drawing had been set by Raphael’s “Head of a Muse,” which was sold by Christie’s for £ 29.1 million on 8 November 2009. And in July 1984, Christie’s had sold a drawing by Raphael, also from the Chatsworth collection, for £ 3.3 million, a record for a drawing at that time. The British Museum, the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, and the Chatsworth Collection are the repositories of the finest Raphael drawings, attesting to the long-standing taste for the Renaissance master in England.

Over the whole, in truth, there seems to breathe a spirit of divinity, so beautiful are the figures, and such the nobility of the picture, which makes whoever studies it with attention marvel how a human brain, by the imperfect means of mere colors, and by excellence of draughtsmanship, could make painted things appear alive.

This work is in every part so stupendous, that even the cartoons are held in the greatest veneration; wherefore Messer Francesco Masini, a gentleman of Cesena who, without the help of any master, but giving his attention by himself from his earliest childhood, guided by an extraordinary instinct of nature, to drawing and painting, has painted pictures that have been much extolled by good judges of art, possesses, among his many drawings and some ancient reliefs in marble, certain pieces of the cartoon which Raffaello made for this story of Heliodorus, and he holds them in the estimation that they truly deserve.

Albrecht Dürer, a most marvelous German painter, and an engraver of very beautiful copperplates, rendered tribute to Raffaello out of his own works, and sent to him a portrait of himself, a head, executed by him in gouache on a cloth of fine linen, which showed the same on either side, the lights being transparent and obtained without lead white, while the only grounding and coloring was done with watercolors, the white of the cloth serving for the ground of the bright parts. This work seemed to Raffaello to be marvelous, and he sent him, therefore, many drawings executed by his own hand, which were received very gladly by Albrecht.

O happy and blessed spirit, in that every man is glad to speak of thee, to celebrate thy actions, and to admire every drawing that thou didst leave to us! When this noble craftsman died, the art of painting might well have died also, seeing that when he closed his eyes, she was left as it were blind. And now for us who have survived him, it remains to imitate the good, nay, the supremely excellent method bequeathed to us by him as a pattern, and, as is called for by his merit and our obligations, to hold a most grateful remembrance of this in our minds, and to pay the highest honor to his memory with our lips. For in truth we have from him art, coloring, and invention harmonized and brought to such a pitch of perfection as could scarcely be hoped for; nor may any intellect ever think to surpass him.

— Giorgio Vasari, ”The Life of Raphael of Urbino,” Lives of the Artists (1550/1568).

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