The High Renaissance
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Architecture - 4
Sculpture - 5

Painting - 6

Sculpture - 7
Architecture - 8
The High Renaissance & Mannerism
Leonardo da Vinci
Donato Bramante
Filippino Lippi
Andrea Sansovino
Giovanni della Robbia
Baldassarre Peruzzi
Sebastiano del Piombo
Andrea del Sarto
Matthias Grunewald
Albrecht Durer
Dosso Dossi
Carlo Crivelli
Lucas Cranach the Elder
Lorenzo Lotto
Albrecht Altdorfer
Hans Baldung Grien
Hans Holbein the Younger

Francois Clouet

Nicholas Hilliard

Jan Gossaert (Mabuse)
Joachim Patinir
Pieter Aertsen
Pieter Brueghel the Elder
Barthel Bruyn
Lucas van Leyden

Rosso Fiorentino
Federico Barocci
Agnolo Bronzino
Giorgio Vasari
Sofonisba Anguissola
Jacopo Tintoretto
El Greco
Girolamo Savoldo
Jacopo Bassano

Paolo Veronese
Alonzo Sanchez Coello
Hans Burgkmair

Jean Goujon

Germain Pilon
Tilman Riemenschneider
Adriaen de Vries

Alonso Berruguete
Baccio Bartolommeo
Benedetto Briosco
Benvenuto Cellini
Leone Leoni
Pompeo Leoni
Alessandro Vittoria
Giovanni da Bologna

Hector Sohier
Pierre Lescot
Giulio Romano
Pirro Ligorio
Bartolomeo Ammanati
Jacopo Sansovino
Andrea Palladio
Giacomo Vignola
Giacomo della Porta
Vittore Carpaccio
Francesco del Cossa
Vincenzo Foppa
Lorenzo Costa
Francesco Francia
Bernardino Luini
Joos van Cleve
It used to be taken for granted that the High Renaissance followed upon the Early Renaissance as naturally and inevitably as night follows day. The great masters of the sixteenth century— Leonardo, Bramante, Michelangelo, Raphael, Giorgione, Titian—were thought to have shared the ideals of their predecessors, but to have expressed them so completely that their names became synonyms for perfection. They represented the climax, the classic phase, of Renaissance art, just as Phidias had brought the art of ancient Greece to its highest point. This view could also explain why these two classic phases were so short. If art is assumed to develop along the pattern of a ballistic curve, its highest point cannot be expected to last more than a moment.

Since the 1920s, art historians have come to realize the shortcomings of this scheme. When we apply it literally, the High Renaissance becomes so absurdly brief, for example, that we wonder whether it happened at all. Moreover, we hardly increase our understanding of the Early Renaissance if we regard it as a "not-yet-perfect High Renaissance," any more than an Archaic Greek statue can be satisfactorily viewed from a Phidian standpoint. Nor is it very useful to insist that the subsequent post-Classical phase, whether Hellenistic or "Late Renaissance," must be decadent. The image of the ballistic curve has now been abandoned, and we have gained a less assured, but also less arbitrary, estimate of what, for lack of another term, we still call the High Renaissance.

In some fundamental respects, we shall find that the High Renaissance was indeed the culmination of the Early Renaissance, while in other respects it represented a significant departure. Certainly the tendency to view artists as sovereign geniuses, rather than as devoted artisans, was never stronger than during the first half of the sixteenth century. Plato's concept of genius—the spirit entering into poets that causes them to compose in a "divine frenzy"—had been broadened by Marsilio Ficino and his fellow Neo-Platonists to include architects, sculptors, and painters. For Giorgio Vasari, individuals of genius were thought to be set apart from ordinary artists by "grace," in the sense of both divine grace, a gift from God, and gracefulness, which reflected it. To him, this concept had moral and spiritual significance, inspired in good measure by Dante's Inferno. Building further on Petrarch's scheme of history, he saw the High Renaissance as superior even to antiquity, for it was ruled by God's law, which had not yet been revealed to the pagans. Thus in Lives of the Painters (1550-68), Vasari extolls the "gracious," virtuous characters of Michelangelo, Leonardo, and Raphael, as a way of accounting for their universal talent. Grace served, moreover, to justify his treatment of his close friend and idol Michelangelo as the greatest artist of all time, a view that remains with us to this very day.

What set these artists apart was the inspiration guiding their efforts, which was worthy of being called "divine," "immortal," and "creative." (Before 1500 creating, as distinct from making, was the privilege of God alone.) To Vasari, the painters and sculptors of the Early Renaissance, like those of the Late Gothic, had learned only to imitate coarse nature, whereas the geniuses of the High Renaissance had conquered nature by ennobling, transcending, or subjecting it to art. In actual fact, the High Renaissance remained thoroughly grounded in nature. Its achievement lay in the creation of a new classicism through abstraction. It was, we must insist, an act of the imagination, not the intellect, for the result was a poetic ideal informed by a spirit of ineffable harmony.

The faith in the divine origin of inspiration led artists to rely on subjective, rather than objective, standards of truth and beauty. If Early Renaissance artists felt bound by what they believed to be universally valid rules, such as the numerical ratios of musical harmony and the laws of scientific perspective, their High Renaissance successors were less concerned with rational order than with visual effectiveness. They evolved a new drama and a new rhetoric to engage the emotions of the beholder, whether sanctioned or not by classical precedent. Indeed, the works of the great High Renaissance masters immediately became classics in their own right, their authority equal to that of the most renowned monuments of antiquity. At the same time, this cult of the genius had a profound effect on the artists of the High Renaissance. It spurred them to vast and ambitious goals, and prompted their awed patrons to support such enterprises. Since these ambitions often went beyond the humanly possible, they were apt to be frustrated by external as well as internal difficulties, leaving artists with a sense of having been defeated by a malevolent fate.

Here we encounter a contradiction: if the creations of genius are viewed as unique by definition, they cannot be successfully imitated by lesser artists, however worthy they may seem of such imitation. Unlike the founders of the Early Renaissance, the leading artists of the High Renaissance did not set the pace for a broadly based "period style" that could be practiced on every level of quality. The High Renaissance produced astonishingly few minor masters. It died with those who had created it, or even before. Of the six great personalities mentioned above, only Michelangelo and Titian lived beyond 1520.
External conditions after that date were undoubtedly less favorable to the High Renaissance style than those of the first two decades of the century. Yet the High Renaissance might well have ended soon even without the pressure of circumstances. Its harmonious grandeur was inherently unstable, a balance of divergent qualities. Only these qualities, not the balance itself, could be transmitted to the artists who reached maturity after 1520. In pointing out the limited and precarious nature of the High Renaissance we do not mean to deny its tremendous impact upon later art. For most of the next 300 years, the great personalities of the early sixteenth century loomed so large that the achievements of their predecessors seemed to belong to a forgotten era. Even when the art of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries was finally rediscovered, people still acknowledged the High Renaissance as the turning point, and relerred to all painters before Raphael as "the Primitives."
Leonardo da Vinci

One important reason why the High Renaissance rightfully deserves to be called a period is the fact that its key monuments were all produced between 1495 and 1520, despite the great differences in age of the artists who created them. Bramante, the oldest, was born in 1444, Raphael in 1483, and Titian about 1488-90. Yet the distinction of being the earliest High Renaissance master belongs to Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), not to Bramante. Born in the little Tuscan town of Vinci, Leonardo was trained in Florence by Verrocchio. Conditions there must not have suited him. At the age of 30 he went to work for the duke of Milan as a military engineer, and only secondarily as an architect, sculptor, and painter.

Leonardo da Vinci. Adoration of the Magi (detail). 1481-82.

He left behind, unfinished, the most ambitious work he had then begun, a large Adoration of the Magi, for which he had made many preliminary studies.

Its design shows a geometric order and a precisely constructed perspective space that recall Florentine painting in the wake of Masaccio, rather than the style prevailing about 1480.

The most striking, and indeed revolutionary, aspect of the panel is the way it is painted, although Leonardo had not even completed the underpainting.
Our detail is taken from the area to the right of center, which is more nearly finished than the rest. The forms seem to materialize softly and gradually, never quite detaching themselves from a dusky realm. Leonardo, unlike Pollaiuolo or Botticelli, thinks not of outlines, but of three-dimensional bodies made visible in varying degrees by the incidence of light. In the shadows, these shapes remain incomplete. Their contours are only implied instead. In this method of modeling (called chiaroscuro for "light-and-dark"), the forms no longer stand abruptly side by side but partake of a new pictorial unity, for the barriers between them have been partially broken down. There is a comparable emotional continuity as well. The gestures and faces of the crowd convey with touching eloquence the reality of the miracle they have come to behold. We will recognize the influence of both Pollaiuolo and Verrocchio in the mobile expressiveness of these figures, but Leonardo may also have been impressed by the breathless shepherds in The Portinari Altarpiece, then newly installed in Florence.

Leonardo da Vinci.  
The Virgin of the Rocks,
с 1485.

Soon after arriving in Milan, Leonardo did The Virgin of the Rocks
, another altar panel, which suggests what the Adoration would have looked like had it been completed. Here the figures emerge from the semidarkness of the grotto, enveloped in a moisture-laden atmosphere that delicately veils their forms.

This fine haze, called sfumato, is more pronounced than similar effects in Flemish and Venetian painting. It lends a peculiar warmth and intimacy to the scene. It also creates a remote, dreamlike quality, and makes the picture seem a poetic vision rather than an image of reality.

The subject
the infant St. John adoring the Infant Christ in the presence of the Virgin and an angelis without immediate precedent. The story of their meeting is one of the many legends that arose to satisfy the abiding curiosity about the "hidden" early life of Christ, which is hardly mentioned in the Bible.

Leonardo was the first to depict it, but the treatment is mysterious in many ways: the secluded, rocky setting, the pool in front, and the plant life, carefully chosen and exquisitely rendered, all hint at levels of meaning that are somehow hard to define.

How are we to interpret the relationships among the four figures, signified by the conjunction of gestures? Protective, pointing, blessing, they tellingly convey the wonderment of St. John's recognition of Christ as the Saviour, but with a tenderness that raises the scene above the merely doctrinal.

Despite their originality, the Adoration and The Virgin of the Rocks do not yet differ clearly in conception from the aims of the Early Renaissance. But Leonardo's Last Supper, later by a dozen years, has always been recognized as the first classic statement of the ideals of High Renaissance painting
. Unhappily, the famous mural began to deteriorate a few years after its completion. The artist, dissatisfied with the limitations of the traditional fresco technique, experimented in an oil-tempera medium that did not adhere well to the wall. We thus need some effort to imagine its original splendor. Yet what remains is more than sufficient to account for its tremendous impact. Viewing the composition as a whole, we are struck at once by its balanced stability. Only afterward do we discover that this balance has been achieved by the reconciliation of competing, even conflicting, aims such as no previous artist had attempted.

A comparison with Castagno's Last Supper, painted half a century before, is particularly instructive here. The spatial setting in both cases seems like an annex to the real interior of the refectory, but Castagno's architecture has a strangely oppressive effect on the figures, unlike Leonardo's. The reason for this becomes clear when we realize that in the earlier work the space has been conceived autonomously. It was there before the figures entered and would equally suit another group of diners. Leonardo, in contrast, began with the figural composition, and the architecture had no more than a supporting role from the start. His perspective is an ideal one. The painting, high up on the refectory wall, assumes a vantage point some 15 feet above the floor and 30 feet backan obvious impossibility, yet we readily accept it nonetheless. The central vanishing point, which governs our view of the interior, is located behind the head of Christ in the exact middle of the picture and thus becomes charged with symbolic significance. Equally plain is the symbolic function of the main opening in the back wall: its projecting pediment acts as the architectural equivalent of a halo. We thus tend to see the perspective framework of the scene almost entirely in relation to the figures, rather than as a preexisting entity. How vital this relationship is we can easily test by covering the upper third of the picture. The composition then takes on the character of a frieze, the grouping of the apostles is less clear, and the calm triangular shape of Christ becomes merely passive, instead of acting as a physical and spiritual force.


Leonardo da Vinci.  The Last Supper, с 1495-98. Tempera wall mural, 4.6 x 8.8 m.
Sta. Maria dellc Grazie, Milan
The Saviour, presumably, has just spoken the fateful words, "One of you shall betray me," and the disciples are asking, "Lord, is it I?" We actually see nothing that contradicts this interpretation, but to view the scene as one particular moment in a psychological drama hardly does justice to Leonardo's intentions. These went well beyond a literal rendering of the biblical narrative, for he crowded together all the disciples on the tar side of the table, in a space quite inadequate for so many people. He clearly wanted to condense his subject physically by the compact, monumental grouping of the figures, and spiritually by presenting many levels of meaning at one time. Thus the gesture of Christ is one of submission to the divine will, and of offering. It is a hint at Christ's main act at the Last Supper, the institution of the Eucharist, in which bread and wine become His body and blood through transubstantiation. The apostles do not simply react to these words. Each of them reveals his own personality, his own relationship to the Saviour. (Note that ludas is no longer segregated from the rest; his dark, defiant profile sets him apart well enough.) They exemplify what the artist wrote in one of his notebooks, that the highest and most difficult aim of painting is to depict "the intention of man's soul" through gestures and movements of the limbsa dictum to be interpreted as referring not to momentary emotional states but to the inner life as a whole.

Peter Paul Rubens. Drawing after Leonardo's cartoon for The Battle of Anghiari. c. 1600.

In 1499, the duchy of Milan fell to the French, and Leonardo returned to Florence after brief trips to Mantua and Venice. He must have found the cultural climate very different from his recollections of it. The Medici had been expelled, and the city was briefly a republic again, until their return. For a while, Leonardo seems to have been active mainly as an engineer and surveyor, but in 1503 the city commissioned him to do a mural of some famous event from the history of Florence for the council chamber of the Palazzo Vecchio. Leonardo chose the Battle of Anghiari, where the Florentine forces had once defeated the Milanese army. He completed the cartoon (a full-scale drawing) and had just begun the mural itself when he returned once more to Milan in 1506 at the request of the French, abandoning the commission.
The cartoon for The Battle of Anghiari survived for more than a century and enjoyed enormous fame. Today we know it only through Leonardo's preliminary sketches and through copies of the cartoon by later artists, notably a splendid drawing by Peter Paul Rubens. Leonardo had started with the historical accounts of the engagement. As his plans crystallized, however, he abandoned factual accuracy and created a monumental group of soldiers on horseback that represents a condensed, timeless image of the spirit of battle, rather than any specific event. His concern with "the intention of man's soul" is even more evident here than in The Last Supper. In this case, a savage fury has seized not only the combatants but the animals as well, so that they become one with their riders. The Battle of Anghiari stands at the opposite end of the scale from Uccello's Battle of San Romano, where nothing has been omitted except the fighting itself; yet Leonardo's battle scene is not one of uncontrolled action. Its dynamism is held in check by the hexagonal outline that stabilizes this seething mass. Once again, balance has been achieved by the reconciliation of competing claims.

Leonardo da Vinci.
Mona Lisa.

. 1503-5. Oil on panel, 77 x 53.5 cm.
Musee du Louvre, Paris

While working on The battle of Anghiari, Leonardo painted the Mona Lisa. The delicate sfumato of The Virgin of the Rocks is here so perfected that it seemed miraculous to the artist's contemporaries. The forms are built from layers of glazes so gossamer-thin that the entire panel seems to glow with a gentle light from within. But the fame of the Mona Lisa comes not from this pictorial subtlety alone.

Even more intriguing is the psychological fascination of the sitter's personality. Why, among all the smiling faces ever painted, has this particular one been singled out as "mysterious"? Perhaps the reason is that, as a portrait, the picture does not fit our expectations.
The features are too individual for Leonardo to have simply depicted an ideal type, yet the element of idealization is so strong that it blurs the sitter's character. Once again the artist has brought two opposites into harmonious balance.

The smile, also, may be read in two ways: as the echo of a momentary mood, and as a timeless, symbolic expression, akin to the "Archaic smile" of the Greeks. The Mona Lisa seemingly embodies a quality of maternal tenderness which was to Leonardo the essence of womanhood. Even the landscape in the background, composed mainly of rocks and water, suggests elemental generative forces. Who was the sitter for this, the most famous portrait in the world? Her identity remained a mystery until very recently. We now know that she was the wife of a Florentine merchant who was born in 1479 and died before 1556.

This is not the only painting of the Mona Lisa: Leonardo also painted a nude version that once belonged to the king of France.
In his later years, Leonardo devoted himself more and more to his scientific interests. Art and science, we recall, were first united in Brunelleschi's discovery of systematic perspective. Leonardo's work is the climax of this trend. The artist, he believed, must know not only the rules of perspective but all the laws of nature, and the eye was to him the perfect instrument for gaining such knowledge. The extraordinary scope of his own inquiries is attested in the hundreds of drawings and notes that he hoped to incorporate into an encyclopedic set of treatises.
blow original he was as a scientist is still a matter of debate, but in one field his importance remains undisputed: he created the modern scientific illustration, an essential tool for anatomists and biologists. A drawing such as the Embryo in the Womb combines his own vivid observation with the analytic clarity of a diagramor, to paraphrase Leonardo's own words, sight and insight.

Contemporary sources show that Leonardo was esteemed as an architect. Actual building seems to have concerned him less, however, than problems of structure and design. The numerous architectural projects in his drawings were intended, for the most part, to remain on paper. Yet these sketches, especially those of his Milanese period, have great historic importance, for only in them can we trace the transition from the Early to the Fligh Renaissance in architecture.

The plan recalls Brunelleschi's Sta. Maria degli Angeli, but the new relationship of the spatial units is more complex, while the exterior, with its cluster of domes, is more monumental than any Early Renaissance structure. In conception, this design stands halfway between the dome of Florence Cathedral and the most ambitious structure of the sixteenth century, the new basilica of St. Peter's in Rome. It gives evidence, too, of Leonardo's close contact, during the 1490s, with the architect Donato Bramante (1444-1514), who was then also working for the duke of Milan. Bramante went to Rome after Milan fell to the French, and it was in Rome, during the last 15 years of his life, that he became the creator of High Renaissance architecture.


Leonardo da Vinci.  Embryo in the Womb. c. 1510. Detail of pen drawing. Windsor Castle, Royal Libran

Leonardo da Vinci. Project for a Church. (Ms. В), с 1490. Pen drawing. Bibliotheque de l'Arsenal, Paris

Donato Bramante.

Donato Bramante. The Tempietto, S. Pietro in Montorio, Rome. 1502-11
The new style is shown fully formed in
Bramante's Tempietto at S. Pietro in Montorio
, designed soon after 1500. This chapel, which marks the site of St. Peter's crucifixion, was planned to be surrounded by a circular, colonnaded courtyard. The Tempietto would then have appeared less isolated from its environment than it does today, for Bramante intended it to be set within a "molded" exterior space, a conception as bold and novel as the design of the chapel itself. Its nickname, "little temple," is well deserved. In the three-step platform and the severe Doric order of the colonnade, Classical temple architecture is more directly recalled than in any fifteenth-century structure. Equally striking is Bramante's application of the "sculptured wall" in the Tempietto itself and the courtyard. Not since Brunelleschi's Sta. Maria degli Angeli have we seen such deeply recessed niches "excavated" from heavy masses of masonry. These cavities are counterbalanced by the convex shape of the dome and by strongly projecting moldings and cornices. As a result, the Tempietto has a monumentality that belies its modest size.
Plan of the Tempietto
(after Serlio,
in Regole generali di Architettura).
Gray indicates unbuilt sections

Donato Bramante. Study. Drawing. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

Cupola progettata da Donato Bramante per la Basilica di San Pietro
ST. PETER'S, ROME. The Tempietto is the earliest of the great achievements that made Rome the center of Italian art during the first quarter of the sixteenth century. Most of them belong to the decade 1503-13, the papacy of Julius IT. It was he who decided to replace the old basilica of St. Peter's, which had been in precarious condition, with a church so magnificent as to overshadow all the monuments of ancient Imperial Rome. The task fell to Bramante, the foremost architect in the city. His original design of 1506 is known only from a plan and from the medal commemorating the start of the building campaign, which shows the exterior in rather imprecise perspective. These are sufficient, however, to bear out the words Bramante reportedly used to define his aim: "I shall place the Pantheon on top of the Basilica of Constantine."

To surpass the two most famous structures of Roman antiquity by a Christian edifice of unexampled grandeurnothing less would have satisfied Julius II, a pontiff of enormous ambition, who wanted to unite all Italy under his command and thus to gain a temporal power matching the spiritual authority of his office. Bramante's design is indeed of truly imperial magnificence. A huge dome, hemispherical like that of the Tempietto, crowns the crossing of the barrel-vaulted arms of a Greek cross, with four lesser domes and tall corner towers filling the angles. This plan fulfills all the demands laid down by Alberti for sacred architecture. Based entirely on the circle and the square, it is so rigidly symmetrical that we cannot tell which apse was to hold the high altar. Bramante envisioned four identical facades like that on the medal of 1506, dominated by the same repertory of severely classical forms we saw in the Tempietto: domes, half-domes, colonnades, pediments.

These simple geometric shapes, however, do not prevail inside the church. Here the sculptured wall reigns supreme. The plan shows no continuous surfaces, only great, oddly shaped "islands" of masonry that have been well described by one critic as giant pieces of toast half-eaten by a voracious space. The actual size of these islands can be visualized only if we compare the measurements of Bramante,s church with those of earlier buildings. S. Lorenzo in Florence, for instance, has a length of 268 feet, less than half that of the new St. Peter's (550 feet).

How did he propose to build a structure of such overwhelming size? Cut stone and brick, the materials favored by medieval architects, would not do, for technical and economic reasons. Only construction in concrete, as used by the Romans but largely forgotten during the Middle Ages, was strong and cheap enough to till Bramante's needs. By reviving this ancient technique, he opened a new era in the history of architecture, for concrete permitted designs of far greater flexibility than the building methods of the medieval masons. The possibilities of the material, however, were not fully exploited for some time to come. The construction of St. Peter's progressed so slowly that in 1514, when Bramante died, only the four crossing piers had actually been built. For the next three decades the campaign was carried on hesitantly by architects trained under Bramante, who modified his design in a number of ways. A new and decisive phase in the history of St. Peter's began only in 1546, when Michelangelo took charge, and the present appearance of the church  is largely shaped by his ideas. But this must be considered in the context of Michelangelo's career as a whole.


. Original plan for St. Peter's, Rome. 1506 (after Gevmuller)
CARADOSSO. Bronze medal showing Bramante's design for St. Peter's. 1506. British Museum, LondonPlan of BRUNELLESCHl's S. Lorenzo, Florence, reproduced at the same scale as figure 642
The concept of genius as divine inspiration, a superhuman power granted to a few rare individuals and acting through them, is nowhere exemplified more fully than in the life and work of Michelangelo (1475-1564). Not only his admirers viewed him in this light. He himself, steeped in the tradition of Neo-Platonism, accepted the idea of his genius as a living reality, although it seemed to him at times a curse rather than a blessing. The element that brings continuity to his long and stormy career is the sovereign power of his personality, his faith in the subjective Tightness of everything he created. Conventions, standards, and traditions might be observed by lesser spirits, but he could acknowledge no authority higher than the dictates of his genius.
Unlike Leonardo, for whom painting was the noblest of the arts because it embraced every visible aspect of the world, Michelangelo was a sculptor—more specifically, a carver of marble statues—to the core. Art, for him, was not a science but "the making of men," analogous (however imperfectly) to divine creation. Hence the limitations of sculpture that Leonardo decried were essential virtues in Michelangelo's eyes. Only the "liberation" of real, three-dimensional bodies from recalcitrant matter could satisfy his urge. Painting, for him, should imitate the roundness of sculptured forms, and architecture, too, must partake of the organic qualities of the human figure.
Michelangelo's faith in the human image as the supreme vehicle of expression gave him a sense of kinship with Classical sculpture closer than that of any Renaissance artist. Among recent masters, he admired Giotto, Masaccio, Donatello, and Della Quercia more than the men he knew as a youth in Florence. Yet his mind was decisively shaped by the cultural climate of Florence during the 1480s and 1490s. Both the Neo-Platonism of Marsilio Ficino and the religious reforms of Savonarola affected him profoundly. These conflicting influences reinforced the tensions within Michelangelo's personality, his violent changes of mood, his sense of being at odds with himself and with the world. As he conceived his statues to be human bodies released from their marble prison, so the body was the earthly prison of the soul—noble, but a prison nevertheless. This dualism of body and spirit endows his figures with extraordinary pathos. Outwardly calm, they seem stirred by an overwhelming psychic energy that has no release in physical action.

Michelangelo. St Petronius. 1494. Marble, height: 64 cm with base. San Domenico, Bologna
Michelangelo. St Proculus. 1494. Marble, height: 58,5 cm with base. San Domenico, Bologna
The unique qualities of Michelangelo's art are already fully present in his David, the earliest monumental statue of the High Renaissance. Commissioned of the artist in 1501, when he was 26, the huge figure was designed to be placed high above the ground, on one of the buttresses of Florence Cathedral. However, a committee of civic leaders and artists decided instead to put it in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, as the civic-patriotic symbol of the Florentine republic, where it has since been replaced by a modern copy.
We can well understand the decision. Because the head of Goliath has been omitted, Michelangelo's David looks challenging. Here is not a victorious hero but the champion of a just cause. Vibrant with pent-up energy, he faces the world like Donatello's St. George, although his nudity links him to the older master's bronze David as well. But the style of the figure proclaims an ideal very different from the wiry slenderness of Donatello's youths. Michelangelo had just spent several years in Rome, where he had been deeply impressed with the emotion-charged, muscular bodies of Hellenistic sculpture. Although the Laocoon, shortly to become the most famous work in this style, had not then been discovered, other Hellenistic statues were accessible to him. Their heroic scale, their superhuman beauty and power, and the swelling volume of their forms became part of Michelangelo's own style and, through him, of Renaissance art in general. Yet the David could never be taken for an ancient statue. In the Laocoon and similar works the body "acts out" the spirit's agony, while the David, at once calm and tense, shows the action-in-repose so characteristic of Michelangelo.

Michelangelo. David. 1501-4. Marble, height 4.08 m. Galleria dell'Accademia, Florence

Michelangelo. David. (detail)

Michelangelo. David. (detail)

Raphael. Madonna del Granduca. с 1505.
If Michelangelo exemplifies the solitary genius, Raphael belongs just as surely to the opposite type: the artist as a person of the world. The contrast between the two was as clear to their contemporaries as it is to us. Although each had his partisans, both enjoyed equal fame. Today our sympathies are less evenly divided:

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.
             (T. S. Eliot)

So do a lot of us, including the authors of historical novels and fictionalized biographies, while Raphael (1483-1520) is usually discussed only by historians of art. The younger master's career is too much a success story, his work too filled with seemingly effortless grace, to match the tragic heroism of Michelangelo. As an innovator, Raphael seems to contribute less than Leonardo, Bramante, and Michelangelo, the three artists whose achievements were basic to his. Yet he is the central painter of the High Renaissance, for our conception of the entire style rests more on his work than on any other artist's.

The genius of Raphael was a unique power of synthesis that enabled him to merge the qualities of Leonardo and Michelangelo, creating an art at once lyric and dramatic, pictorially rich and sculpturally solid.

This power is already present in the first works he made in Florence
(1504-8), after he completed his apprenticeship with Perugino. The meditative calm of the Madonna del Granduca still reflects the style of his teacher, but the forms are ampler and enveloped in Leonardesque sfumato. The Virgin, grave and tender, makes us think of the Mona Lisa without engendering any of her mystery.


Michelangelo's influence on Raphael asserted itself somewhat later. Its full force can be felt only in Raphael's Roman works. At the time Michelangelo began to paint the Sistine
Ceiling, Julius II summoned the younger artist from Florence and commissioned him to decorate a series of rooms in the Vatican Palace. The first room, the Stanza della Segnatura, may have housed the pope's library, and Raphael's cycle of frescoes on its walls and ceiling refers to the four domains of learning: theology, philosophy, law, and the arts. To the right in our view
is the Disputa, or Disputation over the Sacrament, in which Christ sits enthroned between the Virgin and St. John the Baptist, with God the Father behind Him, saints and prophets to either side, and the Holy Spirit below. In the lunette over the door to the left are represented The Three Legal Virtues; beneath are The Granting of Civil Law and The Granting of Canon Law. The opposite doorway depicts Parnassus, the sacred mountain of Apollo and the Muses.

Of these frescoes, The School of Athens, facing the Disputa, has long been acknowledged as Raphael's masterpiece and the perfect embodiment of the classical spirit of the High Renaissance. Its subject is "the Athenian school of thought," a group of famous Greek philosophers gathered around Plato and Aristotle, each in a characteristic pose or activity. Raphael must have already seen the Sistine Ceiling, then nearing completion. He evidently owes to Michelangelo the expressive energy, the physical power, and the dramatic grouping of his figures. Yet Raphael has not simply borrowed Michelangelo's repertory of gestures and poses. He has absorbed it into his own style and thereby given it different meaning.

Body and spirit, action and emotion, are now balanced harmoniously, and every member of this great assembly plays his role with magnificent, purposeful clarity. The total conception of The School of Athens suggests the spirit of Leonardo's Last Supper rather than the Sistine Ceiling. This holds true of the way Raphael makes each philosopher reveal "the intention of his soul," distinguishes the relations among individuals and groups, and links them in formal rhythm. Also Leonardesque is the centralized, symmetrical design, and the interdependence of the figures and their architectural setting. But Raphael's edifice shares far more of the compositional burden than the hall of The Last Supper. With its lofty dome, barrel vault, and colossal statuary, it is classical in spirit without being at all Greek in appearance. Inspired by Bramante, it seems like an advance view of the new St. Peter's. Its geometric precision and spatial grandeur bring to a climax the tradition begun by Masaccio and transmitted to Raphael by his teacher Perugino.


Stanza della Segnatura, with frescoes by Raphael. Vatican Palace, Rome
Raphael's decoration of the Vatican apartments for Pope Julius II began with the Stanza della Segnatura. In a cycle about the human intellect that asserts the ideals of goodness, truth, and beauty, the artist included his School of Athens, with its theme of philosophy, and Disputation over the Holy Sacrament, with its theme of theology. The former is a summary of the history of philosophical thought. It centres on the figures of Aristotle and Plato, who are depicted in the centre of a large building reminiscent of both classical basilicas and the new St Peter's. Raphael tried to achieve complete balance in the composition, the variety of figures shown forming a representation of the ideal relationship between the different philosophical beliefs. In the later, and more dramatic, Stanza d'Eliodoro, painted between 1511 and 1514, the theme is divine intervention on behalf of the Church. In this work, Raphael showed quite different influences. There are, for instance, hints of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel in the weight and build of the figures, while touches of Venetian art, especially that of Sebastiano del Piombo, are also evident. These more dynamic works depend on a stronger use of light and colour, typified by the drama of the Expulsion of Hehodorus.

. The School of Athens. 1510-11. Fresco. Stanza della Segnatura, Vatican Palace, Rome
Raphael's fresco contains portraits of many classical philosophers.
In the center stand Plato and Aristotle, the two great philosophers of antiquity. To their left Socrates is seen in argument with several young men. The old man seated on the steps is Diogenes. Other philosophical figures are identifiable, including Pythagoras, shown bottom left, explaining his proportion system on a slate, and, on the extreme right, Ptolemy, depicted contemplating a celestial globe.

1513. Villa Famesina, Rome

Raphael never again set so splendid an architectural stage.

To create pictorial space, he relied increasingly on the movement of human figures, rather than perspective vistas.

In the Galatea of
1513, the subject is again classical: the beautiful nymph Galatea, vainly pursued by the giant Polyphemus, belongs to Greek mythology.

Here the cheerful and sensuous aspect of antiquity is celebrated, in contrast to the austere idealism of The School of Athens.

Its composition recalls The Birth of Venus, a picture Raphael knew from his Florentine days.

Yet their very resemblance emphasizes their profound dissimilarity.

Raphael's full-bodied, dynamic figures take their expansive spiral movement from the vigorous contrapposto of Galatea.

In Botticelli's picture, the movement is not generated by the figures but imposed on them from without, so that it never detaches itself from the surface of the canvas.

. Pope Leo X with Giulio de'
Media and Luigi de' Rossi,
с. 1518.
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

Early in his career Raphael had already shown a special talent for portraiture.

It is another tribute to his genius for synthesis that he combined the realism of fifteenth-century portraits
with the human ideal of the High Renaissance, which in the Mona Lisa nearly overpowers the sitter's individuality.

Raphael did not flatter or conventionalize his subjects. Surely Pope Leo X
looks here no handsomer than he did in reality.

His sullen, heavy-jowled features have been recorded in concrete, almost Flemish detail. Nevertheless, the pontiff has a commanding presence, his aura of power and dignity emanating more from his inner being than from his exalted office.

Raphael, we feel, has not falsified the sitter's personality but ennobled and focused it, as if he had been fortunate enough to observe Leo X in his finest hour.

The two cardinals, who lack this balanced strength although they arc studied with equal care, enhance by contrast the sovereign quality of the main figure.

Even the pictorial treatment shows a similar gradation: Leo X has been set off from his companions, his reality heightened by intensified light, color, and texture.
The Alba Madonna

Like Bellini, Raphael became a Madonniere - a painter of Madonnas. Depicted like Bellini's Madonna of the Meadow in an open landscape, The Alba Madonna is an example of the Renaissance "Madonna of Humility" tradition. However, all comparison with Bellini ends here, and it is the influence of Michelangelo that is more evident in The Alba Madonna, not least in its tondo format - derived from Michelangelo's Holy Family (c. 1503), which Raphael saw in Rome.

The Alba Madonna

Christ child

The Alba Madonna is not as representative of Raphael's treatment of the subject as the Small Cowper Madonna, which exhibits all the sensual warmth of human love that exists between a mother and her baby. Here the Christ Child is depicted as a kind of baby crusader -upright and courageous, a child with a man's understanding of the difficulties of human existence. By comparison, the chubby figure of St. John, dressed in a drab lamb's fleece to remind us of his future in the wilderness, appears unsophisticated and truly childlike.


The relatively close tonal range and restrained palette of The Alba Madonna is perfectly suited to her self-contained, gentle heroism. It is wholly unlike the rosy glow and brilliant hues of the Small Cowper Madonna.
The Alba Madonna's whole demeanor, as well as her quietly mournful gaze, expresses dignity, spiritual strength, and solidity. She meditates on a small wooden cross that symbolizes Christ's Crucifixion.

Umbrian countryside

Beyond the statuesque figure of the Madonna, in the open Umbrian landscape, is a small wood filled with odd, tightly foliaged trees. Beyond the wood, still farther into the distance, are tiny horsemen. The activities of the horsemen, too minute to make out, are reduced almost to nothingness by the giantlike form of the Madonna, her remote gaze echoing their physical distance and their essential irrelevance.
Madonna's foot

The military style of the sandal worn by the Madonna emphasizes her warriorlike demeanor. Like her Son, she assumes a heroic stance. The ground on which she sits is sprinkled with small flowers, some in bloom. The petals are painted delicately over the primary layer of green earth. The flowers that St. John has gathered are anemones that grow behind him. Around the picture from where he kneels are a white dandelion, what could be another anemone, a plantain, a violet, and three lilies, not yet in bloom.


The Sistine Madonna and Dostoyevsky

The Sistine Madonna (detail)


Angels bend to you in solemn ceremony and
Saints pray where your foot steps: glorious
Queen of Heaven! To you the lyre of the
spheres resounds, which God has strung.
Your spirit gazes, divine to see, through the
veil of your unfading, blooming figure;
you bear a child of sublime omnipotence,
victor over death and liberator of the world.

August Wilhelm von Schlegel, Sonnet to the Sistine Madonna,
c. 1840

Visiting Dresden, the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821—1881) could hardly tear himself away from The Sistine Madonna. He kept returning to the Gemaldegalerie where it hung to spend hours in front of it. Vasari, the Founding Father of art history, said of the artist: "How generous and benevolent Heaven may on occasion show itself to be by showering one man with the infinite riches of its treasures, all the grace and rare gifts otherwise distributed over a long period of time among many individuals, can be clearly seen in the beauty and grace of Raphael." Dostoyevsky may have had similar feelings about the painting and the artist. On his last day in Dresden, he pulled up a chair in front of the painting so that he might be closer to the Madonna's face: "What beauty, innocence and sadness in that heavenly countenance, what humility and suffering in those eyes. Among the ancient Greeks the powers of the divine were expressed in the marvellous Venus de Mile; the Italians, however, brought forth the true Mother of God — the Sistine Madonna." The author of Crime and Punishment (1866) went so far as to claim that, compared to this masterpiece, other representations of the Virgin resemble bakers' wives or other pedestrian, petty-bourgeois women.
A major Italian artist by 1500, Raphael was commissioned at the age of thirty-nine to work on the design of the new St Peter's in Rome. The young architect had already painted The Sistine Madonna for the high altar of San Sisto in Piacenza, where the relics of Pope Sixtus 11 (martyred in 258) had been kept since the ninth century. The Sistine Madonna hung in the church until 1753, when it came into the possession of the Prince Elector, Frederick Augustus II of Saxony. Before Dostoyevsky, German writers, such as August Wilhelm von Schlegel, Heinrich von Kleist and Franz Grillparzer, had been enthralled by the painting. The Sistine Madonna continues to enjoy wide acclaim to this day. In recent times, advertising and commerce have discovered the irresistible appeal of the two bored, mischievous angels on the lower edge of the picture plane. They appear on cups and napkins, letter paper and lampshades. Putti like these are a type of angel, which made their first appearance during the Renaissance. Deriving from the Italian word for "child" or "infant boy", the putto, with his chubby, sensual cheerfulness, is in the tradition of Bros or Cupid, the god of love. In ancient writings and representations, Eros was portrayed as a half-naked boy with wings, while his figure ranged from slim to plump. The child-like appearance of Italian putti is an expression of their innocence. In connection with the Virgin, they represent the immaculate purity of the Queen of angels and men.

K. Reichold, B. Graf

The Sistine Madonna (detail)