Raphael was born Raffaello Santi in Urbino, central Italy, during the final years of the early Renaissance.
His father Giovanni Santi was a court painter to Duke Federigo da Montefeltro and gave his son his first painting lessons.
When he was a teenager, Raphael was sent to apprentice under Pietro Perugino, leading painter of the Umbrian school. Raphael became a ‘Master’, fully qualified and trained in 1501.
His career falls into 3 phases. The first phase was his early years in Umbria when under the influence of Perugino (c.1450-1523) he produced works like The Spozalizio, The Marriage of the Virgin and The Coronation of the Virgin.
His second period runs from 1504 to 1508 when he painted in Florence and produced works like The Entombment and La Belle Jardiniere.
And his third and final period were the following 12 years when he worked in Rome for 2 Popes and produced works such as St Cecilia, The Madonna di San Sisto, and The Transfiguration.
During his Florentine period, Raphael came to be influenced by the works of Leonardo da Vinci, who was 30 years his senior.
This influence can be seen in his figure drawing of a young woman that uses the 3-quarter length pyramidal composition used by Da Vinci in the just-completed Mona Lisa. Raphael also perfected Da Vinci’s sfumato technique to give subtlety to the flesh of his figures.
In 1508 Raphael moved to Rome where he lived for the rest of his short life.
Gaining fame as one of the most outstanding artists of the High Renaissance, it was in Rome that he produced some of his most beautiful frescos on the wall of the Vatican.
In 1511 he started painting the Stanza della Segnatura, the first of his most famous ‘Stanze’ or ‘Raphael Rooms’ at the Palace of the Vatican. He was commissioned to paint 3 others rooms with religious art, and increasingly started to rely on his team of skilled assistants – led by Giulio Romano (1499-1546) – to help complete works.
He was strongly influenced by Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, which was being painted at the same time. Michelangelo was in fact to accuse Raphael of plagiarism and years later complained that ‘everything he knew about art he got from me’.