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Raffaello Sanzio, "Prince of Painters"
written by Sergio Caggěa with Paul Gwynne for © Nerone the Insider's Guide to Rome
Raphael died in Rome on 6 April 1520 at the age of 37. It was Good Friday. It was also the painter's birthday. The death of the artist plunged the entire papal court into mourning. Pope Leo X, Vasari notes in his life of the artist, 'wept bitterly when Raphael died'. The artist 'who lived more like a prince than a painter' lay in state for a couple of days at his house in the Borgo, with the famous Transfiguration, left unfinished at Raphael's death, at his head.
The body was then moved to the Pantheon and interred in the monument designed the master himself. A Latin distich was composed for the ocassion of his funeral and inscribed on his tomb by his friend Pietro Bembo: Ille hic est Raffaello Sanzio timuit quo sospite vinci Rerum Magna parens et moriente mori. This was rendered into English by the eighteenth-century poet Alexander Pope as an epitaph for the artist Sir Godfrey Kneller: Living, great Nature feared he might outvie Her works, and dying, fears Herself may die. Obviously the coincidence of the painter's death on Good Friday and on his birthday was too symbolic for Vasari, who declared that Raphael was born on Good Friday too. This would, however, depending on the method of calendar reckoning, make his birthday either 26 or 28 March and thus shatter the coincidence.
So, as April is the month of Raphael we thought it would be a good idea to suggest a few places around Rome where works by the great master can be seen for free. Although the Vatican can boast a collection without parallel there are other sites around the city where other, perhaps less well known pieces, can be seen without the crowds. A good place to start the itinerary would be at the Pantheon itself... Here in the third aedicule between the second and third chapels on the left we can see the tomb of Raphael, encased in an ancient sarcophagus found along the Via Appia Antica, and surmounted by a monumental statue of the Madonna and Child carved by Lorenzetto according to Raphael's own design. The Pantheon also contains the tombs of other artists and associates from Raphael's workshop, such as Baldassare Peruzzi, Perin del Vaga and Giovanni da Udine as well as the tomb of Maria Bibbiena, the neice of Cardinal Dovizi da Bibbiena, to whom Raphael was engaged for six years until her untimely death. Nearby there are two churches each with splendid frescoes from the hand of the master.
At Sant'Agostino (Piazza di Sant’ Agostino, between Via della Scrofa and Piazza delle Cinque Lune) on the third pillar on the north side there is the majestic image of the prophet Isaiah, inspired by the Sistine Chapel and grudgingly admired by Michelangelo The fresco is dated 1512 and was commissioned by the Apostolic Pronotary Johann Goritz as part of his funerary monument. In the church of Santa Maria della Pace (Via della Pace - Piazza Navona) there is a fine series of four Sibyls decorating the arch above the Chigi chapel (c.1514). Each of the ancient prophetesses unfurls a scroll on which is written her prediction for the end of the world as revealed to them by angels. Slightly further afield is the church of Santa Maria del Popolo (Piazza del Popolo).
The second chapel on the left is the funerary chapel of the great Sienese banker Agostino Chigi. Although work on the chapel was interrupted in 1520 by the deaths of both patron and artist the whole ensemble, from the rich mosaics of the vault to the elaborate pyramidal tombs for Agostino and his brother Sigismondo, conforms to Raphael's original design. In Trastevere is another Chigi creation: the Villa Farnesina (Via della Lungara). Here there is the delightful fresco depicting the sea nymph Galatea riding across the waves in scalop-shell coracle pulled by dolphins and accompanied by Tritons (c.1511). The rest of this charming Villa's decorations was completed by Raphael's workshop. The master himself designed a set of stables in which his wealthy patron is said to have lavishly entertained Pope Leo X but these have long since disappeared. Being now in Via della Lungara you could enjoy either the peceful and beautiful Botanical Garden or try a taste of Roman cusine da Giovanni (link: Walking along Via della Lungara) and maybe afterwards take a walk to digest along the top to the Janiculum hill with marvellous views across Rome.
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