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Louvre exhibits works produced by Raphael in Rome during the last years of his short life
Women walk past " Sainte Marguerite", a painting by Raphael as part of the exhibition "Late Raphael" at the Louvre museum, in Paris. This exhibition, organized by the Louvre from Oct. 11 to Jan. 14, 2013 in partnership with the Prado Museum, brings together the works produced by Raphael in Rome during the last years of his life. AP Photo/Christophe Ena.

PARIS.- This unprecedented exhibition, organized by the Louvre in partnership with the Prado Museum, brings together the works produced by Raphael in Rome during the last years of his short life. This was the period in which his style attained its full maturity, marking without a doubt the apogee of the Italian Renaissance. All of the works presented—church altarpieces, paintings for private devotion, official portraits contrasted with remarkably subtle portraits of friends, as well as a selection of the artist’s most beautiful drawings—attest to Raphael’s extraordinary inventiveness, technical perfection, and unequaled sense of grace.

But Raphael was far from a solitary genius. He worked with the aid of numerous disciples in order to fill the many commissions he received. Other hands therefore often had a part in his creations, especially those of his trusted assistants, Giulio Romano and Gianfrancesco Penni.

In all, some 100 paintings, drawings and tapestries from the collections of nearly forty institutions are featured in the exhibition, including a number of masterpieces never before seen in France, thus retracing the development of Raphael’s art together with that of his closest collaborators from the accession of Pope Leo X in 1513 until 1524, four years after the death of the great master of Urbino, when Giulio Romano left Rome for Mantua.

It was during the last seven years of Raphael’s life that the works later to exert the most decisive influence on European art were produced. However, the easel paintings of this period raise questions, due to difficulties in determing the precise dates when they were completed, their astonishing variety, but above all because Raphael did not necessarily work on them himself. The important contributions made by Raphael’s studio, the key role played by his two main assistants, Giulio Romano and Gianfrancesco Penni, are thus among the essential issues central to the concept of this exhibition, the first ever to focus exclusively on the final period of the artist’s career.

Apart from their contributions to the work of Raphael, Giulio Romano and Gianfrancesco Penni also worked independently on their own projects in his studio. For the first time, the master’s works are presented alongside those executed by his pupils during his lifetime and in the years immediately following his death. The aim is to facilitate an understanding of the extent of involvement of Raphael and his collaborators, underscoring at the same time the intellectual and aesthetic contributions made by the latter to the works bearing the master’s signature.

Other than the exhibition presented in Mantua and Vienna in 1999, which although devoted to the latter years of Raphael’s career in Rome dealt principally with his drawings, all recent exhibitions examining this Italian Renaissance master have focused on his early years. With this new exhibition, the Louvre and the Prado Museum, which together are home to most of the paintings by Raphael and his studio completed during the artist’s mature period, thus aim to shed light on this important period of artistic production, clearly distinguishing the characteristics of the works executed by Raphael alone and of those produced thanks to the major contributions of his two main assistants, Giulio Romano and Gianfrancesco Penni. The exhibition’s introductory section briefly recalls Raphael’s early career in Florence before his arrival in Rome in 1508, centered around the emblematic La Belle Jardinière, also known as Madonna and Child with Saint John the Baptist (Musée du Louvre, Paris). The remainder of the exhibition is divided thematically into six sections, featuring all of the artist’s major works from this period and paying particular attention to the emergence on the artistic scene of his two favorite pupils.

Raphael in Rome
The exhibition’s concept takes 1513 as its starting point, by which time Raphael had already been working in Rome for five years, mainly on the decoration of the stanze, or rooms, in the papal apartments of Julius II at the Vatican Palace. He thus found himself working alongside other leading artists, including his main rival Michelangelo, who at that time had been commissioned to decorate the Sistine Chapel ceiling, and Sebastiano del Piombo.

Having launched a number of major reconstruction and beautification projects, during this period the papal city had gained prominence as the main artistic center in Italy. By bringing the brightest talents to Rome to work on these various projects, the Vatican united disparate elements to encourage the distillation of a truly Italian soul, the foundation for a reinvention of the language of forms and colors. After Florence, the Renaissance would thus experience a true golden age in Rome, benefiting from the simultaneous presence of the peninsula’s leading painters, sculptors and architects in a hive of artistic activity and creativity.

When Leo X acceded to the papal throne, commissions entrusted to Raphael by the pope and other major patrons in France, Naples, Palermo and Bologna grew exponentially, compelling the artist to employ a large number of assistants. Nearly fifty pupils and collaborators thus came together to form what was at that time very likely the largest workshop ever to be directed by a single painter.

It must be remembered that Raphael, who had just turned thirty in 1513, was not content to produce only easel paintings (the subject of this exhibition). He also worked on the design and execution of monumental and radiant frescoes, in the Vatican of course, but also at the Villa Farnesina; he drew cartoons for the creation of the Sistine Chapel tapestries; he assumed architectural responsibility for the reconstruction of St. Peter’s Basilica after Bramante’s death in 1514; and he even found himself in charge of a detailed study of the monuments of ancient Rome with the aim of protecting them for future generations. A courtier and a man of letters who forged close ties with leading humanists, Raphael perfectly exemplifies the prototype of the universal genius or “Renaissance man,” embodying the movement’s ideals in every project in which he was involved.

At the apogee of his art
Having first learned all that Perugino could teach him, spurred by his deep admiration for Leonardo da Vinci, inspired by his ardent rivalry with Michelangelo, whose works he keenly appreciated, a tireless student of classical statues, Raphael raised his art to its zenith in Rome, grounded in all his achievements by an innate sense of balance. For in this final phase of his career, the most astonishing feature of his art is certainly his genius for composition. His works of this period show a particular gift for creating a harmonious image, a harmony that is both compelling and unmistakable, even if this apparent ease and simplicity conceals considerable recomposition work motivated by in-depth studies of every single detail, whose increasing complexity he never shies away from even as his art matures.

Although many of the more celebrated and innovative works executed by Raphael during this period are frescoes (featured in the exhibition by way of preparatory studies for the Vatican stanze), the altarpieces, the paintings for private devotion, most of which are representations of the Holy Family or the Madonna and Child, and the portraits, all completed between 1513 and 1520, are of supreme historical and artistic significance.

The altar paintings offer the perfect example of Raphael’s desire to break with tradition by introducing the dramatic language he was developing at the same time in his frescoes and tapestry cartoons. Whereas the Madonna with the Fish (1513–14, Museo del Prado, Madrid) makes no challenge to the genre’s received wisdom, works such as the artist’s Christ Falling on the Way to Calvary, also known as Lo Spasimo (1515–16, Museo del Prado, Madrid) or the large Saint Michael (1518, Musée du Louvre, Paris) embody in spectacular fashion his interest in narrative and his quest for the expression of passions. Even though it is clear that the master had much less time to spend on his smaller-format paintings for private devotion, he still brings the same degree of inventiveness, the same focus on renewal through experimentation, to the conception of their iconography: The Holy Family (La Perla) and the Madonna of the Rose (both at the Museo del Prado, Madrid) are masterpieces of tenderness, wonderfully illustrating his especially ingenious approach to variations on common themes.

Captivating posterity with their quiet elegance and ineffable gentleness, the indelible impression left by Raphael’s Madonnas has very often eclipsed the fact that he also revolutionized the art of the portrait, being the first to explore its many possibilities, until then neglected by his contemporaries.

However, there is a difference in approach between the official portraits and the portraits of the artists’s friends. Despite the influential positions of his patrons, Raphael seems to have considered the former category of portraits as having only relative importance, entrusting a portion of their execution to his workshop. On the other hand, the portraits of friends and loved ones bear witness, less in their form than in the manner of painting, to the master’s psychological acuity, revealing with great depth the personality of the sitter. This group of exceptional representations includes his Baldassare Castiglione, the enigmatic Self-Portrait with Giulio Romano, very likely the last portrait ever painted by Raphael (both at the Musée du Louvre, Paris), La Velata (Galleria Palatina, Palazzo Pitti, Florence) and Bindo Altoviti (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.), each attesting to the heights of achievement reached by the artist in this genre.

Raphael’s studio
As a result of his considerable success, Raphael was unable to personally complete all of the commissions he received. In his mature years, he established a particularly efficient system, one which would serve as the model for the workshops of leading artists in the seventeenth century.

The organization of work in the studio was highly collaborative. Raphael invented the compositions, Penni took charge of laying them out in the clearest possible manner, which is why historians have often referred to him as Il Fattore or “the copyist”, and the pupils produced the cartoons. Raphael had a hand in the actual execution of the paintings, but Giulio worked at the master’s side constantly and even produced some of the most prestigious commissions entirely on his own.

Despite the increasingly frequent delegation of responsibility by Raphael to his most brilliant assistants, he continued to exert rigorous control over his workshop’s production as a whole, thus ensuring its homogeneity.

In the master’s shadow: Giulio Romano and Gianfrancesco Penni
Two of Raphael’s closest collaborators stand out from the many having worked in his studio. Among the works brought together for this exhibition, it is the paintings for private devotion that allow us to best identify and appreciate the personal contributions of Giulio Romano and Gianfrancesco Penni. In addition to completing works on Raphael’s behalf, such as The Holy Family, known as the Small Holy Family, and its covering (Musée du Louvre, Paris) for Cardinal Bibbiena, they also executed paintings inspired by Raphaelesque motifs entirely separate from any request by the master.

Giulio had a more distinctive personality, gradually adding aspects of his own aesthetic approach in his contributions to work on the master’s commissions. He was clearly Raphael’s main collaborator, the most versatile and the most ambitious. His talent is most in evidence in the more complex works, where his style begins to depart from the influences of the master, such as the Dëesis or Christ in Glory with Saints (Galleria Nazionale, Parma) or the large cartoon for the Stoning of Saint Stephen (Musei Vaticani, Vatican City). Penni’s artistic imprint is much harder to trace. Although a consensus regarding his drawings has existed for some time, his painted output is only now beginning to emerge from the master’s shadow. Thanks to this exhibition, new light is being shed on this aspect of his work. With Giulio’s departure for Mantua in 1524, followed by the Sack of Rome in 1527, Raphael’s studio was dispersed. A number of these artists found refuge at other Italian courts, where they assured the diffusion of Raphael’s neoclassical approach, thus contributing to the birth of Mannerism.

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