Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

while Raphael, having first formed his style by a combination of the best works of his own time, refined and finished it by a constant study of the models of antiquity. Michel Angelo had early accustomed himself to see, in the external form of man, nothing but a structure of bones and muscles. The extreme skill, with which he wielded the powers of this machinery, led him to prefer subjects, that enabled him to display his knowledge of it. He seems to have taken more pains to make his figures move, (in which he was unequalled,) than to make them think. Generally without sensibility or grace, he had no pretensions to the expression of beauty, or of the varieties of sex, age, condition, or costume. In form, he recognised no quality but that of force, and in the head, no expression but that of a solemn severity.

This will hardly be acknowledged to be doing justice to the merits of Michel Angelo ; but the long contemplation of the works of Raphael, so graceful, so full of human feeling, and of superhuman dignity and sweetness, may almost render any one unjust to the merits of others, if he suffers himself to judge of them by comparison with him. In such a contest, Raphael engages not only the judgment, but the affections of his critic. He fatters our nature by showing of what an elevated loveliness it is capable, without losing its identity. Perhaps this is his greatest charm. It seems as if he revealed to us a more refined state of bodily existence yet to come. In this, he differs almost as much from the grosser beauty of Titian, as from the gloomy severity of Michel Angelo. It seems to be something added from religion to the beau ideal of the antique, to make the perfection of our nature. The Greek beauty is the mere perfection of the physical form ; but the ideal of Raphael goes far beyond that'; there is, in the expression of his heads, a feeling beyond the present, a thought of beauty that will not pass away, a sentiment of immortality.

Before the second Chamber of the Vatican had been finished by Raphael, bis patron, Julius the Second, was succeeded by Leo the Tenth, who urged on the work of his predecessor, by still greater favors extended to the artist. Bramante, the relative of Raphael, and the architect of St. Peter's, dying at this time, Raphael was appointed to that office. Little had been accomplished of the great work, by Bramante, and Raphael prepared an entire model of the proposed edifice.

“Our holy father,” says he, in a letter to Castiglione, characteristic of his modesty, and of his lofty views of art, “ has put a heavy burden upon me, in charging me with the building of St. Peter's. I hope not to sink under it. What gives ine courage is, that the model I have made pleases his Holiness, and is approved by men of taste. But I carry my views higher ; I would seek for the fine forms of the ancient edifices. Will my flight be that of Icarus ? Vitruvius, without doubt, will give me much light, but not as much as I want.” And to supply this want, he sent draftsmen to Greece, for purer models than even ancient Rome afforded.

This model of St. Peter's was thrown aside after the death of Raphael, and a new form adopted. All that remains of his design is a plan preserved by an old writer on architecture, which M. de Quincy considers as far superior to that which was afterwards adopted, and which has been the admiration of the world. The multitude and extent of the labors of Raphael, from this time, appear almost incredible ; and would have been impossible, if his fame had not assembled round him, as assistants, a great number of distinguished artists. All competition with him had ceased; Michel Angelo and Lionardo bad both retired from Rome, leaving the field of all the arts to Raphael, who thus became the sole director of the various works in which the taste and ambition of Julius the Second and Leo had engaged them. Besides continuing the Cathedral, he completed the Court of the Loggie of the Vatican, which Brainante bad just begun, and under the arches of which he painted his celebrated designs known by that name. For the ornament of these Loggie he sought again the treasures of the antique, and brought from the ruins of the Roman baths the models of that system of ornainental painting known as the Grotesque or Arabesque. During all this time he was producing, with a rapidity inconceivable among so many engagements, bis most beautiful paintings in oil. No doubt a vast many of those which have passed under his name were wholly the works of his scholars, and in all he probably received much assistance in the subordinate parts; but with all the aid he could derive from others, his own labors must have been such as are almost incredible.

We have no intention of enumerating his various works ; we can only glance at the general course of them. He continued the frescoes of the Vatican, until he had completed the painting of three of the chambers, and the designs for the

fourth. He painted in distemper twelve large cartoons for the tapestries of the Vatican, of which those that remain are esteemed among his best works; more than twenty altar-pieces, and other compositions of the first class in oil, besides a multitude of smaller ones; a number of portraits of the highest order of art, and several large frescoes in the palace of the Farnesina. As an architect, besides superintending the building of St. Peter's, and the additions to the Vatican, he furnished plans of palaces and villas; and having been appointed by Leo curator of the antiquities of Rome, he made considerable progress in the drawing and admeasurement of the remains of the ancient buildings. All this was accomplished in the space

of twelve years after he first went to Rome. During this time he associated freely with the scholars and courtiers of the city, and lived, himself, with the magnificence of a prince. Non visse da pittore, ma da principe.

He seemed now to have risen above the rivalry of all but Michel Angelo, who, living recluse in Florence, heard with uneasiness the continual praises of Raphael, and made an attempt, unworthy of his genius, to raise up a successful rival by his own secret assistance. We should hardly credit this charge, if it were not made by his own pupil and enthusiastic admirer. That he should have openly entered the lists with Raphael, with such assistance as he chose to engage, could have been no subject of complaint; but he was ashamed of such a confession of inferiority, and privately engaged Sebastian del Piombo, a Venetian colorist, to paint from his designs, in opposition to Raphael. To the meanness of this secret alliance, which cannot be denied, Vasari adds a trait too unworthy of Michel Angelo to be credited. He not only thought, says he, thus by the union of his own design with the color of the Venetian, to contend victoriously with Raphael, but that being unknown as one of the combatants, he should be the judge appointed to decide between them. The arrangement, however, soon became public; and Raphael's answer to the information was, simply, that he thanked Michel Angelo for considering him worthy of contending with himself and not with Sebastian.

Aware of this combination of the highest power of design and of color against him, Raphael began what was destined to be his last and crowning work. The subject of the Transfiguration was selected by the Cardinal de Medicis; the painting being intended for his bishopric of Narbonne. In emulation

[graphic]

Fourth. He painted in distemper twelve large cartoons for the
apestries of the Vatican, of which those that remain are es-
eemed among his best works; more than twenty altar-pieces,
nd other compositions of the first class in oil, besides a mul-
tude of smaller ones; a number of portraits of the highest
rder of art, and several large frescoes in the palace of the
"arnesina. As an architect, besides superintending the build-
ng of St. Peter's, and the additions to the Vatican

, he fur-
ished plans of palaces and villas ; and having been appointed
y Leo curator of the antiquities of Rome, he made consid-
erable progress in the drawing and admeasurement of the re-
nains of the ancient buildings. All this was accomplished in
the space of twelve years after he first went to Rome. During
this time he associated freely with the scholars and courtiers of
the city, and lived, himself

, with the magnificence of a prince.
Non visse da pittore, ma da principe.

He seemed now to have risen above the rivalry of all but Michel Angelo, who, living recluse in Florence, heard with uneasiness the continual praises of Raphael, and made an

attempt, unworthy of his genius, to raise up a successful rival by his own secret assistance. We should hardly credit this charge, if it were not made by his own pupil and enthusiastic admirer. That he should have openly entered the lists with Raphael

, with such assistance as he chose to engage, could have been no subject of complaint; but he was ashamed of such a confession of inferiority, and privately engaged Sebastian del Piombo, a Venetian colorist

, to paint from his designs, in opposition to Raphael. To the meanness of this secret alliance, which cannot be denied, Vasari adds a trait too unworthy of Michel Angelo to be credited. He not only thought

, says he, thus by the union of his own design with the color of the Venetian, to contend victoriously with Raphael, but that being

unknown as one of the combatants, he should be the judge appointed to decide between them. The arrangement, how

ever, soon became public; and Raphael's answer to the infor mation was, simply, that he thanked Michel Angelo for com sidering him worthy of contending with himself and not with Sebastian.

Aware of this combination of the highest power of design and of color against him, Raphael began what was destined to

be his last and crowning work. The subject of the Transfig. uration was selected by the Cardinal de Medicis; the painting being intended for his bishopric of Narbonne. In emulation

“Raphael Sanzio," says this manuscript, “was of a most delicate constitution; his bodily life hung by a slender thread, for he was all spirit; his strength had been already much impaired, and it was wonderful that it had sustained him even through so short a life; but being at this time quite feeble, he received, while in the Farnesina, an order to repair immediately to court. Hastening through the streets on foot, he arrived exhausted and perspiring profusely, where, standing in those vast halls for a long time, consulting about the building of St. Peter's, he became chilled, and, feeling suddenly ill, went to his house, where he fell into a distemper that unhappily carried him to the grave.”

The simplicity of this account, so much more honorable to the refined and delicate character of Raphael, should give it entire credence, in opposition to the vulgar charge brought against his memory by Vasari, which the known habits of his life, in this particular, indefensible as they were, still render intrinsically improbable.

Raphael died at the age of thirty-seven, rich and honored. To the distinctions actually conferred upon him, those of a cardinal's hat and the hand of a cardinal's niece were intended to be added. The expectation of the former is thought to have prevented his acceptance of the latter ; a better reason, perhaps, might be found in his well known attachment to anoiher. It appears, however, that the Cardinal Bibiena pressed bim so earnestly to espouse bis niece Maria Bibiena, that Raphael, after once declining the marriage, was at length obliged to consent ; but demanded a respite of three or four years, until he could complete some of the great works then on hand. At the conclusion of that period, some new pretext still delayed the marriage ; and Maria Bibiena died, as her epitaph relates, the affianced but not the wedded wife of Raphael ;

56 tantum nomen inane

Connubii, liceat turnulo scripsisse.” The dignity of a cardinal would have added little to the fame of Raphael ; and it can hardly be believed that it was, in truth, intended to be conferred upon him. His labors and researches had made him a large creditor of Leo, and his claims might, perhaps, have been more conveniently cancelled by honors than by more solid payment. But that it should have been proposed, shows in what estimation the artist was held. No one of his time lived more honored or died more lamented.

It is well known that what was supposed to be the skull of

« ForrigeFortsæt »