Compare the Lives and Works of Raphael and Michelangelo

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Table of contents

  1. Raphael: A Prodigy of the Renaissance
  2. Transfiguration: A Convergence of Biblical Narratives
  3. The Artistic Innovations: Raphael’s Use of Materials
  4. Personal Reflections on Raphael’s Masterpiece
  5. Michelangelo: A Sculptor First, Painter Second
  6. Michelangelo’s Pieta: A Divine Representation of Sorrow
  7. Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: A Brief Exploration

Raphael: A Prodigy of the Renaissance

Raphael was an Italian painter and sculptor, who is most famous for his Madonnas like the Sistine Madonna. He became Perugino’s apprentice in 1500, which is how he got most of his training. All in all, he was a very talented renaissance man who created extremely astonishing pieces of artwork. At the age of 11, his father Giovanni died, and he was forced to take over the task of managing his father's workshop. Soon after that, it was clear that he was very successful in that role and was an extremely good painter. In 1504 he left his apprenticeship and moved to Florence where he studied the works of earlier artists like Massiaco, Michelangelo, and Leonardo Da Vinci. By studying these artworks closely he was able to identify an even more intricate personal painting style than what was ever seen before. Later on, he developed an additional fresco style for the Vatican, which was located in the Stanza Dell’Incendio. He was then asked by the Pope to be his chief architect, which caused many offers to flow in. Much of his architectural work was related to religion, but it also extended to designing palaces. Sadly, In 1520 on his 37th birthday he suddenly died mysteriously of unknown causes in Rome Italy, while working on his largest painting ever called The Transfiguration. Raphael created some amazing pieces of artwork including his Madonna, and frescoes along with his intriguing painting and architectural styles. His mannerisms greatly affected painting styles during Italy’s renaissance period, which is why he is such a well-known artist and renaissance man.

Transfiguration: A Convergence of Biblical Narratives

Raphael’s masterpiece Transfiguration (1520) amalgamates various biblical characters into the expanse of the canvas. The painting depicts famous Bible characters such as Moses and Elijah on both sides of Jesus. Underneath the trio, there are scenes of the miracles performed by Jesus recorded in the book of Mark. The crowd observing the miracles and looking up to Christ appear to congregate on a poorly lit landscape. Some of the characters appear to be in a state of veneration, while others appear to be in a state of trepidation. Above the group, the trio floats in the clouds. These clouds may represent heaven or closeness to Christ. Plus, Elijah and Moses are literally on both sides of Christ. The main focus of the image is Christ. That is made clear by the shading used. The people on the ground are clearly in a place of darkness. Above them, Christ is emanating light from around him. This difference in lighting implies the necessity of Christ. It is also a soft nod to the phrase in the book of John, “I am The Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6 KJV). Christ is both literally and metaphorically the light. The term transfiguration is defined as a “complete change of form or appearance”. This painting depicts various episodes from the Bible and the common theme is for believers to experience a rebirth or a fulfilling change. The idea is that this transformation is supposed to bring believers closer to Christ. Raphael carefully selected two of the most famous believers of Christ to be next to him in this artwork. Their beliefs brought them closer to Christ and that’s why they were painted on both sides of Christ. In contrast, the crowd is away from Christ on the ground. Also, the back right of the painting shows a small glimpse of sunlight. The sun is something that fascinated mankind for years and still does to this day. Various cultures and religions idolized the sun. This is a reference to the passage of Isaiah, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my always higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:7 KJV). Christ is above the landscape and the people. Plus, he is the light source rather than the sun. The idea is that just like Christ is much brighter than the sunlight, he is much greater than mankind.

The Artistic Innovations: Raphael’s Use of Materials

Raphael was deemed a prodigy and contrived his artistic style. This is one of many reasons that lead to his fame. However, the materials he used also contributed to his fame. Raphael was a famous painter during the renaissance. During the 15th and 16th centuries, oil painting was especially popular. Oil paint was expensive to make at that time because some of the materials that went into it were expensive. Visual Arts (2020) explains “The three costliest pigments used in Renaissance art were gold, ultramarine (from the semi-precious Asian stone Lapis Lazuli) and red Lac (from India). In fact, these three colors were so costly that typically their use would be stipulated in the painting contract issued for the commission in question.” Fortunately for modern-day artists, costly ingredients are no longer as economically challenged. Oil painting was also famous because of its ability to do things other art supplies could not. Visual Arts (2020) gives an example “The main advantages of oil paints are their flexibility and depth of color. They can be applied in many different ways, from thin glazes diluted with turpentine to dense thick impasto” Oil paint also dries slower, and that allows the artist more time to critique it. Plus, oil paint does not lose its shade of color after drying. Due to these properties, artists can use oil paintings to create special effects and add a sense of realism to the art that other mediums don’t offer. Many artists knew how valuable oil painting was and how popular their creations could be if they used it. To adequately use oil painting, the artist had a bit of a process. Visual Arts (2020) explains ”Traditional oil painters typically started with charcoal or chalk drawing over which they built up the paint in layers, taking care to ensure that each layer applied contained a little more oil than the last in order to facilitate drying and prevent flaking.” Artworks could take years to completely dry. This careful consideration of detail was essential. The artist took an extensive amount of time to create the piece. The art took a considerable amount of time to finish drying. This explains why artists discerned every minute detail in the process of making their masterpieces.

Personal Reflections on Raphael’s Masterpiece

In the beginning, there was a sense of obligation I attached to this artwork. I entertained the idea that Transfiguration (1520) was popular because Raphael painted it. While that fact attributes some value to the popularity of the painting, it is not the sole reason the art holds value. Transfiguration (1520) is a beautiful symbolization of a common interpretation of the Bible. The piece itself tells a collection of stories that all focus on a central theme. I believed that the piece was simply a scene that depicted various characters in a more traditional art style. As I researched, I discovered that this artwork is truly deserving of the title “masterpiece”. I gained an appreciation for it. After realizing that the piece was supposed to be a summary of the Bible, I was able to infer the implicit and explicit meanings in the art. Discovering and analyzing these details added to my appreciation of the work because I developed a deeper comprehension of it. After studying the methods of oil painting and its history of it, I realized how much thought went into this piece. From the initial process to the painting drying on the wall, creating art is a journey. After looking into the process, I realized that each step is essential to the next. Every part builds off of the last. Similarly, Transfiguration (1520) is based on the Bible. Comparisons have been made between understanding the Bible and a journey. The idea is that reading it is a spiritual journey. After pondering how this piece was created, I realized that oil paint was a perfect choice for it. Raphael embarked on a journey when he was creating it. Similarly, the Bible characters and believers that read it, go through a type of journey. The synergy between the symbols, medium, and history is what makes this piece so special to me. Each ingredient adds to the art and the meaning behind it.

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Transfiguration (1520) is like a beautiful puzzle. Various pieces fit together and images begin to take shape. This painting takes various scenes of the Bible and converges them all into the same canvas. Raphael’s Transfiguration (1520) is deemed a masterwork. This painting is deemed the best in the world. Ironically, it is fitting that this painting has that level of fame. In a way, it sits above other artwork. Furthermore, Christ is the focus of this piece and sits above the other characters. Raphael craftily inserts hidden details and implications that add to the work. Plus, his material choice also adds to the value and the meaning of the art. Reaching the different aspects of the art granted me a unique perspective of what makes this piece so special. Art is more than the medium on the canvas or the form the artist used. The materials, symbolism, and history all play their parts.

Michelangelo: A Sculptor First, Painter Second

The next person is Michelangelo. Michelangelo was an Italian painter, sculptor, architect, and poet, also known as a renaissance man, who had a great influence on art. He was considered to be one of the best artists of his time period and was so important that he was able to have a biography about him published while he was still alive. His most famous piece was a fresco called the Sistine Chapel, which he was hired to paint by the church. At the age of 13, he was apprenticed to the most prominent painter in the city, Domenico Ghirlandaio. He was then taken under the wing of Lorenzo the Magnificent, who was a part of the Medici family, the most wealthy family of the time period. When the Medici family was overthrown Michelangelo decided to leave to a place named Bologna. There he created his first large surviving statue called the Bacchus. The immense detail and emotion that was put into the Bacchus was astounding and had never been seen before. He then created another amazing statue called David, which was set up in front of the entrance of the Palazzo de Priori. As well to these main statues he was making other works on the side, like madonnas for private houses. After the success of the statue of David, he began working on enormous projects, usually having to do with religious matters, like the Sistine Chapel.

Michelangelo’s Pieta: A Divine Representation of Sorrow

Michelangelo is most known for his sculpture work during the renaissance period. Despite his beautiful, as well as amazing fresco painting for the “Sistine Chapel” Michelangelo would have considered himself more of a sculptor than a painter. His work demonstrated a mixture of psychological insight, physical realism, and intensity. His contemporaries recognized his extraordinary talent, and Michelangelo received commissions from some of the most wealthy and powerful people, which included popes and others that were a part of the Catholic Church. Furthering, one of Michelangelo’s most famous sculptures I would like to talk about is “Pieta” The resulting work would be so successful that it helped launch Michelangelo’s career, unlike any previous work he had done. According to Michelangelo, the Carrara Marble he used to work on this was the most perfect block he has ever used. The statue Pieta represents the Virgin Mary holding the dead body of Christ after his crucifixion, death, and removal from the cross, but before he was placed in the tomb. This was one of the big events of the Virgin Mary, also known as the “Seven Sorrows of Mary” This piece of artwork was rare for its time due to the fact that during the Renaissance period, multi-figured sculptures were very rare. Mary and Jesus are carved in a way to add the unification of the two, resulting in the formation of a pyramid, something that other renaissance artists such as Leonardo also favored.

Looking at the statue more carefully, I can tell that the body of Jesus and the body of Mary are not proportionate to each other. The reason Michelangelo did this was that it was so that the Virgin could support her son on her lap. If Mary's body had been smaller, it might have been very difficult or awkward in a way for her to have held an adult male as gracefully as she does. Michelangelo made it so her clothing was amassed, in order to make it seem like she is a larger person than she is, everything looks natural, and it flows eloquently. Even in her time of despair, sadness, and anger, she finds grace and reassurance in the situation at the same time. Furthermore, I’d also like to point out that Jesus seems as though he is almost in a peaceful slumber, not the one who has been bloodied, bruised, tortured, and suffered tremendously. All in all, Jesus and Mary are beautiful and idealized, despite their suffering of loss. This reflects the many beliefs of people in Neo-Platonic ideals that beauty on earth reflected God’s beauty, so these beautiful figures were representing the beauty of the divine. When the figure was done, Michelangelo was then criticized due to the way he wanted to represent the Virgin Mary. Many people were saying that she seemed too young to be the mother of Jesus. Michelangelo argued that women who are chaste often look much younger, and are able to retain their beauty. Overall, this sculpture is quite amazing, beautiful, as well as divine. It also represents Michelangelo as an artist in every way possible.

Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: A Brief Exploration

Although the Sistine Chapel painting is not what I want to focus on, I’d like to talk about it a bit because of the significance that it holds. The painting is based on the 12 apostles, Michelangelo produced seven prophets, as well as five sibyls (a woman in ancient times supposed to utter the oracles and prophecies of a god) Michelangelo placed these 12 figures around the edges of the ceiling and covered the middle part with nine scenes from Genesis. Three represent the creation of the world, three of which represent Adam and Eve, and three of which represent Noah. The amount of detail, meaning, and significance within this piece of artwork is divine, and the amount of time and patience put into the Sistine Chapel is quite magnificent.

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