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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Raphael Sanzio
By Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574)
 
From ‘Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects’: Translation of Mrs. Jonathan Foster

THE LARGE and liberal hand wherewith Heaven is sometimes pleased to accumulate the infinite riches of its treasures on the head of one sole favorite—showering on him all those rare gifts and graces which are more commonly distributed among a larger number of individuals, and accorded at long intervals of time only—has been clearly exemplified in the well-known instance of Raphael Sanzio of Urbino.  1
  No less excellent than graceful, he was endowed by nature with all that modesty and goodness which may occasionally be perceived in those few favored persons who enhance the gracious sweetness of a disposition more than usually gentle, by the fair ornament of a winning amenity, always ready to conciliate, and constantly giving evidence of the most refined consideration for all persons, and under every circumstance. The world received the gift of this artist from the hand of Nature, when, vanquished by Art in the person of Michaelangelo, she deigned to be subjugated in that of Raphael, not by art only but by goodness also. And of a truth, since the greater number of artists had up to that period derived from nature a certain rudeness and eccentricity, which not only rendered them uncouth and fantastic, but often caused the shadows and darkness of vice to be more conspicuous in their lives than the light and splendor of those virtues by which man is rendered immortal,—so was there good cause wherefore she should, on the contrary, make all the rarest qualities of the heart to shine resplendently in her Raphael; perfecting them by so much diffidence, grace, application to study, and excellence of life, that these alone would have sufficed to veil or neutralize every fault, however important, and to efface all defects, however glaring they might have been. Truly may we affirm that those who are the possessors of endowments so rich and varied as were assembled in the person of Raphael, are scarcely to be called simple men only,—they are rather, if it be permitted so to speak, entitled to the appellation of mortal gods; and further are we authorized to declare, that he who by means of his works has left an honored name in the records of fame here below, may also hope to enjoy such rewards in heaven as are commensurate to and worthy of their labors and merits.  2
  Raphael was born at Urbino—a most renowned city of Italy—on Good Friday of the year 1483, at three o’clock of the night. His father was a certain Giovanni de’ Santi; a painter of no great eminence in his art, but a man of sufficient intelligence nevertheless, and perfectly competent to direct his children into that good way which had not, for his misfortune, been laid open to himself in his younger days. And first, as he knew how important it is that a child should be nourished by the milk of its own mother, and not by that of the hired nurse, so he determined when his son Raphael (to whom he gave that name at his baptism, as being one of good augury) was born to him, that the mother of the child, he having no other,—as indeed he never had more,—should herself be the nurse of the child. Giovanni further desired that in his tender years the boy should rather be brought up to the habits of his own family, and beneath his paternal roof, than be sent where he must acquire habits and manners less refined, and modes of thought less commendable, in the houses of the peasantry or other untaught persons. As the child became older, Giovanni began to instruct him in the first principles of painting; perceiving that he was much inclined to that art, and finding him to be endowed with a most admirable genius: few years had passed, therefore, before Raphael, though still but a child, became a valuable assistant to his father in the numerous works which the latter executed in the State of Urbino.  3
  At length this good and affectionate parent, knowing that his son would acquire but little of his art from himself, resolved to place him with Pietro Perugino, who, according to what Giovanni had been told, was then considered to hold the first place among the painters of the time. Wherefore, proceeding to Perugia for that purpose, and finding Pietro to be absent from the city, he occupied himself—to the end that he might await the return of the master with the less inconvenience—in the execution of certain works for the church of San Francesco in that place. But when Pietro had returned to Perugia, Giovanni, who was a person of very good manners and pleasing deportment, soon formed an amicable acquaintanceship with him; and when the proper opportunity arrived, made known to him the desire he had conceived, in the most suitable manner that he could devise. Thereupon Pietro, who was also exceedingly courteous, as well as a lover of fine genius, agreed to accept the care of Raphael. Giovanni then returned to Urbino; and having taken the boy, though not without many tears from his mother, who loved him tenderly, he conducted him to Perugia: when Pietro no sooner beheld his manner of drawing, and observed the pleasing deportment of the youth, than he conceived that opinion of him which was in due time so amply confirmed by the results produced in the after life of Raphael….  4
  But I have now discoursed respecting these questions of art at more length perhaps than was needful, and will return to the life and death of Raphael. This master lived in the strictest intimacy with Bernardo Divizio, Cardinal of Bibbiena, who had for many years importuned him to take a wife of his selection; nor had Raphael directly refused compliance with the wishes of the cardinal, but had put the matter off, by saying that he would wait some three or four years longer. The term which he had thus set, approached before Raphael had thought of it, when he was reminded by the cardinal of his promise; and being as he ever was, just and upright, he would not depart from his word, and therefore accepted a niece of the cardinal himself for his wife. But as this engagement was nevertheless a very heavy restraint to him, he put off the marriage from time to time; insomuch that several months passed, and the ceremony had not yet taken place. Yet this was not done without a very honorable motive; for Raphael having been for many years in the service of the count, and being the creditor of Leo X. for a large sum of money, had received an intimation to the effect that when the hall with which he was then occupied was completed, the pontiff intended to reward him for his labors as well as to do honor to his talents by bestowing on him the red hat, of which he meant to distribute a considerable number, many of them being designed for persons whose merits were greatly inferior to those of Raphael. The painter meanwhile did not abandon the light attachment by which he was enchained: and one day, on returning to his house from one of these secret visits, he was seized with a violent fever, which being mistaken for a cold, the physicians inconsiderately caused him to be bled; whereby he found himself exhausted, when he had rather required to be strengthened. Thereupon he made his will, and as a good Christian he sent the object of his attachment from the house, but left her a sufficient provision wherewith she might live in decency: having done so much, he divided his property among his disciples,—Giulio Romano, that is to say, whom he always loved greatly, and Giovanni Francesco, with whom was joined a certain priest of Urbino who was his kinsman, but whose name I do not know. He furthermore commanded that a certain portion of his property should be employed in the restoration of one of the ancient tabernacles in Santa Maria Ritonda, which he had selected as his burial-place, and for which he had ordered that an altar, with the figure of Our Lady in marble, should be prepared; all that he possessed besides he bequeathed to Giulio Romano and Giovanni Francesco,—naming Messer Baldassare da Pescia, who was then datary to the Pope, as his executor. He then confessed, and in much contrition completed the course of his life, on the day whereon it had commenced, which was Good Friday. The master was then in the thirty-seventh year of his age, and as he embellished the world by his talents while on earth, so is it to be believed that his soul is now adorning heaven.  5
  After his death, the body of Raphael was placed at the upper end of the hall wherein he had last worked, with the picture of the Transfiguration which he had executed for Cardinal Giulio de’ Medici, at the head of the corpse. He who, regarding that living picture, afterwards turned to consider that dead body, felt his heart bursting with grief as he beheld them. The loss of Raphael caused the cardinal to command that this work should be placed on the high altar of San Pietro-a-Montorio, where it has ever since been held in the utmost veneration for its own great value, as well as for the excellence of its author. The remains of this divine artist received that honorable sepulture which the noble spirit whereby they had been informed had so well deserved; nor was there any artist in Rome who did not deeply bewail the loss sustained by the departure of the master, or who failed to accompany his remains to their repose.  6
  The death of Raphael was in like manner deplored by all the papal court: not only because he had formed part thereof, since he had held the office of chamberlain to the pontiff, but also because Leo X. had esteemed him so highly, that his loss occasioned that sovereign the bitterest grief. O most happy and thrice blessed spirit, of whom all are proud to speak, whose actions are celebrated with praise by all men, and the least of whose works left behind thee is admired and prized!  7
  When this noble artist died, well might Painting have departed also; for when he closed his eyes, she too was left as it were blind. But now to us, whose lot it is to come after him, there remains to imitate the good, or rather the excellent, of which he has left us the example; and as our obligations to him and his great merits well deserve, to retain the most grateful remembrance of him in our hearts, while we ever maintain his memory in the highest honor with our lips. To him of a truth it is that we owe the possession of invention, coloring, and execution, brought alike and altogether to that point of perfection for which few could have dared to hope; nor has any man ever aspired to pass before him.  8
  And in addition to the benefits which this great master conferred on art, being as he was its best friend, we have the further obligation to him of having taught us by his life in what manner we should comport ourselves towards great men, as well as towards those of lower degree, and even towards the lowest; nay, there was among his many extraordinary gifts one of such value and importance, that I can never sufficiently admire it, and always think thereof with astonishment. This was the power accorded to him by Heaven, of bringing all who approached his presence into harmony; an effect inconceivably surprising in our calling, and contrary to the nature of our artists: yet all, I do not say of the inferior grades only, but even those who lay claim to be great personages (and of this humor our art produces immense numbers), became as of one mind, once they began to labor in the society of Raphael; continuing in such unity and concord that all harsh feelings and evil dispositions became subdued, and disappeared at the sight of him, every vile and base thought departing from the mind before his influence. Such harmony prevailed at no other time than his own. And this happened because all were surpassed by him in friendly courtesy as well as in art; all confessed the influence of his sweet and gracious nature, which was so replete with excellence, and so perfect in all the charities, that not only was he honored by men, but even by the very animals, who would constantly follow his steps, and always loved him.  9
  We find it related that whenever any other painter, whether known to Raphael or not, requested any design or assistance of whatever kind at his hands, he would invariably leave his work to do him service; he continually kept a large number of artists employed, all of whom he assisted and instructed with an affection which was rather as that of a father to his children, than merely as of an artist to artists. From these things it followed that he was never seen to go to court but surrounded and accompanied, as he left his house, by some fifty painters,—all men of ability and distinction,—who attended him thus to give evidence of the honor in which they held him. He did not, in short, live the life of the painter, but that of a prince. Wherefore, O art of painting! well mightest thou for thy part then esteem thyself most happy, having, as thou hadst, one artist among thy sons by whose virtues and talents thou wert thyself exalted to heaven. Thrice blessed indeed mayest thou declare thyself, since thou hast seen thy disciples, by pursuing the footsteps of a man so exalted, acquire the knowledge of how life should be employed, and become impressed with the importance of uniting the practice of virtue to that of art. Conjoined as these were in the person of Raphael, their force availed to constrain the greatness of Julius II. and to awaken the generosity of Leo X.; both of whom, high as they were in dignity, selected him for their most intimate friend, and treated him with every kind of familiarity: insomuch that by means of the favor he enjoyed with them, and the powers with which they invested him, he was able to do the utmost honor to himself and to art. Most happy also may well be called those who, being in his service, worked under his own eye; since it has been found that all who took pains to imitate this master have arrived at a safe haven, and attained to a respectable position. In like manner, all who do their best to emulate his labors in art will be honored on earth, as it is certain that all who resemble him in the rectitude of his life will receive their reward in heaven.  10
 
 
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