From guest blogger Hasan Niyazi…
The Uffizi Gallery hosts an impressive selection of works of art spanning the career of the famous Renaissance artist, Raphael Santi, commonly just referred to as Raphael. Two of his masterpieces are portraits and they are often passed unnoticed in the Uffizi Gallery even though they come with a touching back-story. However, before we can begin to understand these intriguing portraits we must understand Raphael.
Raphael was born in the Central Italian city of Urbino. His father Giovanni Santi was an admired painter at the court of the Duke of Urbino, and Raphael spent his early years developing basic artistic skills in his father’s workshop.
By the 15th century, the city of Florence had become a recognised centre for artistic innovation and home to many talented artists, including Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarotti. According to Raphael’s biographer, Giorgio Vasari, it was the famous large scale battle drawings (or cartoons) by da Vinci and Michelangelo, that attracted Raphael to Florence in 1504, where he lived and worked until 1508.
Raphael’s time in Florence had a major impact on his artistic development, especially his figure compositions – which drew heavily on the style of da Vinci and Michelangelo. In regard to Raphael’s use of colour, Vasari cites the Florentine painter Fra Bartolommeo as a significant influence.
Today, Raphael is best known for his exquisite devotional images, often Madonnas and representations of the Holy Family. However, he was also an accomplished portraitist and several notable examples made their way to the Uffizi Gallery for us to see today. In particular, the portraits of Duke Guidobaldo da Montefeltro (c. 1506) and his wife Duchess Elisabetta Gonzaga (c. 1504) are an interesting pair of portraits, often attributed to Raphael. What makes them fascinating is a distinctive characteristic of the marriage between Guidobaldo and Elisabetta. There was an evident affection joining these two parties, which went well beyond the usual strategic union of princely families. Various sources describe Guidobaldo as impotent, with the couple thus unable to have children. Despite this, the couple remained strongly connected, and became known for their patronage of the arts.
Those interested in taking a closer look at these two portraits are encouraged to stop by Room 66 (The Raphael Room) during their next visit to the Uffizi Gallery. While scholars continue to debate their merits as works by Raphael, we can at least acknowledge their depiction of a remarkable Renaissance couple, whose mutual affection, and love of learning seems to transcend time.
Hasan Niyazi was an independent researcher based in Melbourne, Australia. He passed away on 11/28/13 and our hearts and prayers are with his family and friends. Hasan first fell in love with Renaissance art and history after finding a copy of Panofsky’s “Meaning in the Visual Arts” on the ground at age 9. With a background in clinical sciences, he applied a rational, evidence based mode of reporting to art historical subjects. He created an online resource dedicated to Raphael studies that can be found at: http://www.3pipe.net/