Commemorating the 500th anniversary of the death of the artist, the delayed, but now open, Raphael Exhibition at the National Gallery presents work spanning the entire career of one of the most influential painters of the Italian Renaissance. The curators have brought together works from galleries around the world including Washington, Madrid, Florence, Rome, Paris and Budapest to assemble a collection of almost 100 artworks by Raphael which showcase his genius at not only painting, but also in drawing, architecture, designs for sculpture and tapestries, and even poetry.
Chronological in its presentation, the exhibition traces the artist’s life, and shows examples of his work from his teens until his death in the Vatican in 1520 at the age of just 37. Sketches and drawings in chalk, lead, ink and charcoal, finished masterpieces in bronze and casts of marble sculptures based on the artist’s designs, as well as tapestries both in facsimile and the real thing can all be seen.
Called to Rome in 1508 by Pope Julius II, Raphael produced much religious art, and one of the subjects for which he is best known, the Virgin and Child, is amply represented with at least half a dozen sumptuous examples of the theme on display. Julius’s successor, Leo X, commissioned Raphael to undertake a survey of Rome’s principal sites and the exhibition includes a letter from the artist to the pope decrying the destruction of significant ruins in the city. Raphael enjoyed multiple commissions from both popes, including appointments as architect of St Peter’s Basilica, and the commission to paint a series of frescoes in the Stanze in the Vatican Papal Apartments, considered amongst his greatest work. While the frescoes, by their nature, are not transportable, the exhibition does show a near-life size copy of perhaps the most famous, the School of Athens, depicting discussion and debate between Plato, Aristotle, and other gathered philosophers.
This exhibition has been very well received – with the Evening Standard describing it as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” and the Guardian describing it as “unmissable”. The exhibition remains open until 31 July 2022.