Raphael is considered one of the greatest artists of the Italian Renaissance. His artistic style has helped shape the development of Western art.
Little is known about the early years of Raphael's life. He was born in 1483 to a local painter named Urbino. The details of his childhood are unknown. His first documented commission is dated 1500, but the work he produced is lost. It is assumed that by this time, Raphael had already worked with Perugino and had learned the fresco technique.
Raphael's first signed work, The Marriage of the Virgin, is dated 1504. In this painting, Perugino's influence is clear, but Raphael's advanced subtlety and skill are apparent. Over the next few years, Raphael's style would change decisively. The artist traveled to Florence where he saw and appreciated the magnificent works of Leonardo and Michelangelo. He stayed in Florence for three to four years in order to learn all he could from the Florentine painters. Raphael was particularly influenced by Michelangelo and was aware of this artist's mastery and exceptional talent. Raphael's own style at this time was fully classical.
In 1509, Raphael moved to Rome, where he would remain for the rest of his life. In Rome, this previously unknown painter was commissioned to paint four state rooms in the Vatican. This commission placed him on the same level as the revered Michelangelo, who was working on the Sistine Chapel at the time.
During the last twelve years of Raphael's life, the artist reached the full development of his style, which typifies the High Renaissance in Rome. Moving away from his earlier classical style, Raphael used rich colors and incorporated more drama into his frescoes. His work contains a distinctive melodramatic quality. The changes and variations in Raphael's style were also certainly affected by the number of assistants working on his pieces.
In 1515-16, Raphael designed several tapestries for the Sistine Chapel. While some of these tapestries are calm and classical in style, others represent crowded figures in violent action. This demonstration of violent muscular contractions and grand gestures is characteristic of Mannerism, a style which is generally attributed to Michelangelo. There is some debate in the art world as to whether Raphael also created this style or was simply influenced by Michelangelo's work.
Raphael died in 1520 at the age of thirty-seven. Despite his advances into the Mannerist style, it is his Classical style which was revived and celebrated in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and for which he is best known today.