Here are three of the best portraits by Raphael Sanzio.
La Velata in the Pitti Museum, Florence (public domain photo)
La Fornarina (the Baker’s Daughter), in the National Gallery, Rome (public domain photo)
La Muta (the Mute Girl), in the Museum of Urbino (public domain photo)
He was crazy about women. “He was indeed a very amorous man with a great fondness for women whom he was always anxious to serve. He was always indulging his sexual appetites….”
Vasari says Raphael’s friends, who were legion, were always ready to help. Once Raphael became so lovesick for a girl while he was painting the Chigi palace that he couldn’t even work. So his patron and friend Agostino arranged for the girl to go and live with him in the part of the palace where Raphael was working, ie., pining away. “And that was how the painting got done,” says Vasari. The method might well have failed, of course.
Raphael’s friend Cardinal Bibbiena kept telling him to marry: he had a very good girl for him—his niece. Raphael was polite so he didn’t turn the Cardinal down. But he asked for a grace period of three or four years to consider the matter. Those three or four years passed and the Cardinal, like Rumplestiltskin, came to remind Raphael of his promise. “He was a courteous man,” says Vasari, “ and thinking himself under obligation, Raphael refused to go back on his word and agreed to marry the cardinal’s niece. But he resented this entanglement and kept putting things off….”
Meanwhile Raphael pursued his love affairs “with no sense of moderation.” Renaissance writers like Vasari and Cellini and even Michelangelo himself, contrary to modern romanticism about the mores of those times, seemed to think that more than a little sex was a bad thing. In a note to Condivi’s biography, beside a paragraph about his sexual continence, Michelangelo wrote : “I have always practiced this, and if you want to prolong your life, practice it [intercourse] not at all or the least you can.”
Vasari implies that Raphael’s death was brought on by too much love practice. He has him dragging himself home one stormy night after “excess” and dropping on the bed with a high fever. When the doctors asked him what he had been up to he lied. He was ashamed to tell them about the orgy. So they came up with the wrong diagnosis. “Heatstroke,” declared the doctor; and proceeded to bleed poor Raphael until he felt himself starting to sink. He called a notary and made his will. What was the first provision—the first thing on his mind? “As a good Christian, he sent his mistress away, leaving her the means to live a decent life…”
Raphael’s tomb in the Pantheon, Rome (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license photo by Ricardo André Frantz)
His epitaph reads: “Here lies Raphael, by whom the mother of all things (Nature) feared to be overcome while he was living, and while he was dying, herself to die”.
The tomb of Raphael’s fiancée, Maria Bibbiena, is next to his.