Here Lies Raphael

by Danilo Brunetti

This month, an epic exhibit of the works of Renaissance genius Raphael opens at the Scuderie del Quirinale,
on occasion of the 500th anniversary of his death. (See p56 for our preview of the show.) But many of Rome’s sites associated with the artist, whether frescoes or architectural projects, physically couldn’t be moved for the exhibit.
So if the show has only whetted your appetite for more of Raphael’s exquisite work, you’re in luck. by Tiffany Parks

School of Athens

Raphael Rooms – The most glorious example of Raphael’s Roman work can be found in the Vatican Museums: his frescoes on the walls and ceiling of Pope Julius II’s private apartments, begun in 1508. The Raphael Rooms are often rushed by tourists in a hurry to get to the “main attraction” (the Sistine Chapel), but Raphael’s frescoes are arguably every bit as artistically important as the chapel, and many would claim they are more beautiful. So take your time as you wander through The Hall of Constantine, The Room of Heliodorus, The Room of the Fire in the Borgo, and, most significant of all, The Room of the Signature. The latter features the monumental School of Athens wherein Raphael celebrates the great philosophers and thinkers of antiquity, while simultaneously paying homage to his own contemporary artists. vatican.va

Raphael Rooms – The most glorious example of Raphael’s Roman work can be found in the Vatican Museums: his frescoes on the walls and ceiling of Pope Julius II’s private apartments, begun in 1508. The Raphael Rooms are often rushed by tourists in a hurry to get to the “mai attraction” (the Sistine Chapel), but Raphael’s frescoes are arguably every bit as artistically important as the chapel, and many would claim they are more beautiful. So take your time as you wander through The Hall of Constantine, The Room of Heliodorus, The Room of the Fire in the Borgo, and, most signi- cant of all, The Room of the Signature. The latter features the monumental School of Athens, wherein Raphael celebrates the great philosophers and thinkers of antiquity, while simultaneously paying homage to his own contemporary artists. vatican.va

Villa Farnesina – This small but delightful museum in Trastevere boasts one of the few Raphael frescoes in Rome outside the Vatican. The Triumph of Galatea was painted by Raphael in 1514, and is one of the only pagan subjects in his entire body of work. In it, a sea nymph tries to escape from the one-eyed giant Polyphemus, riding a seashell chariot pulled by dolphins amidst a commotion of putti, centaurs, and tritons. The torsion of Galatea’s body demonstrates the artist’s keen understanding of human anatomy. The ceiling frescoes in the Loggia of Cupid and Psyche were also designed by Raphael, although carried out by his atelier.Via della Lungara, 230.

The Triumph of Galatea


Sant’Agostino – Most art-lovers in Rome know that masterpiece by Caravaggio ca be found in this church near Piazza Navona, but what many fail to realize is that there is also a small fresco by Raphael just around the corner. Painted directly onto one of the church’s supporting pillars, the Prophet Isaiah is a recognizable tribute to Michelangelo’s frescoes of prophets in the Sistine Chapel. It was completed in 1512, the same year the Sistine ceiling was unveiled. P.zza Sant’Agostino, 80.

Santa Maria della Pace – Just a short walk away, in this small church that is only open on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday mornings, curious visitors can find a gorgeous fresco lunette by Raphael’s hand depicting Sibyls Receiving Angelic Instruction, painted in 1514. Just as with Raphael’s Isaiah, this work was also inspired by his one-time rival’s work in the Sistine Chapel. Arco della Pace, 5.

Santa Maria del Popolo – While Raphael is best-known for his paintings, he also stretched his creative muscles in the realm of architecture on occasion. One such project is the Chigi Chapel in Santa Maria del Popolo, which would go on to be decorated with sculptures by Gianlorenzo Bernini a century later. The mosaic in the chapel’s dome is also the work of Raphael, where the glittering panels of The Creation of the World depict personifications of the planets, the zodiac signs, and God in the heavens. Piazza del Popolo, 12.

Pantheon – To honor the memory of this legendary artist who left the world on 6 April 1520, visit his tomb inside the Pantheon. The epitaph carved into his grave by humanist poet Pietro Bembo never fails to move: “Here lies Raphael, by whom Nature feared to be conquered while he lived, and while he lay dying, feared she would die herself.” Piazza della Rotonda.