In the last half century, Raphael’s art has tended to go out of fashion, said Alastair Sooke in The Daily Telegraph. Modern-day critics “nag” that his work is just “too perfect”; Its impeccable “grace and harmony” is at odds with the prevailing modernist tradition. But as this “engrossing” exhibition at the National Gallery shows, it’s time to reassess this “supernaturally prolific” specimen of the Italian Renaissance.
The show explores the full spectrum of Raphael’s career, from his early life as an orphan in the city of Urbino to his death aged 37 in 1520 – as a result of too much sex, according to Vasari. Bringing together 89 masterpieces from collections around the world, it showcases Raphael’s talents as a “printmaker, architect, archaeologist and designer” but above all as a painter of unparalleled skill. It’s an exciting display of “noble, mature, sophisticated art” that feels “authoritative” throughout. Even the most reluctant critics will leave no doubt: this is an event of “superlatives” and Raphael was “very, very good”.
Raphael was a child prodigy, Nancy Durrant agreed London evening standard. A “complete” sketch that he made at the age of 15 and mistook for a self-portrait shows why he was considered a master long before his 20th birthday. He ended up in Rome, where he became the darling of two successive popes, evoking admiration and jealousy in equal measure – especially from Michelangelo. You can see why: the “rush of beauty” here is “almost too much to bear.”
What is immediately striking is that Raphael “cherished women very, very much”: numerous depictions of the Madonna and Child (a specialty) attest to his “unique ability to capture the emotional relationship” between mother and child. Quite less virtuosic, his “magnificently suggestive” La Fornarina, a bare-breasted portrait meant to represent his mistress suggests “that the hands of the man who painted it were already everywhere the brush went”. “There’s only one disappointment” in this long-awaited blockbuster show, “and it’s hardly the curators’ fault.” For obvious reasons, its architecture is difficult to portray, although in a “cramped back room” you can see a “beautifully made and impressive video.” “ can see about it.
At times, Raphael’s images can seem a little “preposterous,” Laura Cumming said The Observer. His vision of St. Catherine of Alexandria, for example, sees her unperturbed and “stunningly serene” leaning against a wheel, symbolic of the “terrible torture she endured.” But this wonderful collection of masterpieces allows you to see his full range, not just the immaculate Raphael of myth.
A portrait by his friend Bindo Altoviti shows him rolling over his shoulder to meet our gaze, his “fluffy sideburns almost reaching his jaw”; It’s hard to imagine a portrait that is “more tactile and compellingly appealing to the sense of touch.” Another highlight is a portrait of his friend, the courtier and diplomat Baldassare Castiglione, a work of dazzling ‘immediacy’ that exudes the ‘intelligence and sensitivity’ of its sitter. Perhaps most surprising is Raphael’s last self-portrait, in which the bearded painter stands next to a fellow artist who points to an invisible mirror, “as if he were looking into the future, at himself and also at us”. This “intoxicating” show is a “revelation”.
National Gallery, London WC2 (nationalgallery.org.uk). Until July 31st
https://www.theweek.co.uk/arts-life/culture/art/956514/raphael-pretty-national-gallery-review Raphael Pretty reviewing the National Gallery