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Thread: the painter Raphael

  1. #1
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    the painter Raphael

    By all means, blame the writer Henry James for the fact that I am opening a thread on the great Raphael, but I need both edification and verification from those who might be able to assist me.

    1. I heard, through a script, that the love of his life threw herself onto his coffin and would not move until the Pope gave her a direct order--the Church did not want her publicized because Raphael was to be beautified, and so she became a nun. Is this a true anecdote?

    2. How were his religious portrayals to be interpreted? I am sure they were Catholic, but I am looking for nuance: Were they triumphant? Sacramental?

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    Artist and Bibliophile stlukesguild's Avatar
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    JoZ... I've never heard the anecdote about Raphael's lover. It certainly sounds like a myth which Vasari would have loved to perpetuate... but a brief perusal of my copy of The Lives of the Artists reveals no so such tale. The closest I can think of to this is the real life suicide of Modigliani's pregnant wife (by throwing herself from her window) following his death from Tuberculosis.

    As for Raphael's work... you are asking about one of the 4 giants of the high Renaissance in Italy (the others being Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Titian). His oeuvre is not something that can be defined (with nuance) in just a few words. The artist was both quite driven in his career and a sensualist. His early work exhibited the poetic touch of his master, Perugino... drew inspiration from the elder Leonardo... especially with regard to imbuing his figures with an internal gesture or movement... but were infused with his own earthy sensuality. At the same time, his paintings exhibit a true classicism... simplifying forms to their essential elements... eliminating superfluous details. Almost all reports agree that Raphael loved women and was something of a "ladies man". There are tales of the artist using his career as an artist as a means of seduction ("Hey baby, you wanna be in pictures"). His saints are all endowed with a voluptuousness and softness that can only be described as "feminine":







    His paintings of men exhibit the same sensuality and idealized classicism:



    After establishing a reputation under his master, Perugino, in Perugia, and later on his own... Raphael came to Rome and called upon his uncle, the architect Bramante... who was the master builder to Pope Julius... seeking assistance in gaining commisions from the Pope. It was Bramante... ever politically astute... who suggested to the Pope that Michelangelo be employed painting the Sistine (as opposed to working upon his sculptural works for Julius' tomb). It was imagined that Michelangelo would fail at this effort... having little experience in fresco... opening the door to Bramante's nephew. Obviously the ploy failed... but Raphael did gain lesser commissions within the Vatican.

    (I'll add more on this tomorrow... perhaps getting more into how his paintings fit into the goals of the Church).
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    I hate to be a pest, but why is he considered neoplatonic? (I looked it up--I am asking how one "sees" the neoplatonism).

    I will explain some of this after I submit my abstract to the James society. Right now I need be a little tight lipped, or more accurately, easy on the typing--and thanks for anything you can kick into my head

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    Artist and Bibliophile stlukesguild's Avatar
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    Raphael entered into the Roman art scene at the peak of the High Renaissance... one of the greatest paradigm shifts in the whole of Western art history. In the eras prior, art... painting, sculpture, architecture... were seen as nothing more than a form of skilled labor, and artists were but skilled craftsmen... not far from carpenters or blacksmiths. The visual arts were not thought of as an intellectual endeavor and were not counted among the "liberal arts". In most instances the theme, symbols, and narrative details were dictated to the artist by the patrons... often through a theologian intermediary. This theologian would spell out that the Virgin Mary was to be painted wearing blue because this was a royal color (and the most brilliant blue was made of ground gemstone: lapis lazuli and more expensive than gold). She might have a red undergarment... but could never wear red as the main garment as this was the color of sex. The "scarlet woman", Mary Magdalen, would wear red, but not the Virgin. Nor could she ever wear green... the color of fertility and fecundity.

    With the High Renaissance, artists began to challenge the notion that they were but craftsmen. They began to work across multiple art forms (something quite rare before) so than Brunelleschi was trained as a goldsmith, made his first mark on the art world as a sculptor, is most known as an architect, and codified linear perspective as a painter. Artists began to study the history of art as a formal discipline. Vasari's Lives of the Artists would be written a generation after Raphael while Cellini and Leonardo both wrote biographies and advice to younger artists. Artists began to look upon art as an intellectual endeavor and take up the position of "artist/scholar". Brunelleschi made in depth studies of Roman art and architecture. Michelangelo was a major poet. Alberti wrote great tomes on art, perspective, and architecture, and Leonardo was a scholar of merit in a vast array of subjects ranging from anatomy and physiology, military armaments, music, botany, flight, etc... Artists also began to study and read the latest poets and philosophers (Michelangelo was never without his Dante) and to circulate within the social world of such intellectuals (writers, scholars, etc...)

    Upon first entering in the service of the Pope, Raphael was seen as something of a talented provincial and was given but a minor commission. The artist created a series of paintings for the ceiling of the Stanza della Segnatura in the Vatican illustrating Biblical themes. He rendered these well enough... bringing to them his signature sensuality and softness of form and merging it with gilded mosaic tiles:





    While these paintings are lovely enough in themselves, they show little exposure to the new ideas and new concepts of what an artist is. This would all change with the great cycle of wall frescoes for the Stanza della Segnatura which soon became known as "Raphael's Stanza". The first of thes masterful paintings is the Disputa. The multiple changes wrought during the creation of this painting suggest a radical new working method in which the artist was working out ideas as the painting developed. The theme of the painting is unlike anything the artist painted earlier. It represents an idealized "dispute" between church fathers (saints, popes, scholars, etc...) as to the merit of faith vs knowledge. This, of course, was a central discussion current within the Church as scholars and Church leaders began to explore and embrace the wealth of knowledge of the classical world. Figures such as St. Francis d'Assisi would have insisted that faith alone brings man to God. Other scholars and theologians would site figures such as St. Thomas Aquinas in favor of reaching God through knowledge. Raphael shows the dispute placing figures such as St. Thomas Aquinas or St. Augustine upon one side of the dispute or another with their ranks echoed in heaven above:



    In many ways this painting stands as a precursor to Raphael's final painting, the Transfiguration, in which once again there is a dispute between the earthly or material and the spiritual.

    The next great painting in this series was Parnassus. Where the Disputa illustrated one of the current debates of the Church and alluded to the effect of the current studies of classical literature, history, philosophy, and science upon Church thinking, Parnassus clearly illustrated the Neo-Platonic notion that Greece and Rome form a great continuum to the present. Gathered around the classical muses and the figure of Orpheus (or Apollo) as the father of song and poetry, one is able to survey the whole of Western poetry: Homer, Sappho, Virgil, Horace... and on to the present where we find "contemporary" Italian masters such as Dante and Petrarch.



    Like the Disputa before it, Parnassus is brilliantly composed... especially considering the need for the artist to deal with the door frame. The painting is structured almost mathematically with the artist carefully weighing and balancing colors so that no single figure "pops" out too much from the whole, and the composition as a whole, like that of the painting prior, is clearly symmetrical in design.

    The artist's next painting, The School of Athens, is undoubtedly one of the pinnacles of the High Renaissance and almost certainly the artist's greatest achievement. Again, multiple changes in preliminary drawings and even in the actual painting suggest that the painting process was an arduous intellectual endeavor in which the artist... quite probably in partnership with a theologian and the Papal patron... developed the complex symbolism. The School of Athens attempted to directly illustrate and proclaim support for the concepts of Neo-Platonism... the continuity of the achievements of Greece and Rome with that of the present day Rome. Classical thought was to be seen as a clear precursor to contemporary thought.



    The School of Athens presents an ideal scene in which the great thinkers of the classical world (Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Ptolemy, Zoroaster, Euclid, etc...) are seen as a great school of thought all gathered together. But at the same time... they are presented as precursors to and at one with the thinkers and scholars and creative minds of the present for they are all represented as portraits of contemporary creative thinkers.



    At the center... most clearly... is Leonardo da Vinci presented as Aristotle... for Leonardo was unquestionably seen by Raphael as one of the reigning geniuses of this new era... this rebirth of classical genius... this "Renaissance". Other contemporary portraits include Pope Julius II (as Pope Gregory IX), Raphael himself, and his teacher, Perugino... and finally... as an afterthought... Michelangelo. Gaining access to the incomplete Sistine paintings through his uncle, Bramante, Raphael... who had not thought of Michelangelo as a great artistic figure until that point... was stunned by the massive power of Michelangelo's superhuman figures... such as the great Libyan Sibyl:



    Where Raphael's figures are all nearly parallel to the picture plane, Michelangelo (with the mind of the sculptor) twists and turns the human body in space. Arms thrust out toward the viewer and race back. No other figure twists and turns in such a forceful torquing manner as the portrait of the great brooding Michelangelo leaning upon a great stone/marble block. The figure brings the entire painting to life through its explosive internal energy... and in the manner in which it clearly sits in contrast to the carefully balanced and symmetrical composition. Where the eye would have been rapidly led by the perspective to the central figure of Leonardo, now the eye is stopped initially by Michelengelo and jumps between the two figures... who indeed, virtually divide the Renaissance between them.



    The School of Athens clearly shows Raphael at the leading edge of artistic innovation. Not only does he display a mastery of narrative in tackling current issues of philosophical debate, but he employs the most recent formal elements to achieve this: the organization of figures in space through the use of mathematical measure, the masterful understanding of anatomy (many preliminary studies are of nude figures), and one of the greatest displays of the use of formal perspective... both as a means of strengthening the illusion of real space and form... but also as a means of directing and focusing the eye.

    more to follow...
    Last edited by stlukesguild; 12-28-2009 at 03:15 AM.
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  5. #5
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    luke, I guess I am paying Netflix as much for references as I am entertainment, but the film in which I heard the interesting bit of Raphael's obiturary detail was a Craig Ferguson vehicle, of all things (I rather admire the man) Born Romantic, circa 2000, in the mouth of Olivia Williams, the femme he is chasing, and she is standing before the repro of the woman with the hand on her breast.

    I know why the script writers put it in, and it was a good film with interesting dichotomies, and my nose says maybe the anecdote had a whiff of truth in it.

    James himself is fairly uneducated for a man of his caste (yes, it is true, you and I both had better at our respective universities)-- but he was, and we are starting to abuse this designation, a genius-- what I know of Titian comes from the travel essays of James, and I am wondering if he knew this story, and I bet he probably did. I put little past his ability toward ironic layers.

    I don't have time to verify for an abstract, but maybe for the paper if it is accepted, and this ought to be a dozie, since I have been sick as a dog since this morning, and it feels more like the flu than my usual symptoms.

    Thank you for this. Great help. I just ordered Freud and Femininity on the cheap too, as it may prove useful, but only fate knows if I will ever earn anything back on my gleeful continuing education.

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    Artist and Bibliophile stlukesguild's Avatar
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    Back to our friend, Rafaello Sanzio d'Urbino... Raphael.

    AS Raphael was making a name for himself in Rome painting the great frescoes for the Vatican, he was also adding to his fame (and fortune) through the creation of designs for prints and tapestries, and the creation of any number of "lesser" paintings. Among the finest of these he was especially known for his paintings of the Madonna and Child. His manner of painting... soft and sensual... was especially suited to such a theme. Among some of the finest are the Alba Madonna:



    the Madonna da Foligno:



    the Cowper Madonna:



    and the Sistine Madonna...



    ...in which the artist places a likeness of Pope Julius II as the kneeling St. Peter... once more making clear the notion of the continuity from ancient Rome to the new Rome... which owed much to the ambition and drive of this "warrior-pope". All of these paintings are rendered with oil paint which was only beginning to be fully appreciated by the Italians at this time. His mastery of the medium suggests more than a passing knowledge of the paintings of the Venetians (Bellini, Mantegna, Giorgione, and Titian) who were leading the way in the development of oil painting. The paintings also reveal an elegance of design... of interweaving lines and forms... as well as an idealized beauty of the figures that suggest the artist was still enamored of the work of Leonardo DaVinci.

    Raphael's work for the Pope did not stop with The School of Athens; rather Julius commissioned the artist to decorate several other rooms in the Papal apartments. Among the resulting paintings there are several masterful works to rival his greatest achievements.

    In the painting Heliodoros Driven from the Temple...



    ...the narrative taken from the Book of Maccabees, in which a Syrian usurper is flogged and beaten in response to the fervent prayers of the Priests is turned into a symbolic image of Pope Julius driving Avarice from the Church. Julius is born upon his litter by several figures who are almost certainly portraits. The nearest among these includes a possible a self-portrait (the figure nearest to us and to the far left), while the the bearded guard looks uncannily like the great German artist, Albrecht Durer.



    Perhaps the greatest painting in this series is the Deliverance of St. Peter which again may be read as having a symbolic meaning. Peter, being the first Pope, is almost certainly representative of Julius. His miraculous rescue from prison by the angels can surely be read as symbolic of Julius deliverance from his enemies (and those of the Rome) especially the French. The multiple narrative and the stunning drama of the glow of the angels are brilliant inventions, and Raphael's use of light will be especially influential upon a wide array of artists... from Titian to Tintoretto to Caravaggio to Rembrandt.



    The Miraculous Mass at Bolsena again interweaves the past and present.



    The narrative concerns a miracle in which a German priest praying to be relieved of his doubts is witness to blood issuing forth from the communion wafers during mass. The stained relic was kept on the high altar of the Cathedral of Orvietto (near Bolsena) and veneration of the relic had helped to fund the building of the Cathedral. Julius had stopped at Orvietto on his military march to Bologna and taken mass.

    The painting shows Julius without any covering for his head... as he might have appeared only during the most solemn events. Raphael has brilliantly dealt with the off-center door frame by creating a stage or dais upon which the mass takes place and extending this to the right of the door to create a symmetrical composition. Again, this painting shows the artist's increasing mastery of portraiture in the figures of the four prelates who accompany Julius... and the members of the Papal Swiss Guard. The guard who turns and looks in our direction is a stunning touch... adding not merely a sense of motion but also drawing us into the picture.



    Next: Raphael the Portraitist
    Last edited by stlukesguild; 12-30-2009 at 01:12 AM.
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    stlukesguild. I just want to thank you for your posts--they are like taking a course in Art History--it is quite wonderful to me and I am learning so much. Thank you.

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    Registered User billl's Avatar
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    Yes, me too, and it isn't the first time St. Luke's. And I think you might be enjoying it as well..!

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    Don't give the fellow a big head now; keep him on his toes and push a little. We all think better for it. For instance, I am just as interested in cultural fusion and contemporary relevance as I am in Raphael's place in the historic Renaissance, and bringing up a film like Born Romantic is not off topic to my interests, but I'll come back to that.

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    Those muscular babies with the queer expressions are scary. But the rest are beautiful.
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    Artist and Bibliophile stlukesguild's Avatar
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    Raphael pt. IV

    With the completion of the paintings for the Stanzas in the Vatican, Raphael's began to broaden his interests and his efforts. He began to apply himself seriously in many fields in a manner that would soon make him one of he wealthiest and most well-respected (and well-connected) artists of the period. He formed something of a partnership with the engraver, Marcantonio Raimondi, who began to produce engraved copies of his paintings, such as his St. Cecilia:





    St. Cecilia was an ideal image for mass production (or what passed for mass production at the time), being a favorite and the patron saint of music. Raphael even began to provide Raimondi with designs... finished original drawings... from which he might produce unique prints (as opposed to copies of paintings) in the manner of the great German print master, Albrecht Durer:



    Raphael's growing interest in literature and in classical studies (the history, literature, and art of the Greeks and Romans) inspired his print Quos Ego in which the artist illustrated several narratives from The Aeneid:



    One of the results of his studies of the arts of the classical world was the decoration of the Loggia and the Bathroom of Cardinal Bibbiena which were painted in such a manner as to mimic the appearance of ancient Roman wall paintings... only recently uncovered in various archeological surveys of ancient Roman architecture:





    Raphael even began to put his efforts forth into the field of architecture. For a short while he was given the position of Chief Architect of St. Peter's along with Antonio da Sangallo the Younger who had worked with Michelangelo upon the Farnese Palace. Few of his architectural projects were brought to completion, but he is credited with one major work, the Palazzo Pandolfini:



    The strongest works of Raphael's later years, however, were almost certainly his portraits. Not only were these praised as being "more like him than he is like himself," but they also provide a view of many of the power-brokers of the era... and their popularity and success with the rich and powerful most definitely increased demand (and the price) for Raphael's work and placed him among the inner-circle of not only the wealthiest and most powerful... but also the leading intellectuals of his day.

    Among the great portraits of these years there is the marvelous Portrait of Tomasso Inghirami, the artist's amiable friend and unassuming scholar:



    Two versions were painted of this painting (only one of which still exists), one held in the Inghirami family, the other in the collection of the Medici family.

    Another painting of a cardinal is thought to be a Portrait of Cardinal Bibbiena, for whom Raphael had designed and painted the ancient Roman-styled decorations:



    Both paintings show an attention to surface texture, details, and the individuality of the sitters to such an extent that they suggest an awareness and an admiration of the work of Northern Renaissance masters such as Van Eyck, Durer, and Hans Holbein.

    The Portrait of Leo X shows the muscular and powerful figure of Pope Leo X flanked by two cardinals who are almost pushed out of the picture by Leo's bulk... and his intense expression of energetic alertness:



    A double portrait, commonly referred to as the Portrait of the Artist and his Fencing Master, is thought to present an image of Raphael himself (left) with his friend and fencing master... suggestive of the nature of the artist as the true "Renaissance Man"... skilled in mind and body... and a virtual courtier... an aristocrat if not by birth, then by talent. Fencing... the very use and training in the use of weapons was something that had long been reserved to the aristocracy... but with the Renaissance we begin to see the concept of the earned "nobility".



    The most important portrait of Rapahel's entire career is almost certainly the Portrait of Baldasare Castiglione, the author of The Book of the Courtier, which remains the definitive account of Renaissance court life. The work defines the expectations of the courtier: having a warrior spirit, athletic, with a good knowledge of the humanities, Classics and fine arts. Castiglione also argued that true "nobility" was something that needed to be earned. The aristocrat might earn such through success in administration, military success... or through patronage of the arts and culture. The non-aristocrat (such as artists, writers, philosophers, etc...) might earn a degree of nobility through success in their endeavors.



    Raphael's painting of Castiglione brilliantly captures his intelligent gaze in his limpid blue eyes. The painting is incredibly simple; there is nothing superfluous... yet nothing is lacking. With the the most facile... almost effortless handling of paint the artist suggests his clasped hands... almost out of the picture... and the aristocratic nonchalance of Castiglione's cloak thrown over his shoulder, his jaunty hat, tilted to one side (and perfectly disguising the one flaw of which he was so self-conscious: his baldness). Raphael's portrait would stand as a major inspiration for countless artists. Titian, Giorgione, and any number of other contemporary painters built upon it. A century or so after it was painted, the young Rembrandt van Rijn would be so impressed as to make a sketch after the work:



    At the end of his life, Rembrandt would remember Raphael's painting and it would inspire one of the most profound self-portraits in the whole of art history, the Self Portrait, 1669 (in the National Gallery, Washington):



    The irony of this, Raphael's most iconic and influential painting... is that it is itself clearly the product of an earlier source: the young Raphael's hero, Leonardo da Vinci's La Gioconda (or Mona Lisa)...



    ...which the youthful Raphael had himself copied in sketch:



    Next: Raphael the Final Years
    Last edited by stlukesguild; 01-03-2010 at 01:38 AM.
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  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by mortalterror View Post
    Those muscular babies with the queer expressions are scary. But the rest are beautiful.
    I am actually interested in his depiction of those babies and angels mortal, as I am looking more for specific interpretations of Raphael in terms of his official sanction by the Vatican--and it is in this sense that I am on my own, or need to find a Renaissance forum in a hurry; the Church, unwittingly or not, seems to enjoy an undercurrent of sensuality in the contemplation of the divine, and on I go, like James himself, in leaps and bounds...

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    Artist and Bibliophile stlukesguild's Avatar
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    JoZ... there was actually a serious art historical tome some years back dealing with the issue of the representation of the baby Jesus' penis in Renaissance paintings. I'm not certain to what degree the Church dictated the sensuality you see in Renaissance painting. This was actually a continual controversy. There were more than a few clerics outraged at the eroticism of Michelangelo's Sistine murals... and his Last Judgment murals suffered the insult of having strategic draperies painted over the more suggestive details... especially over the naked Jesus and Virgin Mary. Part of the eroticism comes from the classical sources and the attempts to merge the Christian and the Pagan. Part of it is indebted to the artists themselves. Intriguingly, the Roman/Florentine School had more than a few homosexuals among the leading figures and the art tended to focus upon the linear and sculptural form... which lent itself well to the male form, while the Venetian school tended to focus upon atmosphere, soft edges, the suggestion of touch and the female nude. The eroticism you recognize was not something that only we see today. There were any number of iconoclasts who recognized the eroticism and sensuality of Renaissance religious art as the very symbol of idol worship and vanity.

    Girolamo Savonarola especially counted the art of the period (along with the literature) as symbolic of the moral decay and immorality that he suggested were responsible for God's wrath which had taken the form of the "Black Death". He and his followers carried out the Bonfire of the Vanities. They sent boys from door to door collecting items associated with moral laxity: mirrors, cosmetics, lewd pictures, pagan books, immoral sculptures (which he wanted to be transformed into statues of the saints and modest depictions of biblical scenes), gaming tables, chess pieces, lutes and other musical instruments, fine dresses, women’s hats, and the works of immoral and ancient poets, and burnt them all in a large pile in the Piazza della Signoria of Florence.[2] Many fine Florentine Renaissance artworks were lost in Savonarola’s notorious bonfires — including paintings by Sandro Botticelli.

    Later, as part of the Counter-Reformation, the Church increased its support of sensuality and eroticism in painting and sculpture as a form of advertising... a seduction of the masses in the great battle for souls of the believers. Art in service of the church became increasingly theatrical... seductive... and suggestive:









    Of course we must consider that the ecstasy of death, transfiguration, spirituality, and merger with God were concepts that were imagined as beyond the ken of the average human experience... only sexuality and the ecstasy of orgasm were in the least imagined as being suggestive of the ecstatic experiences that the Church and the artists were attempting to convey. The metaphor of sexual ecstasy for the spiritual can be found in the Church's interpretation of the Biblical Song of Songs, the visions of St. Theresa of Avila, the poems of St. John of the Cross and even John Donne. We might also do well to remember that the high posts in the Church were essentially positions of power and wealth and that many of the Cardinals, Bishops, Arch-Bishops, and even Popes were far from being celibate, asexual clerics. The positions, rather, were often purchased... or granted as rewards... and many of the highest posts were held by members of the powerful Italian families: the Orsini, Barberini, Medicis, Borgia, etc...
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  14. #14
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    and a tangentially related question...

    Was Brunelleschi the Raphael of Italian architecture, since he was commissioned for everything despite rejection from CosimoI, like the Pitti and the transepts of San Lorenzo?

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    Raphael Lover

    Thanks for the visual feast and sharp commentary, stlukesguild.

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