Raphael: Lights and Shadows in the Life of a Genius 

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Giancarlo Pani SJ

 Giancarlo Pani SJ / Issue 2005 / 15 May 2020

In his New Year’s greetings to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, Pope Francis recalled the fifth centenary of the death of Raffaello Sanzio (Raphael), “the great artist from Urbino, who died in Rome on April 6, 1520”, and reflected: “he left us a vast legacy of inestimable beauty. Just as an artist’s genius can blend raw materials and different colors and sounds to create a unique work of art, so diplomacy is called upon to harmonize the distinctive features of the various peoples and states in order to build a world of justice and peace. This is in fact the beautiful masterpiece that all of us want to be able to admire.”[1]

The pope then went on to emphasize two other merits of Raphael. The first: “Raphael was an important figure of the Renaissance, an age that enriched all humanity. It was an age that had its own problems, and yet was filled with confidence and hope.” The second merit is that of having dedicated several paintings to the Madonna: “One of Raphael’s favorite subjects was the Virgin Mary. To her he dedicated many a canvas that can be admired today in museums throughout the world.”[2] Pope Francis captured well one of the characteristics of the great artist: in painting the Madonna, almost always depicted with her Son, Raphael established a typology that has had great religious and artistic success in the history of depictions of Mary that have been handed down through the centuries.[3]

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