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Raphael (1483–1520)

Raphael Sanzio d’Urbino was a painter and architect of the High Renaissance, active in Umbria, Florence and lastly Rome. He worked extensively for the papacy and also had many influential private patrons, such as the Sienese banker Agostino Chigi. Raphael’s extremely high reputation during his lifetime endured for centuries afterwards, and in the nineteenth century he was widely revered as the greatest artist of the Italian Renaissance. The tender, harmonious Madonna and Child compositions and large classically-inspired fresco cycles in the Vatican Palace by Raphael were particularly esteemed by collectors, connoisseurs and other artists. Raphael was Prince Albert’s own favourite artist, and the Raphael Collection was the first step in an ambitious and innovative attempt by the Prince to create a comprehensive visual illustration of the history of painting.

Although he died at a young age, Raphael was a very productive draughtsman and painter. Raphael’s large and well-organised workshop was pivotal in accomplishing the multiple commissions he worked on at the same time and in spreading his drawings, compositional motifs and patterns after his death. The connections between Raphael and contemporary printmakers (such as Marcantonio Raimondi and Ugo da Carpi) also meant that his compositions were reproduced and widely known, through a medium that for centuries before the invention of photography facilitated the circulation of images throughout Europe. The hundreds of prints in the Royal Collection inherited by Queen Victoria provided the nucleus for Prince Albert’s Raphael Collection, which expanded to include – and was significantly augmented by – thousands of photographs after Raphael’s works.