RAPHAEL: GRACE AND BEAUTY
You cannot help feeling moved as you enter the darkened gallery of the Luxembourg Senate museum and discover this unique exhibition dedicated to one of the greatest artists of all time. The emotion peaks on seeing Raphael's portraits of the 'Fornarina' and the 'Velata' just a few yards from each other. I understand why many experts think that they are portraits of the same woman: their look conveys the same tender love and they both offer their heart. The Fornarina gazes with candid and playful innocence like in real life, while the 'Velata' with a more ideal love, veiled and hidden, pledges eternal fidelity (Raphael himself talks of portraying an 'ideal' beauty, borrowing elements from several women). Tradition has it that Raphael and this woman, whose identity remains a mystery, were lovers. They may have fallen in love when she was modeling for the Velata. In the Fornarina she belongs to him; he prints his name 'Raphael Urbinas' on the arm band she wears, confirming her love with her right hand on her heart. This is the quintessence of art: when the love and attachment that they felt for each other is conveyed intact centuries later to move you.
Raphael's name has been synonymous with perfection in art for generations. In the divine quadrangle of High Renaissance giants that also included Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo Buonarroti and Titian, he was the youngest of the central Italian trio and had the shortest life, yet his art stands up to theirs, shoulder to shoulder. If Leonardo incarnated life's mystery, if Michelangelo was force and energy, and if Titian was sensuality, Raphael was love personified. In contrast to Leonardo’s languorous intensity or Michelangelo’s fiery temper, his was grace and beauty indeed, a spirit elevated with love, inundated with light and gifted with peace (Vasari was first to call Raphael an 'artista aggraziato', meaning touched by grace).
Read further on Raphael's life, work and chronological biography.