Raphael Sanzio was an Italian artist and architect who is perhaps best known for his Madonna portraits as well as his fresco work in the Vatican Palace, most notably The School of Athens composition. Born on Good Friday in 1483, Raphael received his early instruction in art from his father, Giovanni Santi, and to this day, Raphael is considered one of the greatest painters of the High Renaissance and one of the most famous artists of all time.
Raphael Sanzio gained a reputation of an "absorber of influences," as it was well-known at the time that he freely adopted the style and techniques of other artists he was exposed to. Taught first by his father and then apprenticed under Pietro Perugino, Raphael was influenced by these men and other masters of the time including Paolo Uccello, Luca Signorelli and Melozzo da Forlì. He was even accused of copying the ideas of Michelangelo, as Raphael was said to spy on him while he painted the Sistine Chapel, and his Madonnas may have been influenced from the time he spent with Leonardo da Vinci while he was in Florence.
Raphael Sanzio is perhaps best known for his many Madonna paintings, but Giorgio Vasari, a historian of the time, reports that Raphael was an atheist. One theory behind Raphael's many images of the mother of Christ is that while Raphael was somewhat of a "ladies man," all of his Madonnas are portraits of the same woman. Perhaps the most popular of Raphael's Madonnas is the Madonna of the Chair, which was probably commissioned by a member of the Medici family or Pope Leo X.
Raphael Sanzio showed an early talent as a painter and architect, and at age 11, he was taken to Perugia, in Umbria, to be an apprentice under the painter Pietro Perugino. Imitating his style closely, Raphael's paintings under his master were so similar to his teacher's that it is difficult to discern who painted what. By the year 1500, when Raphael was only 17, he was already considered a master of his craft.
Raphael Sanzio died from an illness and fever at the young age of 37, but what makes his untimely death even more unusual is that he died on his birthday. He died, as he was born, on April 6, 1520, and with his death came the end of the Italian Renaissance. His early death seems to have helped him avoid what he is most famous for saying: "Time is a vindictive bandit to steal the beauty of our former selves. We are left with sagging, rippled flesh and burning gums with empty sockets."