Raphael, The School of Athens, Room of the Segnatura, Vatican

The secret of the rhythm which governs forms and the beauty that softens them…

The four rooms known as the Stanze of Raphael formed part of the apartment situated on the second floor of the Pontifical Palace that was chosen by Julius II della Rovere (pontiff from 1503 to 1513) as his own residence and used also by his successors. The pictorial decoration was executed by Raphael and his school between 1508 and 1524.

“Who was this boy who had only just turned twenty-five years old, whom Pope Julius II called upon to fresco his private apartment in the Apostolic Palaces, known today as the “Stanze”? In Rome, as in Florence everyone knew that this boy was a skilled prodigy and practically the wonder of the century. He grew in the circle of Pietro Perugino. From Pietro Perugino he learned, and never forgot, the secret of the rhythm which governs forms and the beauty that softens them…

There are certain dates in the history of art which remain unforgettable. One of these dates came in the year 1508, when Roman pontiff who seemingly loved politics and war more than painting, commissioned a twenty-five year old boy, Raffaello Sanzio of Urbino, to decorate the Rooms of the Apostolic Palaces, and a thirty-three old man, Michelangelo Buonarroti, to decorate the Sistine Chapel ceiling. These two great men had the fortune to work in the same place and at the same time, very close to each other and for the same patron. Their lives and their professional experiences converged and were occasionally pitted against each other as well as mirroring each other. The period of time during which the Rooms and the Sistine Chapel ceiling took shape marks the zenithal moment in the history of the arts over the entirety of the last millennium.

Whoever enters the apartment frescoed by Raphael and his pupils, knows they are entering the most majestic rooms in the world. The frescoes in the Room of the Signature represent a golden age in the Raphael’s life. They embody order, serenity and magnificence and they glorify knowledge, religion, justice and poetry in an intellectual and aesthetical dimension which evokes the Elysian Fields of the Gods.

The works in the Room of Heliodorus include the renowned “Liberation of St. Peter” – the moonlit night painted by Raphael for the Pope which came before Caravaggio, Rembrandt’s Night Watch and Goya’s Third of May. The fresco of The Fire in the Borgo in the Room of the Fire forms a sublime model for artists of generations to come such as Poussin, Guido Reni, Ingres and David. Finally, there is the Hall of Constantine – a masterpiece of the last and greatest age of the Renaissance…

After the crowds have gone, standing in the Octagonal Courtyard lit by the rays of the setting sun, with the great sculptures, the Laoconn, the Venus Pudica, around me…  Or being in the Stanze di Heliodoro, with the fresco of the Liberation of St Peter: it’s already Titian; it is Caravaggio before Caravaggio – Raphael really was the greatest painter of all time.”