Raphael and mythology


"Galatea's Triumph", 1512, Villa Farnesina, Rome

After our brief focus on Raffaello Sanzio’s Marian sketches, we are turning to some of his mythological theme drawings.

Johann David Passavant (1787-1861) – a German painter, art historian, and Raphael expert – has pointed out how “in painting religious subjects, the Urbino-born master never steered from tradition. He was the final, ideal perfection of all his predecessors’ best tendencies.”

“In mythological compositions, his genius transformed and reached the core of pagan thinking, adding to it the touch of poetic color that facts and myths acquire in the imagination after centuries. He went the complete opposite way compared to Biblical and Christian themes. In our opinion, his creative abilities emerge more clearly in his mythological works.”

“In the works he was inspired to paint by his religion,” Passavant continues, “his education, patriotism, and faith favored him enormously. In his mythological works, while led by the classical taste that prevailed in Rome, he had less of an education and was forced to trust his own ingenuity.”

“The divine gift of his genius compensated for everything: his insight and his spirit’s objectivity allowed him to immediately grasp wonderful eras’ religion, customs, and ideas; and with the help of the masterpieces in ancient sculpture, he was able to rise to the level of Greek artists, as if he had lived among their traditions and ideas… Therefore, his profane compositions – including the paintings in Villa Farnesina and ‘The School of Athens’ – are endowed with great picturesque freedom, and are full of movement and action.”

November 5, 2015