Today exactly five hundred years ago Raphael, the great renaissance artist, died. His body was laid to rest in the Pantheon, perhaps the most sacred and important place in Rome. His mistress, Margarita Luti , was barred from attending the funeral and Maria Bibbiena, his fiancé of convenience was later buried beside him. The day of his death was allegedly his birthday and also Good Friday. The symmetry of Raphael dying on the day of his birth would not be lost on the minds of renaissance intellectuals with their love of clean, pure numbers, harmonic ratios and proportions. Good Friday, the day Jesus Christ died would also have significance and was one of the many parallels drawn between the two. Like Jesus, despite his early death and relatively short career, Raphael’s influence over all subsequent generations is hard to underestimate. Rembrandt, Renoir and Picasso all borrowed directly from him, not to mention the whole tradition of western academic painting. Even the PreRaphaelites who formed in opposition to his work, could not help using is name to define themselves.

Raphael also represents a fault line, a B.C./A.D. moment in the chapters of art history books. He, along with Michelangelo and Leonard da Vinci, became the heroes of the high renaissance which was perhaps the greatest moment of creativity the western world will ever see. The youthful and charming Raphael found himself at the center of this vortex and his death heralded the end of a golden age.

The highest praise one can give an artist is to say he or she draws like Raphael. It comes in the same package as writing like Shakespeare or ‘bending it like Beckham’. As I can’t write poetry and don’t play football the latter two challenges are not open to me, but drawing like Raphael… how hard can it be? Picasso arrogantly said he drew like Raphael from childhood. But how good were Raphael’s drawings? Perhaps Picasso picked an easy target.

The video below shows my attempt and I admit it was harder than the spontaneous lines of Raphael suggest. During this time stuck at home you may like to have a go yourself.

Happy drawing and stay safe!

Francis Terry

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