classic review raphael

Raphael  Sanzio of Urbino 1483-1520

I've never been to Europe, but I've been to Eden. Long ago and far away.  Far far away. Distant.  Perhaps  a past  life, Eden invarably informs all our drives, dreams, in short everything we do. All religion tries to atone for its sin, and arise at its now lost perfection, all artists try to picture its glory,  Eden is the unconscious memory of the race. Raphael illustrates this thought magnificently here.

Clark well paints this moment of history in broad strokes:

The Arena Chapel convinces us, surely, that the highest fine art pieces are illustrations of great themes, and it has been the good fortune of European art that during its finest period it was called upon to concentrate almost exclusively on the Christian story. I cannot resist reminding you of some of the scenes of Christ's Passion in both Italian and Flemish painting that are at the very summit of European painting. They are almost all tragic. As in drama, Greek or Elizabethan, Racine or Schiller, it is the tragic element in life, and the finality of death, that lifts these painters to the highest plane.  -Sir Kenneth Clark What is a Masterpiece, Portfolio, The Magazine of the Visual Arts, February March, 1980, p42

 Our fresco by Raphael marks the pinnacle of four hundred year quest of the revival of learning, the arts. and literature. Real Life was the fuel of the quest. In contrast the medeaval worlds of the Cathedrals, the Augustines,  lay behind the new humanist thinking. As Artz aptly summarizes:

The Early Renaissance was seeking for a different type of order, one that, while recgnizing God, was centered on the harmonies to be found in this world. These thinkers seemed to wish to eternalize this world End the present, and to glorify God without belitling man. This accounts for their search for the perfect form of man, the perfect form of a work of art, arid later the perfect form of a work of literature. -Frederick B. Artz From the Renaissance to Romanticism 

Again: The painter's desire to make a story from the Bible or from the life of a saint live before the beholder derives in pnrt from the popular preaching of the friars, especially of the Franciscans, who were striving to- humanize the holy stories and make them real to the masses. The birds to which St. Francis preached, both in actuality and in Giotto's portrayal, were real birds that hopped and chirped--not the mystical symbols of the Holy Ghost, or like the apocalyptic eagle of St. John.(ibid)

The devil in this work is strangely feminine. (Cp. Gibson: The Passion of the Christ.) Somewhere between a anima, gender, and curse. One thinks of the mythology of the goddess Lilith. Perhaps the devil is Eve's alter ego? And so now ours?

Adam is no Michelangelo stud, but the marks of the great master are all over Raphael. His muscles are toned and more perfect than the most artent gymnist. Adam, though, hardy seems finished. The mark of his reasoning is all over his hair  He is reasoning futility. The deadly deed is done,  Will he follow out of love for his soul, his other flesh, his mate, or be banished from love forever? He seems to have no choice.

In Eve, Raphael tells us of the impossible demands of Christian chastity and his love for La Fornarina, the bakers daughter who modeled for both the La Donna Velata and the Sistine Madonna. Vasari notes his initial refusal of a comission  of his close friend Agostino Chigi  because of his 'infatuation for his mistriss  which was only solved  as Agostino arrainged for the woman to go and live with Raphael in the part of the house in which the was working. Raphael's development is the 'old story of the enrichment of a mans art by direct expoeriences in life.'

Eve, every compositional nuance leads to her. Are we illustrating a Bible story or is there more here? Thogh hardly a modern body, Eve is a delight to look at. Here Raphael extends far beyond his master;. Michelangelo's wemon seem to be men with added apendages. Eve here is feminine and  attractive. I can relate to her in real life and authentic experience. She could be the girl next door. And how much not like her!

The blond Eve wholly intriques me. With a Greek pose she is fuller than any hellenist beauty. Substantial fleshly, healthy,
She anticipates Rubens. If she were a history lesson we are looking at the glory of the Renaissance, one never surpassed and still hardly realized in inheritance.

The classical propportions are there but she is crowned as no classical muse with a soul, I sense Eve's invitation, her seduction, her face speaks to my heart. Here just after the fatal crime her visage still glows with irresistable charm. We know like the couple it will soon be banished from Eden forever. Like Massacio it will be warped by deformity enveloped in the grotesque  Horrors. But, pictured here is that tipping point of history, that moment in which worlds colide, where both are indellibly pictured. For here in the High Renaisance is something the earlier quatrocento artists didn't realize, that glory lost is also the possibility of glory regained. Here is the fire that stoked the High Renassance.

Raphael's painting thus doesn't end here with Eve, but Eve as realized in every Madonna he ever  painted.  Look again at that face.
Compare the Madonna's which Vasari describes as 'full of grace and divinity,' Which he describes:' the figures are so well colored and finished so meticulously that they seem to be made of living flesh rather than paint' (Lives of the Artists)  For Raphae,l Mary is the picture of the salvation of every Eve. She is that greek ideal, made Christian, that fleeting glimpse of Eden, that heaven restored to earth so few any longer pray for, and certainly never wholly left,  but still sometines shadowed in art is  its rebirth.. . 

Renaissance means rebirth for that disfigurement is restored in the face of the Sistine Mary. A wonderful synthesis of all human achievement made obedient the gospel of freedom. This is the unspoken secret of all the Renaissance masters.He painted as he lived Craven writes: 'sensitive to all forms of life.'

Dignity lost. Dignity restored. The protestant hope was never realized milton paradise regained. It is so much easier to speak of hell. The news is one big advertisement of its claim over everything. We are all now still somewhere east of Eden where we can never escape its memory from whence we fell.

Is she our temptation? In everything we do is there a choice between the abode and estate of self love and the womans body? Internalized sin and externalized love? Before Adam is a choice, and we sense his frustration.  Adam reasons, as Milton puts in his mouth:

Certain my resolution is to die.
How can I live without thee? how forgo
Thy sweet converse, and love so dearly joined,
To live again in these wild woods forlorn?
Should God create another Eve, and I
Another rib afford, yet loss of thee
Would never from my heart. No, no! I feel
The link of nature draw me: flesh of flesh,
Bone of my bone thou art, and from thy state
Mine never shall be parted, bliss or woe." Paradise Lost Book Nine

If Adam is all strength and reason, Eve is all physical beauty. Such is another word for the soul which cannot exist apart the body. Here Adam and Eve are one perfect flesh, of beauty and reason,  emotion and logic,  line and shere, and the whole world one of continuing glory and temptation, life and death, heaven and hell, flesh and spirit, with a relevance today far beyond anything Raphael could have dreamed.

For this masterpiece touches that question above all questions, one that today we for all our technology, science, philosophy and even religion have progressed not an inch closer in answering, and have perhaps totally abandoned: Who are we? Where did we come from? Where are we going?

Raphael ended his life on Good Friday, the same day he was born at 37 years old.

The rediscovery-of-the magic of the world under the debris of modem ideas.  -saul bellow

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