Michelangelo and Raphael

Michelangelo never forgave Bramante and Raphael for what they did.

While he was away, Bramante opened up the Sistine Chapel and let his friend Raphael have a peek at the frescoes in the ceiling. Michelangelo had worked for months behind locked doors. He resented even Pope Julius’ sneak visits. Now the cat was out of the bag before the frescoes were even finished.

And so far had the cat run that Raphael quickly changed this figure of Isaiah he had been working on in the St. Agostino church and made it Michelangelo-esque.

Compare it to Michelangelo’s Isaiah on the Sistine ceiling.

Michelangelo’s Isaiah

When later Michelangelo saw Raphael’s Prophet he was convinced, “and rightly”, says Vasari, “that Bramante had deliberately done him that wrong for the sake of Raphael’s reputation and benefit.” To the end of his days Michelangelo put on a sour face whenever anyone praised Raphael. “Everything he knew he learned from me,” he would say.

Maybe Raphael should have refused to look at the secret ceiling. But the peek was one of the most important moments of his career. Few would have profitted so much from a visit to the chapel, before or after it was open to the public. Vasari, who must have commiserated with Michelangelo in his presence, did not put on a moralizing face when others talked of Raphael. He admired him—not least for his imitating Michelangelo and others.

Raphael loved his art so much, he says, that he was always trying to improve. Even when he had already earned a reputation as a finished master and could have gone on painting in the style he had learned as a boy with Perugino, he risked failure and the disappointment of those who admired his work by experimenting with the new styles he considered superior to his own. Few artists would have done that. Leonardo’s style “enraptured” him and he set about trying to find and imitate its secret. And when he saw Michelangelo’s figures, Raphael realized that his own were deficient and so he began to study the nude form. “What [Raphael] had seen of Michelangelo’s paintings,” says Vasari, “enabled him to give his own style more majesty and grandeur.
“…..Nevertheless, Raphael realized that in this matter he could never rival the accomplishments of Michelangelo, and therefore, like the judicious man he was….he resolved to emulate and perhaps surpass him in other respects….He decided not to waste his time by imitating Michelangelo’s style but to attain a catholic excellence in the other fields of painting.”


This entry was posted in art, art history, fresco painting, great artists, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, oil painting, Pope Julius II, Renaissance, Sistine Chapel, Vasari and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Michelangelo and Raphael

  1. Aryul says:

    Raphael was a master copier, even during his days as an apprentice he would copy his teacher so closely that its hard to tell them apart. I can really feel Michelangelo’s side to this story though, but its too bad he didn’t take it as a compliment that Raphael looked up to him. Then again, getting along with Michelangelo was probably a big task itself.

  2. wrjones says:

    It is hard to resist taking at least a little from the ideas of superior painters. That is one way we learn. When you see a good piece it is often, “why didn’t I think of that?” Then later a portion of the design sort of creeps into your work on its own so to speak.

  3. lbtowers says:

    Oh my gosh – I love your stories of the personal trials and tibulations of the great masters. Great read!!! Where do you get all of your info?

  4. 100swallows says:

    Thanks, Lisa. I’m tempted to pull a Bill and say “from my mother”. But most come from Vasari.

  5. 100swallows says:

    Right, Bill. And the same thing happens, as you know, when you write. Of course spotting something good is already a kind of invention. The fact that somebody else saw it first doesn’t need to matter. It could never mean to him what it does to you anyway. You will make it your own.

  6. 100swallows says:

    It’s a shame, isn’t it, Aryul, that Rafael died so young. He had gone through a Perugino period, then a Leonardo one, and then a Michelangelo one. And most people think he got better and better. What would he have come up with in another five or ten years–which direction would he have gone?
    Michelangelo must have seen his superiority and maybe didn’t deny it. But he used his praise for Sebastiano del Piombo and Andrea del Sarto–neither of which ranks as high.

  7. ion danu says:

    At least Raphael was gone with a bang! (no pun intended: I wouldn’t say he died while he was banging his women! I’m too polite…)

    did Vasari used “catholic” in the sense of “universal” (catolicos in Ancien Greek means that, I think)?

  8. 100swallows says:

    Yes, Danu–catholic in the sense of universal. As for Rafael’s death, I just finished my next post on that. See it tomorrow.

  9. kimiam says:

    Rafael’s anatomy in the pose is more accurate. I can see why Michelangelo would be upset. The best of all artists don’t copy, they learn from each other and take it a step further.

  10. will says:

    About the issue of copying in painting, which has lead here to such an interesting discussion, I propose a quote from Delacroix which I find a pertinent and profound insight from an uncompromising Master who has thought and written about his Art like no one else:

    «Imitation : One always starts by imitating.
    It should be well understood that what one calls ‘creation’ in the great artists is simply a way of seeing, arranging and interpreting Nature which is specific to each one of them. But, not only these great men haven’t created anything in the genuine sense of the word which means ‘from ‘nothing’ do ‘something”, but furthermore, in order to shape their talent or to maintain it alive, they have had to imitate their predecessors, and to imitate them again and again, be it consciously or unconsciously.
    Rafael, the greatest of all painters, was the most dedicated one to imitation: imitation of his master which has left traces in his style which never went away, imitation of the Ancients and of his predecessors.But he imitated them in freeing himself at the same time and by degrees from the wrappings in which he had found them , – and finally of his contemporaries such as Duerer, Titian, Michelangelo,etc»
    Eugene Delacroix

    I hope my translation is acceptable – Delacroix is a great writer, and his prose is quite refined and elaborated!

  11. Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raffaello… What a blessed era… just unbelievable.

  12. Thanks for sharing! This is a very interesting story and I was completely unaware this happened so long ago. The work of Michelangelo and Raphael are truly amazing and an inspiration to so many.

  13. Jason says:

    Beautiful telling of that tale.

  14. Pingback: La nascita di grandezza: Tracing the artistic origins of the triumvirate of High Renaissance mastery, namely Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo Buonarroti, and Raphael Santi. [Ritesh Sharma Khandelwal, UG-III, 44] | introtorenaissance2015

  15. Pingback: La nascita di grandezza: Tracing the artistic origins of the triumvirate of High Renaissance mastery, namely Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo Buonarroti, and Raphael Santi. [Ritesh Sharma Khandelwal, UG-III, 44] | Introduction to the Renaissance

  16. Pingback: When in Rome… Part Two | This Little Lady Goes to Europe

  17. emmacoady says:

    Great. When in Rome meets WordPress….

  18. Deya Fuentes says:


  19. Pingback: What Michelangelo Can Teach Us About True Love – Anitanad

  20. Pingback: What Michelangelo Can Teach Us About True Love – Anitanad

Leave a Reply