Raphael’s Women

Here are three of the best portraits by Raphael Sanzio.
Rafael’s la VelataLa Velata in the Pitti Museum, Florence (public domain photo)

Rafeal la Fornarina La Fornarina (the Baker’s Daughter), in the National Gallery, Rome (public domain photo)

Rafael la Muta La Muta (the Mute Girl), in the Museum of Urbino (public domain photo)

No doubt.
He was crazy about women. “He was indeed a very amorous man with a great fondness for women whom he was always anxious to serve. He was always indulging his sexual appetites….”

Vasari says Raphael’s friends, who were legion, were always ready to help. Once Raphael became so lovesick for a girl while he was painting the Chigi palace that he couldn’t even work. So his patron and friend Agostino arranged for the girl to go and live with him in the part of the palace where Raphael was working, ie., pining away. “And that was how the painting got done,” says Vasari. The method might well have failed, of course.

Raphael’s friend Cardinal Bibbiena kept telling him to marry: he had a very good girl for him—his niece. Raphael was polite so he didn’t turn the Cardinal down. But he asked for a grace period of three or four years to consider the matter. Those three or four years passed and the Cardinal, like Rumplestiltskin, came to remind Raphael of his promise. “He was a courteous man,” says Vasari, “ and thinking himself under obligation, Raphael refused to go back on his word and agreed to marry the cardinal’s niece. But he resented this entanglement and kept putting things off….”

Meanwhile Raphael pursued his love affairs “with no sense of moderation.” Renaissance writers like Vasari and Cellini and even Michelangelo himself, contrary to modern romanticism about the mores of those times, seemed to think that more than a little sex was a bad thing. In a note to Condivi’s biography, beside a paragraph about his sexual continence, Michelangelo wrote : “I have always practiced this, and if you want to prolong your life, practice it [intercourse] not at all or the least you can.”

Vasari implies that Raphael’s death was brought on by too much love practice. He has him dragging himself home one stormy night after “excess” and dropping on the bed with a high fever. When the doctors asked him what he had been up to he lied. He was ashamed to tell them about the orgy. So they came up with the wrong diagnosis. “Heatstroke,” declared the doctor; and proceeded to bleed poor Raphael until he felt himself starting to sink. He called a notary and made his will. What was the first provision—the first thing on his mind? “As a good Christian, he sent his mistress away, leaving her the means to live a decent life…”

Raphael’s tomb in the Pantheon, Rome (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license photo by Ricardo André Frantz)

His epitaph reads: “Here lies Raphael, by whom the mother of all things (Nature) feared to be overcome while he was living, and while he was dying, herself to die”.

The tomb of Raphael’s fiancée, Maria Bibbiena, is next to his.



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11 Responses to Raphael’s Women

  1. Aryul says:

    Raphael had it all. Good looks, lots of women, and not to mention one of the greatest painters of all time. He obviously lived a great life, but of course he was human after all and had his flaws. If he had just told the truth to the doctors, maybe… just maybe he could’ve lived longer.

  2. 100swallows says:

    Yes, Aryul, but he must have worked very, very hard all his short life. A man with such a feeling for beauty must have looked out the window now and then and wondered why he couldn’t stop to enjoy it all. The time he spent with women, though it gave him such a reputation, couldn’t have been long. “I could not love thee, dear, so much, loved I not ART more,” he must have told them as he dressed and hurried away.

  3. wrjones says:

    He should have stayed away from the top and bottom ladies. The top woman would have a large laundry bill and the bottom had hepatitis.

    Dr. Feelgood

  4. ion danu says:

    I don’t think the doctors would have done different… If I remember well bleeding was the cure for everything at that time…

    I don’t know why but I was almost sure he died doing it, on top… about the same end as the French Presindent who died while his mistress was giving him a special treatment; after that she was called la pompe funebre…(that’s a french thing I cannot translate: swallows will bann me from his blog…)

    Anyway, it’a a good death, considering…

  5. 100swallows says:

    Very funny, Danu, about the pompe funebre, which I understand through Spanish. Historians other than Vasari don’t believe Rafael’s death had anything to do with his loving. He died of a fever, period. (Bleeding was the common treatment for that and all kinds of ailments, as you say. Even Proust as late as the early twentieth century was bled, imagine!)Vasari has to show that he didn’t approve of Rafael’s excesses–Vasari and the vox populi. But Vasari clearly admired Rafael’s work, which was a surprise to me because I would have expected him to take Michelangelo’s side. Vasari says in painting Rafael was second only to Leonardo.

  6. 100swallows says:

    Sorry, Doc Feelgood, that I couldn’t find a better reproduction of La Muta. She isn’t really so jaundiced. And the top woman doesn’t look to me like she is used to such luxury clothing. Rafael must have borrowed the dress from one of his aristocratic lady-friends.

  7. Your blog is better than any soap opera that I could imagine. I kind of agree with Danu– what a way to go! I hope he was smiling.

  8. 100swallows says:

    Moonbeam—soap opera? Jeez! No one but Danu said Rafael died “that way”. Danu fantasizes.

  9. Heehee. Okay, bad choice of words. I don’t even watch soaps. Maybe I should have said, “better than any modern drama.” I can’t think– I’ll blame the flu. I like Danu’s fantasies. :) But really, if Rafael’s last social outing was an orgy, I hope that he died thinking that it was worth it!

  10. 100swallows says:

    Ok, Moonbeam. I knew what you meant anyway. And me, I should never have used the word “orgy”, which there is no justification for. One thing is excess and the other an orgy. Can two have an orgy? I don’t think any biographer suggested a “social outing”. I’m sorry you are still sick (not only because you confuse my blog with a soap opera). I want to read you again soon and not keep seeing that big eye at your place.

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