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Florence, then Rome

Born in Urbino in 1483, Raphael trained with his father and then the Umbrian artist, Perugino. From 1504/5 he worked in Florence where he was much influenced by Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, learning from their depictions of the idealized human body, their understanding of anatomy and the suggestion of movement within these forms.

Like Michelangelo, Raphael was summoned to Rome by Pope Julius II around 1508/9. He began work on the decoration of the Vatican Stanze, a series of rooms in the Pope's apartments. Other important works are the Chigi Chapel, S. Maria della Pace, Rome, and the Tapestry Cartoons of the Acts of the Apostles (Victoria and Albert Museum, London) and his designs for the rebuilding of St Peter's. As a highly successful artist he had many assistants who helped him on major altarpieces and frescoes. He died, tragically young in Rome, in 1520.

With Leonardo and Michelangelo, Raphael is considered the third great artist of the Italian High Renaissance. His contribution to the art of drawing was a mastery of several techniques: metalpoint, chalk or pen and ink. His figures have a grace and classical beauty that was imitated by many later artists. The serene figures of his altarpieces, frescoes and cartoons are composed with balance and harmony.

The British Museum has about forty drawings by Raphael. There is also a collection of prints after Raphael.

Raphael, The Virgin and Child, 1510-12 C.E., 70.7 x 53.3 cm, Italy
© Trustees of the British Museum
This drawing is made of black chalk with a few touches of white heightening. The outlines of the figure are pricked and indented to help transfer the design to another surface - either a wall or panel. The artist or his assistant pricked the edges of the design with a sharp instrument and then banged with a bag of charcoal dust over the drawing so that the black dust passed through the holes onto the other surface. The artist then had an outline in black dots which he would join together. In addition, the artist might indent the top drawing so that another line appeared on the other surface. Both techniques have been used on this drawing for transfer of the design to a panel painting.

The figures of the Mother and Child are arranged in a pyramidal composition. This recalls the drawings and paintings of Leonardo da Vinci, which Raphael studied when he was in Florence. The forms in this drawing, however, are fuller and more solid. The laughing face of the Child is very similar to that in another drawing by Raphael, of the head of the Virgin and Child, though reversed. This is also in The British Museum.

The drawing corresponds exactly in composition and scale to a painting, known as the Mackintosh Madonna (National Gallery, London). Unfortunately, the painting has been damaged and heavily restored but this drawing gives us an excellent idea of what the composition originally looked like.


Suggested readings: 

P. Pouncey and J. A. Gere, Italian Drawings in the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum: Raphael and His Circle (London, The British Museum Press, 1962).

P. Joannides, The drawings of Raphael (Phaidon, 1983).

J.A Gere and N. Turner, Drawings by Raphael  (London, The British Museum Press, 1983).

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© Trustees of the British