1518 (150 Kb); Oil on wood, 154 x 119 cm (60 5/8 x 46 7/8 in); Uffizi, Florence
It was for this achievement that Raphael has remained famous throughout the centuries. Perhaps those who connect his name only with beautiful Madonnas and idealized figures from the classical world may even be surprised to see Raphael’s portrait of his great patron Pope Leo X of the Medici family, in the company of two cardinals. There is nothing idealized in the slightly puffed head of the near- sighted Pope, who has just examined an old manuscript (somewhat similar in style and period to the Queen Mary’s Psalter. The velvets and damasks in their various rich tones add to the atmosphere of pomp and power, but one can well imagine that these men are not at ease. These were troubled times, for we remember that at the very period when this portrait was painted Luther had attacked the Pope for the way he raised money for the new St Peter’s. It so happens that it was Raphael himself whom Leo X had put in charge of this building enterprise after Bramante had died in 1514, and thus he had also become an architect, designing churches, villas and palaces and studying the ruins of ancient Rome. Unlike his great rival Michelangelo, though, he got on well with people and could keep a busy workshop going. Thanks to his sociable qualities the scholars and dignitaries of the papal court made him their companion. There was even talk of his being made a cardinal when he died on his thirty-seventh birthday, almost as young as Mozart, having crammed into his brief life an astonishing diversity of artistic achievements.