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Raphael combined the grace of Leonardo, the power of Michelangelo, and the humanist spirit of the age. The master of High Renaissance Painting, his sweet Madonnas set a new standard and his School of Athens brought pre-Christian thinking into the Vatican.

Complete Video Script

[46, Boboli Gardens, Florence] By the year 1500, what had begun in Florence a century earlier was coming to a peak: an exciting time known as the High Renaissance. Italy was thriving, with a huge appetite for art. Artists who in earlier times had toiled as anonymous craftsmen were now famous and well-paid. Three towering artists — all with Florence connections — brought the Renaissance to its culmination and then helped spread it throughout Italy and beyond: Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael.

[59] Leonardo strongly influenced another talented young artist — Raphael. By combining the grace of Leonardo, the power of Florentine sculpture, and the humanist spirit of the age, Raphael became the master of High Renaissance painting.

[60, Raphael, 1483–1520; self-portrait, Doni portraits, Uffizi Gallery, Florence] A true prodigy, young Raphael quickly mastered realism. In these portraits, he captured the proud faces, rich clothing, and fine jewelry of this cloth merchant and his noble wife. He gave them Leonardo's Mona Lisa treatment: turned at a three-quarter pose, arms and hands resting comfortably.

[61, Madonna of the Goldfinch, 1506, Raphael, Uffizi Gallery, Florence] This Madonna also pays homage to Leonardo. Mary presides in a beautiful earthly setting, with a young Jesus and little Johnny the Baptist, washed in warm sfumato and a golden glow…and posed like a pyramid. While natural, it's thoughtfully planned: symmetrical — a baby to the left, baby to the right…flanked by trees and framed with clouds…all reinforcing the atmosphere of serenity, order, and maternal love.

[62] Raphael soon became the most sought-after painter of his day. The pope in Rome actually hired him to decorate his palace — now the Vatican Museums — with his paintings.

[63, Laocoön and Belvedere Torso, Vatican Museums, Rome] The classical decor and ancient treasures that line the halls of the Vatican palace show how popes of this age actually embraced that Renaissance respect for pre-Christian thinking.

[64, School of Athens, 1511, Raphael, Vatican Museums, Rome] Raphael's School of Athens merges the ancient and Christian worlds. Here in the pope's study — the heart of Christian Europe — he painted not only Christian saints but — so radical…so shocking for the age…pagan philosophers — Plato…Aristotle. Again, in good Renaissance style, Raphael balances everything symmetrically, with all the lines of perspective leading your eye to dead center — two secular saints framed with a Renaissance arch as their halo. This is Humanism: the geometrically perfect world…created by a Christian God.

[65] The ancient philosopher Plato is none other than Raphael's idol, Leonardo da Vinci. And the guy in the black cap, young Raphael himself. Finally, there's this brooding figure — the man who would take the High Renaissance to the greatest heights of all…Michelangelo Buonarroti.