Giorgio Vasari, the famed 16th century Italian painter, architect, writer, and chronicler of history, best known for his Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, wrote the following about Raphael Sanzio: “While we may term other works paintings, those of Raphael are living things; the flesh palpitates, the breath comes and goes, every organ lives, life pulsates everywhere.” (Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the Painters, 1568)
This entry by Vasari in his chronicle of painters, sculptors, and architects during his lifetime, really captures the astonishing reception viewers receive, some for the first time, when gazing upon the portraits made by Raphael. In particular, I draw your attention to the Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione! Not only does the portrait face of Castiglione “palpitate”, there is the sense that the facial skin has warmth if you were to actually reach out and touch it (of course you won’t/can’t!); the chest, beneath the heavy clothing, moves with each breath; the outlet layer of clothing, the model’s beard all have a perceptible weight, texture, and an incredibly strong sense of tactile reality! And these qualities of looking at a portrait of a “living” being also appear so effortless! There is an Italian word for the perception of effortlessness—Sprezzatura!
What are your thoughts/feelings when you examine Raphael’s formal portrait of Baldassare Castiglione? Do you see or sense that Raphael seems to excel in the craft/art of painting “living” portraits”?
Raphael, Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione, 1514-15, Louvre