Country Life

The supreme Master

WHO was the Renaissance’s perfect Renaissance Man? It was a question pondered by the grandee-portraitist Joshua Reynolds when he established the Royal Academy in 1768. Reynolds wanted to foster homegrown painters who could look the Continentals in the eye and to do that, he thought, our artists should take the great names of the Renaissance as their example. However, Reynolds didn’t choose Leonardo, the universal genius, nor did he plump for Michelangelo, the creator of some of the most potent works in history; he went instead for Raphael.

‘He was the perfect exponent of the “grand manner” and fully merited his nickname “prince of painters”’

Of course, Raphael (Raffaello Santi, 1483–1520) is still one of the most hallowed of names, but, remembered above all for his sweet and gentle Madonna and Child paintings, he can seem somewhat anodyne in comparison to his great contemporaries —lacking in passion and angst or intellectual curiosity. For Reynolds and his generation, however, Raphael was an artist whose works blended nobility, dignity, harmony, calm, ideal forms and Classical proportions. He was the perfect exponent of the ‘grand manner’

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