Everyone knows about the Sistine chapel but fewer people have heard about the Raphael Stanze. The decoration of these four rooms that bear the great artist’s name was started twenty years after the Sistine chapel was completed, by some of the same artists who had been involved in that project. Raphael was not at this point involved. Perugino, Sodoma and Lorenzo Lotto started work on the ceilings, although the commission soon changed to include the walls as well. In 1508 Bramante suggested that Raphael should work for the Pope. Julius II was so pleased with the work of the young artist that he sacked all the other painters and employed Raphael to complete the frescoes. By the time of Julius death in 1513 only two rooms had been completed. Leo X continued the project which took Raphael and assistants from 1508 until the artist’s death in 1520. Even then the assistants took another four years to complete the work.
These are a stunning piece of Renaissance creativity by an artist at the peak of his powers. The way that Raphael marshals his figures and controls the huge compositions makes these frescoes the equal of Michelangelo’s work in the Sistine chapel. Together the works of art represent the best of the High Renaissance in Rome.
The four rooms can be visited today and should not be missed on a visit to the Vatican museums.
The Room of the Segnatura
This was the first to be decorated by Raphael and as it was the Pope’s study takes the theme of worldly and spiritual wisdom.
The Room of the Heliodorus
Painted from 1511 to 1514 the theme of this room is the Church’s protection by Jesus. Raphael has used larger figures so that their features can better be seen by the viewer.
The Room of the fire in the Borgo
This room tells the tale of Leo IV quelling a fire by making the sign of the cross.
The Room of Constantine
This is the largest room and was not frescoed until after Raphael’s death. It’s scenes show paganism beaten by Christianity.