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The third Renaissance man

Late work by Raphael in Madrid

Olivia Weinberg | May/June 2012

Raphael’s final years were so good that the Prado and the Louvre have dedicated a whole exhibition to them. He died at 37, still in his prime (Vasari reports that he overexerted himself with his mistress, caught a fever, and was given the wrong medicine). “Late Raphael” presents over 40 paintings and 30 drawings dating from 1513—the start of the pontificate of Leo X, who commissioned some of Raphael’s Vatican masterpieces—to his death in 1520.

Raffaello Sanzio is best known for his frescoes. Energetic, grand and packed with detail, they are some of the greatest works of art ever created. His paintings are a little less acclaimed, but they have a sharp intelligence and a rare clarity. “Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione” is a fine example: a classic Renaissance portrait, done by the book, but strikingly modern in its simplicity. An ambassador and friend of the artist, Castiglione has a gaze that stays with you. His expression is gentle, the mood soft.

“The Holy Family” (above) is another highlight. The wondrous landscape in the top corner, peeking through, glistens like Narnia and pays homage to Leonardo. The figures glow against the inky background as the light caresses their flesh, a skill Raphael picked up from Michelangelo, who gloated, “everything he had of art, he had from me”. This show should confirm Raphael as the third genius of the Italian Renaissance. ~ Olivia Weinberg

Late Raphael Museo del Prado, Madrid, June 12th to September 16th; Musée du Louvre, Paris, October 8th to January 14th

EXHIBITIONS AT A GLANCE

Bauhaus: Art as Life (Barbican, London, until August 12th). It’s the world’s most famous art school and was the driving force behind Modernism. With over 400 pieces on display, this is a mighty show full of right angles.

Alex Katz (Tate, St Ives, until September 23rd). At 84, Katz is one of the most important living American artists, and this 60-year survey will show why. His canvases are cool, uncluttered and elegant—a bit like Matisse, a bit like Hopper, but very much his own.

Rineke Dijkstra: a Retrospective (Guggenheim, New York, June 29th to October 3rd). A Dutch photographer best known for her Beaches series (1992-96), Dijkstra also takes portraits, of adolescents, clubbers and soldiers. Gritty, self-conscious and almost too revealing, they draw you in and further in.

Jeff Koons (Fondation Beyeler, Basel, until September 2nd). Koons has caused trouble in the art world with his blow-up bunnies, double-decker hoovers and filthy sculptures—if you can call them that. Switzerland is letting him in for the first time. But is he over-rated?

The Queen: Art and Image (National Portrait Gallery, London, until October 21st). She’s been snapped, sketched and painted by a stack of A-listers—Beaton, Annigoni, Warhol, Freud. As monarch she is rock-solid, as a subject she is intriguingly enigmatic. Look out for “Lightness of Being” (2007) by Chris Levine: the Queen with her eyes closed. 

Christian Louboutin (Design Museum, London, until July 9th). A shoe designer, but not just a shoe designer, Louboutin knows how to make a stiletto memorable. This exhibition explores the process from start to finish. ~ OW

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