Giovanni Santi is Raphael’s father. He was frequently described as being “pittore non molto eccellente” by Vasari. This translates to “not very good at painting”. Generations of historians presume that he didn’t have much influence on his son at all. When you take into account other historical records, you will soon see that this goes a long way when it comes to overturning this kind of assumption. It juxtaposes work done by both the father and the son so that a wider context can be viewed.
If you look at the 672 historical documents that are available, you’ll soon see that the vast majority of them have an unknown context. That being said, 136 of them refer to Raphael himself; this kind of insight is valuable when it comes to interpreting the mature work of Raphael from both an artistic standpoint and an intellectual one.
The Santi Family
The Santi Family landed in Urbino from Colbordolo somewhere in the 1440s. Federico was in the process of transforming the remote town into a court that would go onto shape European history. Santi’s fortunes rose with Federico, the current ruler. Raphael’s grandfather dealt in various merchandise, including nails, rope, foodstuffs and glue. Documents have been discovered that show the warehouse also contained various art objects. Giovanni himself was registered between 1468 and 1476 as being a master gilder. The studio was just one of the many that sprung up during this era to try and satisfy the growing demands of Federico’s court. It also went a long way when it came to attracting intellectuals from across Italy, including Bramante, Uccello, Botticelli and Alberti. It also attracted Baldassare Castiglione, who went on to immortalise the city in the famous Book of the Courtier.
Piero Della Francesca was appointed to execute a panel for the Communion of the Apostles, and Giovanni Santi was in charge of coordinating the project. He also let the artist stay in his own private property. Santi, who is believed to be born in the 1430s, was a late starter in his passion for painting. He was no more than 15 years old when he chose to dedicate himself to his craft. The prosperity of his growing family allowed him to go on a Grand Tour, where he visited cities such as Venice, Italy and Florence.
The experience of being able to witness works of art, in addition to the works done in Urbino, certainly goes a long way when it comes to explaining the diversity and the influences that Santi shows in his paintings. It also shows that he did, in fact, have a breadth of knowledge regarding both culture and art. Raphael had all of this at his disposal when he was born in 1483. One revelation comes from the Santi panels, showing the Muses. This has been since cleaned and restored, dating back to the 1480s. They have not been seen in public for over 100 years and are from a private collection. The lyricism, grace and painting skills manifest themselves in such a way that it seems unfair to dismiss his work as being an amateur.
The Muses would go on to be part of the décor for the Ducal Palace. Santi was a respected figurehead there and set himself tasks that included The Life and Deeds of Federico da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino. This was dedicated to Guidobaldo da Montefeltro, his heir. It also showcased references to multiple artists, showing his phenomenal understanding of both technique and artistic appreciation.
Some of his other duties included staging theatrical events. His intimacy with the Ducal Palace continued long after Guidobaldo da Montefeltro’s accession, after the passing of Federico in 1482. The main point to draw from this story is that it was Giovanni Santi’s court connections that helped grant Raphael access to the artistic beating heart of the place. The Ducal school helped give him a humanist education, as poor families were admitted for free.
Raphael- the Heir to a Thriving Workshop
Giovanni Santi passed shortly after he arrived home from Mantua. He’d gone there based on a recommendation from Elisabetta Gonzaga, primarily because the Gonzaga in Matua had grown dissatisfied with a portrait Mantegna had created. The fact that she chose to send Santi is another indication that he was, in fact, well-regarded as being an artist in his own right.
When Raphael reached the age of 11, he became the heir to a thriving workshop. By the year 1500, he was referred to as being “illustris”, which is a sign of recognition for his status as an independently working master of his craft. He spent a great deal of his time in the first decade trying to expand and broaden his artistic horizons, but it would seem that Urbino remained a very important source of financial income. This is witnessed in his portrait of Duchess Gonzaga and her beloved husband. Another example of this would be the Small Cowper Madonna, which is very closely related to his birthplace.
It’s said that Perugia or Urbino was where Raphael met Bramante, who was an esteemed and experienced architect. Raphael was set to replace the esteemed architect when working at St Peter’s in Rome. Even though Raphael did have some absences, documents, previous artwork and historical fragments all show that it was the Urbino workshop that influenced him. It was still going strong in the early 16th Century, and when you combine this with the fact that Raphael chose to maintain his strong ties with the location, you’ll soon see that it did play a major role in his artistic journey.
Raphael died suddenly in 1520.
The world lost a great artist that day, but those who discount the influence of his father based on his artistic inability are making assumptions that are completely unfounded. His father did have creativity running through his veins, and he was seen as being an artist in his own right. He also accumulated a great breadth of knowledge regarding the evolution of art and the artists behind the canvas. It would be unfair to say that although Raphael became the better artist, his father had no bearing on his success.