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Italian Renaissance Rivals Raphael vs Michelangelo | An Unspoken Competition

Rivals Raphael and Michelangelo pay homage to each other

Italian Renaissance giants Michelangelo Buonarroti and Raphael Sanzio were unspoken rivals. Scholars continue to debate the subject today of the Raphael vs Michelangelo rivalry. The irascible Michelangelo, forced by Pope Julius II into painting his own private chapel, the Sistine as we know it, complained that he was not a painter, but a sculptor. This complaint fell on deaf ears as the pope had a war to fight and little time or patience for soothing the artistic temperament. If the tale is true, the pope had even less patience for seeing that the artist was paid. Food being a necessity, this was a bone of contention between artist and patron.


Raphael, on the other hand, blessed with a much more affable personality, never seemed to lack for funds or friends. Both artists were occupied simultaneously with the pope’s own private artistic visions in the Vatican.

Rivals Raphael vs Michelangelo, Different Personality Types

Raphael's work in the Vatican Stanze was open to the curious; while Michelangelo left strict orders that no visitors were to be allowed in the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo, busy as a bee himself, consumed with a daunting task, apparently had little interest in Raphael’s work. But Raphael had an interest in his. Raphael paid a secret visit aided by the pope to view Michelangelo’s ceiling in progress.  So profoundly did it affect him that he returned to his work in the Stanza della Segnatura (the pope’s private library), where he proceeded to pay tribute to Michelangelo by incorporating a seated figure of Michelangelo in the foreground of his masterpiece fresco, The School of Athens.


"For that knee alone,
it is worth the price."
Perhaps not so well known as his Madonna’s or the magnificent Vatican frescoes, Raphael Sanzio also executed a stunning fresco of The Prophet Isaiah in the church of Sant’Agostino in Rome in 1511-12. The donor patron of Isaiah was the Head Chancellor of the Papal Court, Johannes Goritz of Luxemburg. Ruffled by what he considered to be an exorbitant price for the painting by Raphael, Goritz solicited Michelangelo for his opinion of its worth. Michelangelo, rarely one to acknowledge genius in others, looked at the painting of his chief rival, Raphael, and simply commented, "For that knee alone, it is worth the price.”

Brenda Harness, Art Historian


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