Raphael (Raffaello Santi or Sanzio) was born in Urbino in 1483, the son of a painter attached to the court of the Montefeltro dukes. From a very early age he showed remarkable artistic talent, attracting the attention of members of the court - not least Elisabetta Gonzaga, the Duchess of Urbino, who became his first patron. Around 1500, he began studying with Perugino, a renowned painter from the city of Perugia. Raphael's earliest works, mostly altarpieces painted for churches in Perugia and nearby Città di Castello, bear a strong stylistic resemblance to those of Perugino, with delicately posed figures and elegant, sparely painted landscapes.
In 1504 Raphael left Urbino for Florence. There he received few commissions for large altarpieces; instead, he turned to portraiture and domestic devotional paintings of the Virgin and Child. Many of his most beautiful paintings of the Virgin and Child date from his years in Florence. Away from the influence of his teacher Perugino, his style began to change: the delicate fragility that characterised his early work gave way to a greater grandeur and gravity.
Raphael was summoned to Rome in 1508 by Pope Julius II. He remained there for the rest of his life, employed by Julius and Pope Leo X, devoting himself primarily to the decoration of the Vatican Palace. For Julius, Raphael painted the stanze, a suite of apartments decorated with elaborate frescoes of classical and biblical subjects - most famously, The School of Athens. His commissions from Leo included ten cartoons for tapestries to be hung in the Sistine Chapel. He also broadened his practice to include architecture and archaeology, designing churches and acting as Leo's commissioner of antiquities. His work in Rome brought him fame and admiration in his own lifetime, and for centuries after his death in 1520, he remained one of the most highly regarded and emulated artists in Europe.
Read more about Raphael and view some of his paintings on the National Gallery’s website
Pope Leo X (1475-1521) was born Giovanni de' Medici, the son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, ruler of Florence and a major patron of the arts and sciences. He was educated by some of the leading scholars of the day, such as the poet Angelo Poliziano and the Neoplatonist Marsilio Ficino, a fitting foundation for his lifelong love of learning and patronage of the arts.
Giovanni was made a cardinal at the age of 17 in 1492 and settled in Rome in 1500. There, he gathered around him many of Rome's leading writers, philosophers, and artists, and commissioned the rebuilding of two churches, the first of many architectural projects. In 1513, following the death of Pope Julius II, he was elected pope as Leo X.
Leo devoted much of his papal career to the arts and scholarship. He founded Greek academies in Rome and Florence, promoted printing, set up a private library in Rome based on the collections of his father, and supported poets and scholars. As well, he took up the artistic projects left to him by Julius, particularly the decoration of the Vatican stanze. He was a major patron of architecture and was notable for his interest in Rome's classical past. During his papacy he appointed Raphael commissioner of antiquities, a post that entailed the conservation of antiquities in Rome and its environs and the supervision of new excavations. He also commissioned designs from Raphael for a set of tapestries for the Sistine Chapel.
Leo was also noted for his interest in sacred music, being an active musician, an accomplished singer and even a composer. From the late middle ages until the present day, he was the only trained musician and the only major patron of music to occupy the papacy.