For the 500th anniversary of Raphael’s death in 2022, London’s National Gallery will finally be able to stage its blockbuster Raphael exhibition — two years late, thanks to Covid. Meanwhile, the Exhibition on Screen strand is providing this taster-cum-primer, which is based on the 500th anniversary exhibition that took place in Rome in 2020 and will be traveling to London next year in large part.
Exhibition on Screen veteran Phil Grabsky directs Raphael Revealed, which offers a usually seamless and scholarly presentation, combining artist history, historical background, educated talking heads, and wonderfully shot closeups of the paintings themselves. There’s not much new to say about a topic that’s been covered so thoroughly, but the depth and brilliance of Raphael’s painting is reaffirmed, along with some intriguing details obtained from his preliminary sketches and archaeological investigations.
Raphael, like Poussin, the focus of the National’s current exhibition, paid close attention to the ancient remains that littered Rome – and, like Poussin, when they were only recently found and reappreciated in large numbers. (There’s a fascinating tale of Raphael, Michelangelo, and other painters being dropped on ropes into the ruins of Nero’s Golden House, which had just recently been discovered.)
In fact, Raphael’s rivalry with Michelangelo is a recurring and amusing thread throughout the book, as the two’s rising popularity prompted envy, anger, and blatant machination. Raphael, unlike Michelangelo and the other member of the High Renaissance trifecta, Leonardo da Vinci, was a finisher; he did not spend years agonizing over and revising individual works, as Michelangelo and the other member of the High Renaissance trifecta did.
Raphael’s whole accomplishment is on display here, as is his ability to absorb the influences of his immediate forefathers and recast them in exciting new shapes. If nothing else, it’s a great way to encourage people to come to the National’s exhibition; otherwise, it’s a good substitute for the real thing.