Born in Urbino, Raphael achieved early fame through his portraits and paintings of Madonnas, as well as his great personal charm. From 1500 to 1508 he was active across central Italy, in Siena, Florence and Perugia. He worked alongside Pietro Perugino, looked to the work of Luca Signorelli, and made drawings after his greatest contemporary, Michelangelo.
Michelangelo first trained as a painter in the workshop of Domenico Ghirlandaio in Florence, then as a sculptor under the patronage of Lorenzo de’ Medici. The National Gallery holds two of his rare surviving panel paintings, both unfinished, dating from his time working between Florence and Rome.
Papal Rome had long attracted leading artists of the day. Signorelli, Perugino and Ghirlandaio were among the painters who worked in the Sistine Chapel between 1481 and 1483, decades before Michelangelo began his famous frescoes in 1508. The same year, Pope Julius II called Raphael to the Eternal City.
In later years, Raphael and Michelangelo became fierce rivals, responding competitively to each other’s work. However, the paintings in this room represent an earlier moment, when Raphael’s harmonious, idealised style could not be more different from Michelangelo’s emotive, monumental dynamism.