Raphael Sanzio The Three Graces
One of the oldest works by Raphael Sanzio, known to the world simply by his first name, and dating from his formative Florentine period, The Three Graces is a magnificent ode to the Classical Goddesses of charity. Originally a part of the the prestigious Borghese collection, Raphael's canvas is at first glance a revolutionary work of Renaissance thinking, a masterful vision of the idea of classical beauty. As the first painting of Raphael to represent an ancient mythological theme, and dated to between 1504 and 1505, the painting is the work of an artist aged just twenty years, and better acquainted with the production of religious paintings through public or private commission. The Three Graces on the other hand, is a work of a truly idiosyncratic imagination, an expression of a secular and even pagan mindset that perfectly reflected the wild and innovative atmosphere of Renaissance Florence.
In the Tuscan city Lorenzo de Medici assembled a court of intellectuals and filled his society with the ideas of the ancients. Crystallizing in the 1470s, Florence became the heartland of new ideas about art, science, and culture which would manifest itself in decades of prodigious cultural production that has come to define the attitude and visual style of the western world. Following on from Botticelli's formative canvas Spring, Raphael's testament to the pagan traditions of the Roman and Greek religions is a daring articulation of religious practices divergent from Catholicism. It is a reflection of the unique and visionary liberalism of the Medici patrons that their tastes encouraged such an open-minded approach to artistic theme and form. This accepting atmosphere allowed the gestation of complex ideas and allegorical concepts that manifested themselves in philosophical investigations into ideas of virtue, chastity, and violence.
Yet at the time Raphael painted The Three Graces the Medici family were in a state of crisis, and Florentine society was temporarily turning its back on pre-Christian themes. Humble in size and ambitious in scope, this canvas represents the revolutionary approach of painters such as Raphael, who reflected the daring tastes of their patrons. Arguably the first time the painter depicted the naked female form from the front and from behind, The Three Graces signalled the beginning of a familiar trope in Renaissance painting, and challenged viewers conceptions about how their saw the ancient world, and the effect it had on their increasingly polarised Christian present.
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