Celebrating Raphael: a free walking tour
2020 will mark the 500th anniversary of Raphael’s death (on April 6), who was only 37 when he died in Rome.
The new year will see a number of important events dedicated to the genius artist from Urbino: among them, an exhibition in London, which will be preceded by a similar display at the Scuderie del Quirinale museum.
As we learn that 77,000 tickets have already been sold in the first weeks since reservations have been announced for the Roman event (which will open on March 5th), we decided to put together a free walking tour to explore the places where the painter and architect lived and worked, as we have already done with Caravaggio here.
This is not intended as as a replacement for a real guided tour, and leaves out a number of notable Raphaelian landmarks, such as museums and more places where he lived and worked in his 12 years in Rome. If you’re interested, we can direct you to some of our partners: they will be happy to arrange something Raphael-themed for you. However, this is a “Raphael 101” kind of walking tour that can help you familiarize with one of the great masters of Italian art.
Raphael’s first years in Rome
Raphael was living in Florence when he first visited the Eternal City in 1503. He came as a… tourist, we would say using a modern term, to appreciate the Roman ruins. Plus, he attended the election of Pope Julius II.
He came back to work for the pope in 1508, and had a high-profile assignment decorating the walls of the Vatican palace with frescoes: so this tour would begin at the Vatican Museums, in the Raphael Rooms themselves.
Raphael used to live nearby in the last few years of his life. He had several properties in the medieval alleys around St. Peter’s, none of which have survived as they have been torn apart to build the majestic Via della Conciliazione. His mansion, Palazzo Caprini, was incorporated into another building, Palazzo dei Convertendi, which for its age alone was rebuilt on Via della Conciliazione 32, which is where you can see at least how it used to look! You can walk to Via della Conciliazione if you’re staying at, for example, Via delle Fornaci.
Work for Agostino Chigi
Tuscan banker Agostino Chigi secured Raphael’s services as he was still working for Julius II. For his mansion in Trastevere, Villa Farnesina, Raphael completed several frescoes between 1511 and 1518.
It’s an easy walk to Villa Farnesina from the Vatican area, as it is located on Via della Lungara. The landmark is also around the corner from many of our accommodations in the same district, including Via delle Mantellate.
Villa Farnesina, opposite the Galleria Corsini Museum, houses the Accademia dei Lincei and is open to the public, upon requests, on Tuesdays alone – reservations should be made at least 15 days in advance, with terms clearly explained at this address.
From there, walk south along Via della Lungara to the arch marking the Porta Settimiana gate – on your right, a restaurant called Giardino della Fornarina has been opened on the alleged family home of Raphael’s mistress, Margherita Luti, the daughter of a baker (“fornaio” in Italian, hence her surname).
The actual entrance of the house is on Via di Santa Dorotea, 20, right around the corner from the restaurant, and is recognizable thanks to a Roman column, left exposed, evidence of an ancient portico.
According to his contemporary Marcantonio Michiel, Raphael’s death “saddened men of letters because he was not able to furnish the description and the painting of ancient Rome that he was making, which was very beautiful” – a lover of Roman history and archaeology, Raphael had grandiose ideas about urban planning and conservation.
Pope Julius II had imagined the elegant Via Giulia to overcome Rome’s medieval “disorder”, and Raphael had begun buying estate along the nascent street. He had planned to have a palazzo of his own around Via Giulia, 85, but at the time of his death only orchards were here.
On the front of the building that now stands you can read “Possedeva Ra(faello) Sanzio nel MDXX” – “owned by Raphael” – this estate is minutes from our Via Giulia accommodation, incidentally.
You can walk easily to Via Giulia from Villa Farnesina or the house of the Fornarina, going back towards Ponte Mazzini, south of Via Lungara.
Raphael & Rome’s churches
From Via Giulia, you can either walk or take a bus to get you closer to the church of Santa Maria della Pace, behind Piazza Navona. If you decide to walk and take Via del Governo Vecchio (maybe you’re staying in one of our managed rentals there!), on no. 48 is the house of Fornarina herself, and one that was crucial in the fate of Raphael: it’s been said that he fell ill after riding to see her beloved under a heavy rain.
Via dei Coronari, the street where Raphael allegedly stayed for a while, is also nearby (go towards Castel Sant’Angelo to reach it). And guess what? The property is right next door with our own managed apartment by the same name!
But back to the church of Santa Maria della Pace: Raphael was tasked with frescoing the Chigi Chapel for his patron Agostino Chigi. Another important fresco is just a few blocks away, in another important church for art lovers worldwide – the Church of Sant’Agostino, where a Caravaggio is also visible for free, has a work by Raphael depicting the Prophet Isaiah.
Our apartments on the Via dei Pianellari building are seconds away from the church.
The death of Raphael
Raphael died in 1520, on the night of Good Friday, allegedly his birthday, too. Romans were in shock. It was even reported that there was a small earthquake when he died.
Today you can pay him homage at the Pantheon, which is minutes from Sant’Agostino, where his tomb bears an epitaph by Pietro Bembo: “Here lies that famous Raphael by whom Nature feared to be conquered while he lived, and when he was dying, feared herself to die”.