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Study for "Raphael in the Sistine Chapel"
The Snite Museum’s oil study corresponds to a moderately sized canvas finished in 1880 and since lost. The scene depicted is drawn from a most likely apocryphal account set forth by Giorgio Vasari in the Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects. In the story, the architect Donato Bramante admitted his young friend Raphael into the Sistine Chapel while Michelangelo was in exile in Florence, following one of his confrontations with Pope Julius II. Although commentators have remarked that this event likely did not take place, and that the effect of Michelangelo’s art upon Raphael has not been definitively settled as positive, Vasari attributes Raphael’s encounter with the Sistine Chapel as the basis of a figural shift in his works toward the “grandeur and majesty which he always did impart to them from that time forward.” The vantage point Gérôme selects in visualizing this imagined epiphanic encounter mimics that of Raphael. Caught in midstep, the young painter gazes up in awe at the ceiling, while the scaffolding creates a visual rhythm of ascent and descent, emphasized by the figure of Bramante descending the staircase.
from Weisberg, Breaking the Mold: The Legacy of the Noah L. and Muriel S. Butkin Collection of Nineteenth-Century French Art (Notre Dame, 2012)