Raphael, Painter in Rome

Written by Stephanie Storey
Review by Vicki Kondelik

Stephanie Storey follows up her stunning debut, Oil and Marble, a novel about the rivalry between Leonardo and Michelangelo, with another brilliant novel of art in Renaissance Italy. At eleven, Raphael Santi promises his dying father that he will become the greatest painter in the world. Raphael studies with Perugino, who accuses him of thievery when he improves upon one of Perugino’s paintings. Raphael values beauty in painting, and paints the world as it should be, as opposed to his great rival, Michelangelo, who considers himself a sculptor and creates three-dimensional figures who struggle and strain. Raphael’s great desire is to create the perfect painting. When Pope Julius II offers the commission for the Sistine Chapel ceiling to Michelangelo, Raphael is furious, but then the pope asks him to paint the papal apartments. The two rivals are pitted against each other in a contest to determine who will be considered the greatest artist ever. Meanwhile, Raphael falls in love with Margherita Luti, a baker’s daughter turned prostitute, who inspires many of his paintings.

Storey makes the world of Renaissance Rome come alive and draws the reader into its constant intrigues, as cardinals compete with each other to become the pope’s next favorite. She also draws the reader into all the festivals and banquets at the papal court. Above all, she has excellent insight into the Renaissance art world and the genius of these two great artists, Raphael and Michelangelo, who were opposites in many ways—painting vs. sculpture, idealism vs. realism—and who disliked each other but also supported each other at crucial moments.                 Raphael narrates his own story, as if speaking to the reader. Occasionally the dialogue sounds modern in tone, but, as Storey explains, that was a conscious decision, because it reflects the innovative style of Raphael’s art.