From the work titled ‘Loggie di Rafaele nel Vaticano’ depicting the decorative work executed by Raphael and his assistants between 1518-1519 in the Vatican. Only two years before he died in 1520, Raphael undertook a monumental commission for Pope Leo X: a vaulted arcade within the private apartments of the Vatican. Inspired by recent excavations in Pompeii and the Campagna, Raphael covered the Loggia’s walls and ceilings with painted ornament in the antique style. Like Leonardo and Michelangelo, Raphael was inspired by the rebirth of classical art and learning that characterized the Renaissance. For the Loggia, he created a fascinating mixture of formal and ‘grotesque’ elements. The Loggia became known as ‘Raphael’s Bible,’ not only for its Biblical paintings but also for its decorative invention.
These remarkable prints, part of one of the most luxurious engraved projects of the 18th century, were probably planned as early as 1760, but was not executed until between 1772 and 1776. The project as a whole was carried out by the painter Gaetano Savorelli, the draughtsman Ludovico Teseo, the architect Pietro Camporesi, and the engravers Giovanni Ottaviani and Giovanni Volpato.
The whole series was remarkable not just for the size and magnificent coloring of the prints, but also because of the influence they had on contemporary taste. The decision was made to ‘borrow’ elements from Raphael’s Vatican tapestries and insert them where the original frescoes were in too poor a state to be legible.
Under the patronage of Pope Clement XIV, this gifted team of artists set out to copy not merely Raphael’s biblical pictures but their wonderful ornamental surrounds, rich in pattern and groteschi. The magnificent engravings that resulted from their collaboration are extraordinarily faithful to Raphael’s originals. The finished plates therefore represented an amalgam of design elements presented with a crisp freshness of color that held enormous appeal and stimulated the taste for the ‘grotesque’ in the neoclassical period.
Vivid and sumptuous, even more so because they were hand-colored using gouache, a thicker and more opaque pigment than the more common watercolor, these large-scale works are among the most magnificent engravings to have originated in the 18th century. Beyond their purpose as records of Raphael’s frescoes, these splendid engravings served as inspiration for generations of neoclassical artists and designers.