In his series of Biblical scenes in the Vatican Logge, what narrative methods did Raphael employ and how does his approach differ from that of his contemporaries?

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In his series of Biblical scenes in the Vatican Logge, what narrative methods did Raphael employ and how does his approach differ from that of his contemporaries?

In the following essay, I aim to summarise a select few of the narrative methods employed by Raphael in the Vatican Logge. I will firstly discuss the method of organisation in the Logge as a whole and the relationships between the individual narrative scenes. I will then go on to analyse some of the narrative techniques used within the individual scenes. Within the latter, I will compare Raphael’s techniques primarily with contemporary Michelangelo’s works and his scenes from the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

The Vatican Logge consists of 13 arches forming a gallery 65 metres long and 4 metres wide. The construction was started by Bramante in 1512, under Pope Julius

II and was completed by Raphael under the reign of Leo X. The pictorial work was initiated in 1517. The 52 scenes on the ceilings of the loggia are commonly known as "Raphael’s Bible". Lack of words and space prevent me from presenting all 52 compositions here so I will concentrate on a select few.

Scenes from the Old and New Testament were the subject for Raphael’s work and undoubtedly made completion of the Logge scenes a demanding task. Reconstructing the most well known stories of all time proved challenging and in doing this he aimed to show the stories in a fresh new light, in a way no one had seen them before.

It is common assumption that Raphael chose his scenes for the Logge with a spirit of challenge in mind. There was much competition between himself and Michelangelo; between the scenes from the Sistine Chapel and the new scenes from the Logge, which will be discussed more fully in due course.

The layout and order of the Logge vaults has been extremely cleverly conducted. It was referred to as ‘Raphael’s Bible’, though it was, of course, the Pope’s slightly enlarged Bible – for his use only. The Pope hoped that he would be able to read the scenes, whilst walking along the corridor, as if it were his own oversized personal illuminated manuscript. Due to this request, it was obligatory that the pictures made methodical sense and followed each other like turning the pages in a book. Raphael took this challenge on board and succeeded through cunning use of harmony and unity, both in the organisation of the bays in relation to one another and between the separate scenes. There are four scenes in each vault, arranged in a circular pattern. In each bay, a story from the Old Testament is told using these four separate paintings, creating an overall image which has an effect much like that of continuous narrative. An example of this will follow in more detail.

In addition to the above, Raphael stressed the individuality of each bay through use of arches that nearly cover the view of distant vaults. Oberhuber, who has looked into Raphael’s work in much detail, describes the scenes in the small paintings as having a ‘precise and clear narrative,’ which was essential for their function.

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The extent of Raphael’s intricate design of the Logge becomes clear when it is revealed that the layout of the vaults have been devised so that the seventh and central bay allows onlookers to see the room as a cohesive whole. The seventh bay acts as a middle point for the viewer’s eye to rest on and admire the room in its entirety. The paintings in bay one to six and eight to thirteen extend in opposite directions from the seventh bay, which narrates the episode of when Joseph reveals the contents of his dream to his brothers.


This is a preview of the whole essay