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Challenging Leonardo (3)

Leonardo wasn’t the only painter in town Michelangelo had to think about.

The news came from Angelo Doni, who knew how to hold a grudge. After Doni ended up paying twice the contracted amount for Michelangelo’s roundel, he commissioned a 21-year-old painter from Urbino, Raphael Sanzio, to paint portraits of him and his wife. Doni was so astonished by the work that he decided to show it to Michelangelo.

Maddalena Doni by Raphael

Maddalena Doni by Raphael

“These paintings are much better than yours, and I paid less for them. He paints frescoes too. I tell you, it is this young Raphael who should be competing against Leonardo, not you.”

Michelangelo shrugged off Doni, and then tried not to let the visit bother him. He knew Raphael was a great painter, could possibly be as good as Leonardo. But there was another reason he disliked the young painter from Urbino.

Raphael’s greatest sin was the teacher with whom he had studied. It was the artist Michelangelo hated more than anyone: Pietro Perugino.

Pietro Perugino self-portrait

Pietro Perugino self-portrait

Like Michelangelo, Perugino had been born to a poor family. But whereas Michelangelo cared about the quality of his art more than anything, Perugino was driven only by money, never wanting to be poor again. He painted the same picture over and over again for whoever paid for it.

Worse, Perugino didn’t just copy his own works. He freely copied those of his competitors and sold them as if they were his own. It was making money off someone else’s labor. And where was the originality of art?

“Perugino is a hack,” Michelangelo comforted himself. “And this Raphael is just like him if he’s willing to copy anyone’s style and call it his own.”

That’s exactly what Raphael did. He painted a Virgin and Child that was every bit as good as Leonardo’s. So good, in fact, that no one could tell the difference between the two.

Raphael self-portrait

Raphael self-portrait

Michelangelo didn’t like the feeling of another painter being that good, and he tried not to think about Doni’s words. To prove himself in the Battle of the Great Hall it was better to think about Leonardo, who was up to something. Leonardo always had several projects going simultaneously, and he was still working on the small oil painting of the woman with the smile, said to look so lifelike she might move at any second. Michelangelo needed to work as hard as he possibly could.

Next: Leonardo’s Troubling Plan (1)


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