He was said to be as handsome as a god. Was he not, by the way? This is what his contemporaries wondered, as Raphael had such a very special aura. “He has a somewhat long face, harmonious features, large eyes, pensive but also determined”, describes Mathieu Deldicque, curator at the Condé museum, in Secrets d’Histoire. Talented, brilliant, and seductive, this great Renaissance painter left no one indifferent … Even less the women, who flocked to his studio, to play the muses, or more.
At the time, Rome was not a very large city: it had around 50,000 inhabitants, but at least 5,000 courtesans were registered there. Raphaël knows how to take advantage of the pleasures offered to him by the Eternal City: he assiduously frequents these women, worldly and literate, who organize parties where everyone can free themselves from conventions. The painter is sensitive to the fair sex. He does her honor, as well on his paintings – where he represents the feminine charm better than anyone – as in his bed.
Raphael still falls in love with some of his one-night stands. This is the case of Margherita Luti, daughter of a baker from Siena, whom he sincerely loved. Despite this, and the proposals that were not lacking, the artist always refused to get married, too busy with her work. Indeed, a young prodigy, barely thirty years old, he is drowning in orders, especially those of the Vatican. Raphael is in the service of the Pope, first of Julius II and then of Leo X.
At the end of March 1520, having just finished his masterpiece, The Transfiguration, Raphael suffered from a high fever from which he knew he would not recover. Bedridden, he expires two weeks later, with his mistress and a few disciples at his bedside. Raphael was still aware enough to tidy his affairs and confess his sins. He was only thirty-seven, still handsome and in his prime. So what happened to him?
According to some, the painter succumbed to a bubbling life, where he never took the time to sleep, because he had so much work. Others will say that he died of sexual excess, multiplying the mistresses. According to legend, he would have died during his lovemaking, certainly in the arms of Margherita Luti.
The illness from which Raphael suffered therefore remains a mystery. Had he caught malaria, which causes severe fever attacks? Or would it rather be syphilis, a sexual infection, transmitted to him by a courtesan? A recent study advances another thesis: he would have died of the consequences of a “disease of the coronavirus type”. “From what we know, Raphael died of a lung disease very similar to the coronavirus we know today,” says historian Michele Riva, who rejects the sexually transmitted disease hypothesis.
The best doctors in the city, sent by the Pope, nevertheless tried to cure him. Perhaps without really knowing what his illness was … They had indeed diagnosed him with a fever caused by an “excess of moods”, and had therefore practiced various bleedings, by incisions or leeches, which only weakened the dying.
Raphael expires on April 6, his birthday and Good Friday, like Christ. This only reinforces the legend, which already existed during his lifetime: it is believed then that he is the reincarnation of Jesus. Especially since when he took his last breath, it is said that the walls of the Vatican began to shake, and crevices formed, forcing the Pope to move to a cardinal’s apartment. To pay homage to this man who, despite his young age, marked his time considerably, Leo X orders a grandiose funeral. Raphael is buried in the Pantheon in Rome, a “Stone Olympus”, as Stéphane Bern describes in Secrets d’Histoire.
🔴 𝗖𝗘 𝗟𝗨𝗡𝗗𝗜 𝟭𝟴 𝗝𝗔𝗡𝗩𝗜𝗘𝗥 | For the first time in Secrets d’Histoire, @bernstephane invites you to discover the extraordinary destiny of Raphaël! 👨🎨👉 Virtuoso painter, daring architect, poet … Raphael is the darling of the Italian Renaissance. 🇮🇹 pic.twitter.com/2CzO4ApZwc
SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWLETTER TO RECEIVE EVERY EVENING THE BEST OF
News – Secrets of History: Did the painter Raphael really die of sexual excess?