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Raphael at the Prado (The Wall Street Journal)

Just before his untimely death in 1520, Raphael painted a self-portrait in which he appeared beside his assistant Giulio Romano. A brilliant painter himself, and an early exponent of Mannerism, Romano began as one of Raphael’s most trusted assistants. He shouldered a very wide array of creative responsibilities within Raphael’s workshop.

And as he labored under the welter of commissioned work, he forged a “pungent sensibility” all his own, according to art historian Tom Henry, co-curator with Paul Joannides of a thrilling new exhibition on Raphael at Madrid’s Museo del Prado. Organized in collaboration with the Louvre in Paris, it is dedicated to the master’s final years.

Judging from Raphael’s “Self-Portrait with Giulio Romano” (1519-20), the relationship touched both artists deeply. Raphael stares out toward the viewer with a warmly placid expression of relaxed pride and assurance, his hand resting on Romano’s left shoulder. Romano looks up at Raphael tenderly, obviously reverent. He seems to be pointing something out to Raphael, and his outstretched arm extends Raphael’s sightline, from the top left corner of the canvas to a center-point in the foreground. The painting is at once a portrait of their closeness and a meditation on the twin themes of legacy and inheritance. Romano carries Raphael’s vision forward, but by his own hand. Raphael, meanwhile, appears to be at peace. He was said to have loved Romano like a son.

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