(b. 1483, Urbino, d. 1520, Roma)

Pope Leo X with Cardinals Giulio de' Medici and Luigi de' Rossi

Oil on wood, 154 x 119 cm
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

One of Raphael's greatest masterpieces, possibly the only work he executed without help during his last years, is the Portrait of Pope Leo X and Cardinals Luigi de' Rossi and Giulio de' Medici (later to become Pope Clement VII), both relatives of the Pope.

This group portrait (which created a sensation, notwithstanding the existence of precedents) is focused on the central figure of the Pope. The two Cardinals, Luigi de' Rossi on Leo's right and Giulio de' Medici on his left, act as a royal escort. An illuminated prayer book lies open on the table in front of Pope Leo. On the same table rests a finely carved bell. Both objects undoubtedly reveal the exquisite tastes of the Pope who was an active patron of the arts.

Perhaps those who connect Raphael's name only with beautiful Madonnas and idealized figures from the classical world may even be surprised to see this portrait. There is nothing idealized in the slightly puffed head of the near-sighted Pope, who has just examined an old manuscript (somewhat similar in style and period to the Queen Mary's Psalter). The velvets and damasks in their various rich tones add to the atmosphere of pomp and power, but one can well imagine that these men are not at ease. These were troubled times, for at the very period when this portrait was painted Luther had attacked the Pope for the way he raised money for the new St Peter's. It so happens that it was Raphael himself whom Leo X had put in charge of this building enterprise after Bramante had died in 1514, and thus he had also become an architect, designing churches, villas and palaces and studying the ruins of ancient Rome.

The uniform tone of colour, expressed in various red nuances; the quiet atmosphere, alluding to the power of the Pope and the splendour of his court; and the compositional harmony, make this portrait one of the most admired and significant works of Raphael.