Raphael’s birthplace was a tiny, hilltop fastness remote from the main Italian centres of culture and power. Nevertheless, Urbino was famous for the sophistication of its court, humanist learning and enlightened artistic patronage. The ducal palace remains the most satisfyingly graceful of all Renaissance secular buildings.
The son of a painter employed at court, Raphael would have imbibed the beauty of the environment and the basics of his trade from an early age. He stayed in Le Marche and Umbria for a few years as an independent master before moving to Florence. From 1508 he lived in Rome where he was acclaimed as the greatest painter since ancient times even before his untimely death in 1520. He also practised as an architect and was renowned as an antiquarian.
This tour celebrates Raphael’s life and work as Italy commemorates him five centuries after his death. By following in his footsteps, and seeing the same streets and landscapes he painted, one can gain an insight into the artistic development of this most impressionable, adaptable and experimental of artists. His art will be placed in the context of the culture of the time, while analysis of design and explication of narrative will bring it to life. The immensity of his talent and his soaring intellect will become evident.
Urbino. Fly at c. 8.45am (British Airways) from London Heathrow to Bologna. Begin the tour in Urbino, the small city state where Raphael was born, and one of the loveliest hill towns in Italy. Visit the so-called House of Raphael this evening. Overnight Urbino.
Urbino, Florence. The Palazzo Ducale, a masterpiece of architecture built by the Montefeltro dynasty over several decades, is perhaps the finest secular building of its period. Raphael was among those who passed through its exquisite halls, and the fine art gallery here holds his portrait of a young woman, La Muta. See also the beautiful studiolo of Federico da Montefeltro and the rest of the excellent picture collection. After lunch, travel by coach to Florence. First of two nights in Florence.
Florence. Visit the redoubtable Palazzo Pitti, which houses several museums including the Galleria Palatina, outstanding particularly for High Renaissance and Baroque paintings; see a selection of Raphael’s portraits here, including Woman with a Veil. In the afternoon, visit the Uffizi for several of his major works, including Madonna of the Goldfinch and a self-portrait. The Uffizi also holds masterpieces by every major Florentine painter, as well as international Old Masters.
Florence, Rome. Continue by high-speed rail to Rome (first class) arriving by lunchtime. The Scuderie del Quirinale palace hosts a special exhibition to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Raphael’s death, with works from major collections worldwide. The Palazzo Barberini is a great palace which became Rome’s National Gallery, with paintings by most of the Italian Old Masters, including Raphael’s La Fornarina. First of three nights in Rome.
Rome. Some free time. In the afternoon, the double portrait of Andrea Navagero and Agostino Beazzano is housed in the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, a famous picture collection. In the evening there is a private visit to the Vatican to see the most precious assemblage of painting in the western world; in the Pinocateca and adjacent rooms are many of Raphael’s paintings and frescoes, including the Transfiguration, his last great altarpiece. See also Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel.
Rome. The delightful Villa La Farnesina has frescoes by Raphael, and Palazzo Corsini holds a copy of La Fornarina. After lunch, visit S. Agostino and S. Maria del Popolo where the Chigi Chapel and mosaics were designed by Raphael. S. Maria della Pace contains his Sibyls fresco.
Rome. The Galleria Borghese is Rome’s finest collection of painting and sculpture and has works by Raphael. Before departure, visit the Pantheon, the best preserved of Roman monuments (whose span was only twice exceeded in the next 1,750 years), and home to Raphael’s tomb. Fly from Rome Fiumicino, arriving at London Heathrow at c. 7.00pm.
Price, per person
Two sharing: £3,240 or £2,960 without flights. Single occupancy: £3,660 or £3,380 without flights.
Flights (Euro Traveller) with British Airways (Airbus 320); travel by rail (first class) between Florence and Rome; travel by private coach or minibus; hotel accommodation as described below; breakfasts; 1 lunch and 4 dinners with wine, water, coffee; all admissions; all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturer.
Hotel San Domenico, Urbino: a 4-star hotel converted from a monastery building and the best to be found right in the centre of the city. Hotel Santa Maria Novella, Florence: a delightful 4-star hotel in a very central location. Grand Hotel de la Minerve, Rome: 5-star hotel in a former 17th-century palace overlooking the Pantheon. Single rooms throughout are doubles for sole use.
The tour involves a lot of walking in town centres where coach access is restricted, and a lot of standing in museums and churches. Uneven ground and irregular paving are standard. A good level of fitness is essential. Unless you enjoy entirely unimpaired mobility, cope with everyday walking and stair-climbing without difficulty and are reliably sure-footed, this tour is not for you. Some days involve a lot of driving – average distance by coach per day: 39 miles.
Between 10 and 22 participants.
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Before booking, please refer to the FCO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting: www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.