My Name is Raphael
By Irene Stellingwerff
Published by Comosavona s.r.l.
For ages 8-108
On a recent trip to Italy we chanced upon some beautiful books for children by Irene Stellingwerff. As I discovered later, she has authored more books of a similar nature, all dealing with Italian works of art, monuments and structures known the world over. Here I will tell you about My Name is Raphael which itself is a work of art and deals with one of the trinity of great masters - Raphaello Sanzio de Urbino or simply, Raphael. The ones about the other two - Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, perhaps on another day.
Raffaele is a twelve year-old who lives in modern Italy and is very good at drawing. This leads everyone at school to compare him with the Renaissance master Raphael and he hates it. Until one day..
The class has a ‘free period’ and the substitute teacher Signora Maria, a rather unusual lady, declares she will tell them about Raphael. There is something magical about her narration and children, noisy and boisterous a moment ago, listen entranced. Raffaele gets a strange feeling that he is traveling back in time and that he has landed in the workshop where his namesake is working. This is five hundred years ago and the artist Raphael is also about twelve years old.
The artist tells our friend that he is an apprentice and lives with his teacher Perugino, a highly-esteemed painter. Through their conversations, we learn about how works of art are created in the workshop - an entire team of apprentices and collaborators work together. The newest ones only get to clean the workshop and grind colours while the older ones paint robes and backgrounds. The maestro works on the face and hands. However even though Raphael is a newbie, he gets to do more important work because Perugino could see how bright he already was.
The bell rings and Signora Maria quickly ends the story, telling the class that Raphael went on to live up to his teacher’s expectations and become a great master. He won much fame and riches but unfortunately died prematurely at the age of 37.
Young Raffaele’s interest is piqued however and he desperately wants to learn more. He meets up Signora Maria after school and together they travel again, this time to Florence. They meet Raphael, now grown up and well-established as an artist of great talent. His work is in much demand by noblemen, papal courtiers and other important people including Agostini Chigi, the wealthiest man in Italy. We learn from their conversations that Raphael finds inspiration from other contemporary artists like da Vinci and Michelangelo, both of who are passing by with rolls of canvas as they are talking. Raphael then invites Raffaele to his mansion and shares many of his painting techniques with him.
Raphael goes on to talk about the fact that he is now been given the supreme recognition - he has been appointed the architect of the rebuilding of St.Peter’s Basilica and is in the process of making the plans. Also he has been made the person in charge of all the items excavated from the ruins of ancient Roman structures. He is a busy man and life is good. The reader is told many interesting bits about the artist and his works through his discussions with Raffaele.
The illustrations are also by Stellingwerff and she skillfully merges real photographs with drawings of the characters to narrate her story. There is a lot of information in the book and I cannot think of a more interesting way to deliver it to the reader - be it a budding art historian or her 'Raphael-challenged' parent!
Book Cover Image Courtesy here
Book Cover Image Courtesy here