- The Cambridge Companion to Raphael
In Raphael's lifetime and in the following centuries, the critical histories of the artist and of his art have defined and reflected the presumed ideals of the visual arts in the Renaissance. According to these accounts, the courtly grace and beauty of his pictorial compositions, distilled through an interest in ancient visual culture, embodied the paradigm, if not the pinnacle, of Renaissance art. As scholars within the past few decades have begun to question and complicate these ideals and their supportive rhetorical framework, their picture of Raphael and his work has become correspondingly richer and more complex. The recent posthumous publication of John Shearman's impressive collection of early modern sources involving Raphael and the 2004-05 exhibition at The National Gallery, London, have furnished more material for future interpretive enterprises. The Cambridge Companion to Raphael, edited by Marcia Hall, contributes to these divergent efforts by collecting together a varied group of generally thoughtful essays that turn away from formal issues of Raphael's style and consider the practical and social contexts of his work.
Grouped together according to four thematic divisions, the essays loosely follow the chronology of Raphael's career. The first two parts include essays that address the commissions and workshop practice before and after Raphael's arrival in Rome. (The one exception is Ingrid Rowland's essay on the history and iconography of frescoes in the Stanze.) Following the approach of recent patronage studies, these chapters consider Raphael's agency in his patronal relationships (Wood, Reiss) and his creativity in responding to their self-image (Pellecchia, Woods-Marsden). The essays in parts 3 and 4 treat the afterlife of Raphael's work and workshop, both immediately in prints and drawings (Emison) and the retrospective response in later painting outside of Italy (Goldstein, Perini) and in modern criticism (Wolk-Simon, Hall). All of the essays attempt to review major scholarship on their topics and to summarize the historical circumstances and [End Page 163] intellectual milieu, making them accessible and helpful to the student approaching Raphael for the first time or returning to the artist's work after some time. Readers more familiar with the subject will find new interpretive directions in the essays that consider the contexts of style, especially in Emison's discussion of prints associated with Raphael and Marcantonio Raimondi and in Hall's reframing of mannerism within a broader decorum of style.
This qualitative variation in the essays reflects the varied ambitions of the Cambridge Companion to the Visual Arts series, which this volume brings to a close. Initiated after the well-respected Cambridge Companion series for other disciplines in the humanities, the series in art history intended to offer to undergraduate and graduate students a comprehensive and contextual study of artists in Western culture, including Titian, Vermeer, Delacroix, and Monet. The closely related Cambridge series Masterpieces of Western Painting sought to accomplish the same goal by publishing new essays and reprinting classic essays which were devoted to a single work of art. (Marcia Hall edited the volume on Raphael's School of Athens  and more recently a volume on Michelangelo's Last Judgment .)
Both of these series (and their termination) raise a question central to the practice of Renaissance art history: what is the future role and form of the monographic study? Many scholars welcomed its replacement a few decades ago by case studies, microhistories, and, more recently, by thematic considerations of a genre and a single artist's work. The move away from monographs reframed the history of Renaissance art as something more complex and contradictory than a history of self-sufficient geniuses. But these intellectual interests often conflict with the practical concerns of teaching and the difficulty in finding a variety of approaches to a single subject in a single text. One wonders how these practical demands — including the limited financial returns in academic publishing — will change the genre...