The love story of Raffaello and Fornarina

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Today we will talk about two interesting characters from this exhibition, characters that will inspire many painters, poets and musicians in the coming centuries as a result of their tumultuous love affair.

They are Raffaello Santi and his girlfriend Margarita Luti, known by the nickname La Fornarina. According to some stories, which may be exaggerated or fabricated, Raffaello fell in love with her when he saw her washing her feet in the Tiber River, in the garden next to her house in Trastevere. She was the daughter of a bakery owner, which later earned her the nickname La Fornarina – baker.

Raffaello immediately hired her as his model and soon their relationship will turn into something bigger than a casual fling. They are both in love with each other and Raffaello spends most of his time with her, so they become inseparable.

He paints her tirelessly and is in constant longing for her tenderness, and when his relatives from Urbino or the benefactors from Rome would find a girl “equal to him”, he would thank them and politely refuse or procrastinate with the explanation that a painter must primarily devote himself to his art.

However, he could not refuse the powerful Cardinal Bibbiena who insisted on marrying him to his niece Maria Dovizi, a marriage contract was made, but Raffaello constantly postponed the wedding, not wanting to separate from his beloved.

At that time he was painting the frescoes in Villa Farnesina for the banker Agostino Chigi, who worried about Raffaello’s constant absences using various flimsy excuses in order to meet with Margarita, decided to accommodate her in his villa in order for the frescoes to be completed on time.

His love for this girl will be expressed in her beautiful portrait where she is presented with bare breasts and with her finger pointing to her left arm which has an armband with his signature – Rafael Urbinas. He had previously painted her on the portrait “Woman with a Veil”, and it is interesting to mention that in Rome at that time veils were worn only by married women, so some historians speculate that they may have been secretly married.

This great love unfortunately ends with his untimely death. Fornarina was heartbroken, desperate and crying she flung herself upon his coffin. Four months after his death she became a nun in the Convent of Santa Apollonia.

Raffaello is buried in the Pantheon next to his fiancée Maria, who died at the age of eighteen, several months before his death.

This is a myth about the artist and his muse-lover, which also directly applies to other artists from whatever period they belong to.

Their love will be a source of inspiration for various artists such as Aleardo Aleardi who wrote the idyll Raffaello e la Fornarina, composer Giovanni Sebastiano who composed an opera in four acts, Dominique Ingres will immortalize them on the canvas “Raffaello and La Fornarina”, Pablo Picasso will make twelve etchings – “Raffaello’s secret loves with  Fornarina”, as well as the famous contemporary poet Rafael Alberti with as many as six poems.