George Clooney may fancy himself a dashing ladies’ man, but he’s got nothing on the Italian Renaissance master Raphael. Incredibly charming and good-looking by all accounts, Raphael was a perennial bachelor who never married in spite of outside pressure. Even though he was very publicly engaged to one woman, he followed his heart (and other body parts) by romancing and consorting with many other women. Many, MANY other women. The biographer Vasari described Raphael as “a very amorous person, delighting much in women and ever ready to serve them”. Or, in contemporary slang, we could say that Raphael was a “playa”
In 1514, Raphael became engaged to Maria Bibbiena, the niece of Cardinal Medici Bibbiena who was Raphael’s patron. The story goes that the reluctant Raphael had to be persuaded into the engagement, and that he eventually agreed simply to please his benefactor the Cardinal. But Raphael’s loveless engagement to Maria may have been the longest, most futile engagement in history. Raphael stalled and stalled, bedding other women for six long years, until Maria died in 1520, still unmarried. Way to dodge a bullet Raphael! Nice strategy. Keep delaying until the fiancé dies. That’s messed up.
The woman who apparently won the heart and passionate desires of the playboy artist was of far lower social stature than the cardinal’s niece. She was Margherita Luti, a baker’s daughter from Siena.
This is Raphael’s famous portrait of Margherita, and possibly his last painting, La Fornarina, which translates into “baker’s daughter” or “bakeress”:
Margherita’s seated pose in this painting is quite risqué, especially for the 16th century. Not only is she barely clothed, but notice that one hand is clasping her breast while the other is placed, um, between her legs. Damn, that almost makes ME blush! Her full, rounded belly and large dark eyes complete Raphael’s perception of his mistress – his lover and muse with whom he was thoroughly besotted. Rumor has it that Raphael and Margherita actually married in secret, but it’s just speculation. Like most romances of centuries past, the true details will never be known.
Raphael died on Good Friday at the young age of 37, and if Vasari is to be believed, the cause was a high fever he contracted after a night of exhausting, wild sex with Margherita. That’s a pretty sensational story, but hey, crazier things have happened. And if it is true, well that’s a hell of a way to go