Raphael and the Baker’s Daughter

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 😉

For more analysis and speculation of the Raphael/Margherita romance, check out this article from Slate. You can find another entertaining article from the BBC.

12 thoughts on “Raphael and the Baker’s Daughter

  1. Lori Gordon says:

    Claudia, it’s so fun how you’ve compared a modern movie star to a classical artist. How does Hollywood always manage to create a stunning allusion with the craziest of history’s characters? Honestly, I’m going to try to make this type of comparison more because it really makes you think hard about the personality of the artist, and then how does that personality transfer to the canvas.

    And I love that I just learned what the name of my favorite brand of shoes means in Italian (Fornarina) – the little baker girl! (kind of “huh?” to brand a pair of shoes “little baker girl”, but still a cute name). Great story, great post!

    • artmodel says:


      I like making comparisons to popular culture too. Glad you appreciate it so much. I find it helps me to understand historical figures better and clearer, keeps the past alive instead of old and dead, and reminds me that “personality” knows no distinctions when it comes to century or era. I’ve always believed that personality is responsible for almost everything.

      I’ve heard of Fornarina shoes. Yes, it’s a funny name for a shoe brand, but it is a pretty-sounding word so why not!

      Thanks Lori. Great to hear from you. Your blog is AWESOME by the way 🙂


  2. I’ve always thought of Raphael as one of these playboy artists who seduced all his models – sort of in the same vein as Diego Rivera. La Fornarina is one of my favorite paintings of his – all the more interesting because of your background info. Well done on another interesting post!

    • artmodel says:


      I always had a general perception of Rapahel as a ladies’ man from things I’ve read. But the more I read and research, the more it becomes clear what a hardcore playboy the guy was! He was handsome and charming and heterosexual, so there you have it. Raphael often gets credited with being one of the first artists to work from female models. Yeah, no shit! I wonder why 😆

      Thanks for your comments!


  3. Dave Rudin says:

    I was fortunate enough to see the original painting of “La Fornarina” when I was in Rome this past June. It’s in the Museo d’Arte Antica, located in the Palazzo Barberini. To see this painting alone is worth a visit to the museum, though it has many other fine works (including Carravaggio’s “Judith Beheading Holofernes.”)

    It’s interesting to compare this painting to Titian’s “Venus of Urbino” in the Uffizi in Florence. They are both very sensual images, but there’s something about La Fornarina’s smile and the look in her eyes that makes this a portrait of a real, unique individual. Titian’s painting seems to be more about the idea of sensuality rather than a portrait of an individual. (This is not in any way to denegrate the work by Titian. I think it’s the sexiest painting ever made!)

    A few other notes. While I was at the Bargello in Florence, I saw Verocchio’s bronze statue of a young (clothed) David. Verocchio was the teacher of Leonardo, and I heard a guide explain (in English) that many people believe that Da Vinci was the model for the statue. She said that many people don’t realize it, but Leonardo was also an extraordinarily good looking man.

    I also once heard that the baker’s daughter was refused entrance to the Pantheon in Rome to attend Raphael’s funeral.

    • artmodel says:

      Great stuff, Dave, thanks for sharing!

      You’re so lucky to have seen “La Fornarina” in person. Those eyes are quite mesmerizing, and I’m glad you mentioned the smile because it rivals the Mona Lisa in my opinion. I hope that’s not blasphemy 😆

      The Titian and La Fornaria have characteristics in common for sure, in particular the hand between the legs. (I’m blushing again!) But I think you got it right in that Raphael’s work communicates a personal relationship with the sitter. It’s more intimate than the Titian I think. But they’re both pretty sexy.

      I heard the same thing about the baker’s daughter and the funeral. I also read that she entered a convent after Raphael died. That must have been interesting!

      Really enjoyed your feedback, Dave. Thanks so much for commenting!


      • Dave Rudin says:

        You are welcome, Claudia. It’s nice to read things about great art written in normal English.

        A few more comments:

        1) The French artist Jean-August-Dominique Ingres made a painting in 1814 titled “Raphael and La Fornarini,” depicting the Raphael and the subject of the painting you’ve written about. It’s in the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard but I’m pretty sure I saw it in the Ingres show at the Met a few years back. You can see the work at: http://www.the-athenaeum.org/art/full.php?ID=26177

        2) The banner at the entrance to the Museo d’Arte Antica in Rome shows a detail of “La Fornarina.” Evidently, the museum people consider it the pearl of the collection. You can see a photo of it and read about it in my blog posting: http://figuresofgrace.blogspot.com/2009/06/when-in-rome.html

        Also in Rome, besides seeing the papal apartments Raphael painted at the Vatican (which I had seen before, 19 years ago), I finally got to see the rooms painted by Raphael at the Villa Farnesina. As far as I’m concerned, anything painted by Raphael is worth a visit!

        3) I’m a friend of Dave (the Beard) from Ohio.

  4. LaValle says:

    We’re writing about Margherita and Raphael this week at Fifty Two Pieces. La Valeta Raphael’s other portrait of his lover is currently on display here in Portland, Oregon.

    When you’re alone in the gallery with her, you can watch her breathe. She’s quite incredible.

    • artmodel says:


      I’m so glad you commented and informed me about your postings. Terrific work you’re doing. I’ll be checking in regularly. And how you described seeing La Valeta in the gallery is amazing. Gave me chills.

      Thanks for contributing!


  5. Jim in Alaska says:

    Very nce pick of a oic to post!

    Jim in Japan

  6. Jennifer says:

    A fascinating post and informative comments 🙂

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