Raphael: A Portrait review – lengthy but illuminating study of Renaissance master

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Focus / Culture 64 Views comments

Howard Burton eschews flashy presentation for a copiously detailed study of the artist’s life and times

Here is a mammoth 148-minute documentary about the Renaissance painter Raphael, which in its sheer length and detail is an impressive achievement in itself by its writer and director Howard Burton, whose calm, scholastic tone is a continuous presence on the voiceover. Burton, a theoretical physicist, co-founded the Ideas Roadshow platform with his wife Irena in 2012, and this is their first narrative film: a detailed disquisition on Raphael’s life and times that, while in some ways resembling an extended evening-class lecture with nifty PowerPoint graphics, is clear and informative enough to hold the attention – though perhaps you might need a break every now and then.

Burton is not an art historian by training (though does hold an MA in philosophy) and while you might class him as a knowledgable amateur he commits fully, amassing as much as seems humanly possible from the raft of textbooks he cites in the film’s credits. Burton splits things up into five lengthy sections – largely chronological – and isn’t afraid to go into granular detail at any stage of proceedings, drilling down into the exact architecture of the papal apartments Raphael was asked to decorate, for example, or examining in near-forensic detail the precise contributions of Raphael’s workshop collaborators to various paintings. The first 20 minutes, in which Burton offers a detailed, homework-style outline of the bafflingly complicated political and military context of Renaissance Italy, is hardly the most pulse-pounding start.

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