Raphael, Transfiguration, and Hasan from 3PP

Raphael (with Gulio Romano), "Transfiguration of Christ," 1516-1520. Oil on wood, 405 cm × 278 cm (159 in × 109 in). Vatican Collections

This afternoon I have had a line related to Vasari’s Lives of the Artists  go through my head repeatedly. This line comes from part of the biography on the Renaissance artist Raphael, in conjunction with Raphael’s painting The Transfiguration of Christ painting (see above):

“For Giulio Cardinal de’ Medici he painted the Transfiguration of Christ, and brought it to the greatest perfection, working at it continually with his own hand, and it seemed as if he put forth all his strength to show the power of art in the face of Christ; and having finished it, as the last thing he had to do, he laid aside his pencil, death overtaking him.”1

Despite what one may believe in relation to divine callings or destiny, I think we can all agree that Raphael’s early death, at the age of thirty-seven, was premature in relation to his talent and potential. The same should be said of my amazing friend, Hasan Niyazi of Three Pipe Problem, who just passed away unexpectedly. Hasan was passionate about Raphael, and committed himself to creating an open-access database, Open Raphael Online. This project was an enormous undertaking, and Hasan “work[ed] at it continually with his own hand,” much like how Raphael labored with his painting. Raphael did not live to see the completion of The Transfiguration of Christ, similar to how Hasan passed away before his own project was finished. Hasan died when he was barely thirty-eight years old; Raphael died when he was thirty-seven.

I think that theme of this painting is fitting as a tribute for Hasan in many ways, given that “transfigure” means to transform into something that is more beautiful and elevated. In this painting, Christ is transfigured into a beautiful, shining, divine figure, right in front of his apostles. Compositionally, the Transfiguration scene appears above an additional scene in the lower foreground, in which the apostles try to cast devils out of a boy (who medical experts have identified as one coming out of an epileptic seizure).2 In line with the themes of this painting, Hasan strove to elevate his own body and mind into something continually more refined and perfected. He was passionate about learning and had an excellent mind. Hasan was also committed to exercise and running, his work in the health profession, and his stalwart dedication in the art history online community. Although he was not formally trained in art history, Hasan applied his medical and scientific knowledge to learn about and analyze paintings from a technical perspective. He loved beautiful things, and continually sought to fill his mind and eyes with beautiful art, poetry, music, and ideas. He was very intelligent and talented in so many ways.

I am particularly grateful that Hasan sought to connect with art history individuals on a personal level. In many respects, he helped to hold the online art history community together. When I last wrote Hasan an email, I was sitting in an airport, waiting to board an international flight. I had just finished reading a passage on Raphael in Balzac’s The Unknown Masterpiece, and I wanted to share it with Hasan right away. I quickly typed it into my phone before boarding my plane:

“[Raphael’s] great superiority is due to the instinctive sense which, in him, seems to desire to shatter form. Form is, in his figures, what it is in ourselves, an interpreter for the communication of ideas and sensations, an exhaustless source of poetic inspiration. Every figure is a world in itself, a portrait of which the original appeared in a sublime vision, in a flood of light, pointed to by an inward voice, laid bare by a divine finger which showed what the sources of expression had been in the whole past life of the subject.”3

Like Raphael, Hasan was also a source of inspiration and beautiful ideas. In a way, I think his dedication to digital humanities and accessible information across the globe has parallels with Raphael’s “desire to shatter form.” Hasan’s sincerity, kindness and thoughtfulness were quite unmatched. Unsurprisingly, he made friends all over the world. I feel very lucky to have known him. His death is truly a great loss to all of us.

1 Emma Louise Seeley, Stories of the Italian Artists from Vasari (New York: Scribner and Welford, 1885), p. 171. Available online HERE.

2 Gordon Bendersky, “Remarks on Raphael’s ‘Transfiguration,'” in Source: Notes on the History of Art 14 (no. 4), Summer 1995: 23.

3 Honoré Balzac, The Unknown Masterpiece, 1831. Available online HERE.

  • Jax Roe (aka The Renaissance Girl) says:

    This is the Hasan I knew too… Whether copying me on some Medici inventory he knew I would appreciate, or some personal shared joke about an object or painting we both loved, he was an inspiration and joy. I’m devastated that there can be no more 5am tweets when our timeline would joyously cross xxx

  • heidenkind says:

    Wow, I had no idea. Hasan will be missed!

  • Nancy Ewart says:

    This is shocking news. I think that one of the last things I remember Hasan posting were photos of his new apartment. I think he also tweeted a conference on drawing. I will miss him so much. His voice was a refreshing one on twitter which is so often shallow and trivial. I had hoped to meet him some day and now I never will. Rest in peace my learned friend. You will be sorely missed.

  • Nancy Ewart says:

    If I may ask, how did he die?

  • Jenna says:

    What a lovely tribute to Hasan. He would have loved the way you connected aspects of his life and work to the composition in this piece. I feel honored to have had Hasan as a friend and colleague. He will be greatly missed by so many.

  • Alexandra says:

    Oh Monica, this is truly a fitting tribute, and beautifully put. “He made friends all over the world”. So true. His death is bringing us all together in the way that we should have done before. So sad.

  • I’m shocked and very surprised to hear this dreadful news. We’d lost touch but had re-connected in the summer. The debate about blogging he’s started was looking really set to take off. How sad that he can no longer be part of it.

    Lovely tribute



  • A touching tribute to a gentlemen who’s kind gentleness and thoughtful research was inspiring. Truly saddened.

  • Monica,

    What a thoughtful, heartfelt tribute, and how brilliant to incorporate Hasan’s beloved Raphael. His commitment to sharing art history with the general public was – and will remain- beneficial to all of us.

  • Christina says:

    I’m really in shock! What a tragic loss. I enjoyed Hasan’s scholarship, active engagement and his efforts to foster dialogue on the role of art history and its scholarship in a digital world.

    Thank you for this lovely image and memorial.

  • Glennis says:

    This is a beautiful tribute. I am just overcome by sorrow. He touched me so much, reaching out and connecting on a personal level whenever I made even a whimper online about art. I really couldn’t keep up with him, but was so glad he was there in the centre of such an amazing renegade art history community. It was something I was always grateful to return to.

  • Metin says:

    Hi Nancy and Alberti,

    I am Hasan’s brother in law, and speak for his family when I confirm that his death was epilepsy related. Hasan was a man of incredible energy, who loved his mother and sister; his only remaining family members, often showering them in affection and gifts.

    He had undergone a dramatic transformation in the last 12 months, getting himself into very good physical shape, dating women that had nothing but admiration for him, and he for them, and spending time setting the foundations for his new life.

    I will miss you incredibly my brother, you’re with your dad, smiling down on your mum and sis…

  • Hasret says:


    Your tribute has brought me to tears. I am Hasan’s younger sister, Hasret. My family is completely devastated and struggling with this tremendous loss. You describe him so well. I know that my mother would love to read this. I also know that my young son would love to read this one day when he is old enough, to know more about the uncle he met but never got the chance to know.

    He was kind and loving to everyone he met, and I am honoured to be his sister.

    I love you and miss you, Abi (Turkish word for older brother).

  • Wonderful tribute.

    Still missing him. He was so prolific. Knowing he was out there was something I found influenced my reading and my writing. I’d read something or write something and the next think I know I would be imagining some dialogue with Hassan. Communicating with him left me with a sense that a new kind of community was emerging around art history studies. We were just beginning to exchange notes. I imagined the further e-mail exchanges and lately I was imagining some kind of meetup in Florence. My heartfelt condolences to his family and close friends.

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This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.