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Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Bartolommeo Bandinelli - Renaissance sculptor

Career scarred by petty jealousies


Bartolommeo Bandinelli - a self-portrait
Bartolommeo Bandinelli - a self-portrait
The sculptor Bartolommeo Bandinelli, a contemporary and rival of Michelangelo and Benvenuto Cellini in Renaissance Italy, was born on this day in 1473 in Florence.

He left his mark on Florence in the shape of the monumental statue of Hercules and Cacus in the Piazza della Signoria and his statues of Adam and Eve, originally created for the Duomo but today housed in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello.

Also known as Baccio Bandinelli and Bartolommeo Brandini, he was skilled in small sculptures but became known and disliked for his antagonistic manner with other artists and his particular hatred of Michelangelo, of whom he was bitterly jealous.

Giorgio Vasari, the artist and sculptor who was the first to compile a written history of art and artists, and who was a student in Bandinelli’s workshop, recalled an occasion when Bandinelli was so enraged by the excitement that ensued when a Michelangelo drawing was uncovered in the Palazzo Vecchio that, as soon as an opportunity arose, he tore it up.

Where Michelangelo was revered for everything he did, Bandinelli’s critics said he lacked the skills required to tackle large sculptures.

Bandinelli's Hercules and Cacus
Bandinelli's Hercules and Cacus
This only drove him to want to prove them wrong, and to this end it is thought that he persuaded the ruling Medici family to give him the commission for the statue of Hercules and Cacus – originally intended for Michelangelo, who was busy working on the Medici Chapel.

Yet when the work was unveiled in 1534 it attracted ridicule, in particular from Cellini.   Where Michelangelo, whose David already stood in the Piazza, had a gift for imbuing his creations with a sense of realism and drama, Bandinelli’s figures - in the eyes of his critics at least – lacked character and authenticity.

Much more favourably received were his bronze copy of the ancient Greek statue Laocoon and his Sons, his tombs of the Medici popes Leo X and Clement VII in Rome and his Monument to Giovanni delle Bande Nere, the Medici condottiero (professional soldier).

Bandinelli was the son of a prominent Florentine goldsmith. As a boy, he was apprenticed under Giovanni Francesco Rustici, a sculptor friend of Leonardo da Vinci.

Later in his career, he was a leader in the group of Florentine Mannerists who were inspired by the revived interest in Donatello.

Some of his works in terracotta were hailed as masterpieces and some of his drawings have been difficult to establish as not being by Michelangelo.

Bandinelli's Pietà in the Basilica della Santissima Annunziata
Bandinelli's Pietà in the Basilica della Santissima Annunziata
Yet he continued to attract scorn whenever he took on a large project, his Pietà in the Basilica della Santissima Annunziata being another example.  Bandinelli began work on it only after he heard about Michelangelo’s similar commission in Rome.

It was completed in 1559 and again brought unfavourable comments from other artists, some of whom said that it lacked refinement, his figures appearing somewhat awkward and oddly positioned compared with the grace and beauty of Michelangelo’s work.

The other complaint against Bandinelli, voiced by Vasari, was that he accepted commissions too hastily and failed to complete many of them, although there are enough examples of his work in museums and galleries to refute that claim.

However, Vasari’s detailed Lives of the Artists also gives praise where it was due and acknowledges Bandinelli was a sculptor of merit, and in recent years his talent has been better appreciated, culminating in the first exhibition devoted to his work alone, in the Bargello museum in Florence.

Cellini's Perseus with the Head of Medusa
Cellini's Perseus with the Head of Medusa
Travel tip:

Florence’s Piazza della Signoria, situated right in the heart of the city, close to the Duomo and the Uffizi Gallery, is an open-air museum of Renaissance art, featuring a series of important sculptures, the most famous of which are Giambologna’s The Rape of the Sabine Women and his Equestrian Monument of Cosimo I, Cellini’s Perseus with the Head of Medusa (next to The Rape of the Sabine Women in the Loggia dei Lanzi), Bandinelli’s Hercules and Cacus, the Medici Lions by Fancelli and Vacca, The Fountain of Neptune by Bartolemeo Ammannati, copes of Donatello’s Judith and Holofernes and Il Marzocco (the Lion), and the copy of Michelangelo’s David, at the entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio.

The Bargello in Via del Proconsolo
The Bargello in Via del Proconsolo
Travel tip:

More Renaissance sculptures can be appreciated in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello - the Bargello National Museum - situated just a short distance from Piazza della Signoria in Via del Proconsolo, in a fortified 13th century building that was once a prison. The museum houses masterpieces by Michelangelo, Donatello, Cellini, Giambologna, Vincenzo Gemito, Jacopo Sansovino, Gianlorenzo Bernini and many works by the Della Robbia family.




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