Showing posts with label 1472. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1472. Show all posts

25 April 2018

Leon Battista Alberti - Renaissance polymath

Architect with multiple artistic talents

Leon Battista Alberti contributed to many aspects of Renaissance cultural development
Leon Battista Alberti contributed to many aspects
of Renaissance cultural development
The polymath Leon Battista Alberti, who was one of the 15th century’s most significant architects but possessed an intellect that was much more wide ranging, died on this day in 1472 in Rome.

In his 68 years, Alberti became well known for his work on palaces and churches in Florence, Rimini and Mantua in particular, but he also made major contributions to the study of mathematics, astronomy, language and cryptography, wrote poetry in Latin and works of philosophy and was ordained as a priest.

He was one of those multi-talented figures of his era, along with Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and, a little later, Galileo Galilei, for whom the description Renaissance Man was coined.

Alberti was born in Genoa in 1404, although his family were wealthy Florentine bankers. It just happened that at the time of his birth his father, Lorenzo, was in exile, having been expelled by the powerful Albizzi family.  Leon and his brother, Carlo, were born out of wedlock, the product of their father’s relationship with a Bolognese widow, but as Lorenzo’s only offspring they were given a privileged upbringing.

Lorenzo would be allowed to return to Florence in 1428, by which time Leon - at the time known simply as Battista - had been educated in Padua, Venice and Bologna before taking holy orders in Rome.

The facade of the church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence was designed by Alberti
The facade of the church of Santa Maria Novella in
Florence was designed by Alberti
His great intellect soon became apparent. As a young man at school, he had written a comedy in Latin that for a while was taken to be the lost work of a Roman playwright. In 1435 he began his famous work Della pittura (On pictures), a groundbreaking study in which he analysed the nature of painting and explored the elements of perspective, composition and colour.

His first major architectural commission was for the facade of the Rucellai Palace in Florence in 1446, followed in 1450 by a commission to transform the Gothic church of San Francesco in Rimini into a memorial chapel, which became known as the Tempio Malatestiano.

In Florence, he famously designed the upper parts of the white marble facade for the Dominican church of Santa Maria Novella.

He is also credited with the Piazza Pio II, and its surrounding buildings, in the Tuscan village of Pienza, and both the church of San Sebastiano and the Basilica of Sant’Andrea in Mantua.

A page from Alberti's Della pittura shows his grasp of perspective and his ideas for how to use it in paintings
A page from Alberti's Della pittura shows his grasp
of perspective and his ideas for how to use it in paintings
In 1452, Alberti completed De re aedificatoria, a treatise on architecture, using as its basis the work of Vitruvius and influenced by the archaeological remains of Rome that had fascinated him while he was studying for the priesthood.

In the field of philosophy, Alberti’s treatise Della famiglia established his reputation as an ethical thinker. He wrote the text in accessible language, rather than Latin. Based largely on the classical works of Cicero and Seneca, and addressed the day-to-day concerns of a bourgeois society, tackling such topics as the fickleness of fortune, meeting adversity and prosperity, husbandry, friendship and family, education and obligation to the common good.

Alberti’s important contribution to cryptography came with his invention of the first polyalphabetic cipher, which became known as the Alberti cipher, and his Cipher Disk, which consisted of two concentric disks, the outer one carrying capital letters and numbers, the inner one lower case letters, attached by a common pin.

Although clearly he made a scholarly contribution to the understanding of art, he produced very few paintings or sculptures in his own right. Giorgio Vasari, the artist whose Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects is considered the first history of art, described Alberti as an artist who “concentrated on writing rather than applied work”.

The Basilica of Sant'Andrea in Mantua
The Basilica of Sant'Andrea in Mantua
Travel tip:

The Basilica of Sant'Andrea, which looms over the Piazza Mantegna in Mantua, is considered one of the major works of 15th-century Renaissance architecture in Northern Italy. Commissioned by Ludovico III Gonzaga, the church was begun in 1472 according to designs by Alberti on the site of a Benedictine monastery. Although it was 328 years before it was finished, with changes that altered Alberti's design, the church is still considered to be one of Alberti's most complete works.

The hill town of Pienza is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
The hill town of Pienza is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Travel tip:

Pienza, a town in the province of Siena between Montepulciano and Montalcino, is described as the "touchstone of Renaissance urbanism." The whole of the centre was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. The trapezoidal Piazza Pio II is defined by four buildings, the Palazzo Piccolomini, the Duomo, the Palazzo Vescovile and the Palazzo Comunale.

More reading:

The unparalleled genius of Leonardo da Vinci

La Pietà - Michelangelo's masterpiece

Brunelleschi and the incredible dome of Florence's Duomo

Also on this day:

The Festa della Liberazione

1973: The death of World War One flying ace Ferruccio Ranza


24 November 2017

Pietro Torrigiano – sculptor

Achievements overshadowed by assault on Michelangelo

Pietro Torrigiano was born in Florence in 1472
Pietro Torrigiano was born in Florence in 1472
Pietro Torrigiano, the sculptor credited with introducing Renaissance art to England in the early years of the 16th century but who is best remembered for breaking the nose of Michelangelo in a fight, was born on this day in 1472 in Florence.

The incident with the man who would become the greatest artist of their generation came when both were teenagers, studying in Florence under the patronage of Lorenzo de’ Medici.

Torrigiano was older than Michelangelo by two and a half years and confessed some years later that he found his young rival to be somewhat irritating, especially since it was his habit to peer over the shoulders of his fellow students and make disparaging comments about the quality of their work.

On the occasion they clashed, when Michelangelo was said to be about 15, he was with Torrigiano and some others in the church of Santa Maria del Carmine, studying frescoes by Masaccio.  Looking at a sketch Torrigiano was making, the younger boy made some slighting remark and Torrigiano lashed out.

He caught him such a blow that Michelangelo, who was knocked out cold at the time, suffered a broken nose and a disfigurement he would carry for life.

Torrigiano's tomb of Henry VII in Westminster Abbey
Torrigiano's tomb of Henry VII in Westminster Abbey
Torrigiano knew he would be in trouble and when word reached him that Lorenzo de’ Medici was incensed by the incident he fled Florence for Rome.

He would not return to the Tuscan city until more than a quarter of a century had passed, by which time Michelangelo was famous, the creator of masterpieces of sculpture such as his Pietà and David, and the wonderful frescoes that adorned the Sistine Chapel.

In conversation with Benvenuto Cellini, a young sculptor he was trying to recruit as an assistant, Torrigiano confessed to having been the man responsible for Michelangelo’s crooked nose, explaining that he was regularly annoyed by Michelangelo’s sniping comments but on this occasion had let his temper get the better of him.

He is said to have told Cellini: “I got more angry than usual, and clenching my fist, gave him such a blow on the nose that I felt bone and cartilage go down like biscuit beneath my knuckles; and this mark of mine he will carry with him to the grave.”

At the time it happened, though, Torrigiano made no such confession.  To escape the Medici wrath, he went to Rome, where he worked briefly with Pinturicchio, but soon put his artistic ambitions to one side and essentially went on the run.

Torrigiano's extraordinarily lifelike sculpture of Henry VII in terracotta
Torrigiano's extraordinarily lifelike sculpture
of Henry VII in terracotta
A bullish man and something of a braggart, he made a living for a while as a professional soldier, moving from one state to another. 

He is thought to have been invited to England by Henry VIII, who was looking for a court artist shortly after the death of his father, Henry VII.

Torrigiano created sculptures in terracotta of Henry VII, Henry VIII and John Fisher, the Roman Catholic bishop that Henry VIII would ultimately have killed.  He is also thought to have made an extremely lifelike funeral effigy of Henry VII.

Henry VIII ultimately commissioned Torrigiano to created the magnificent tomb of his father and his queen that can still be admired in the Henry VII Lady Chapel in Westminster Abbey.  When he met Cellini in Florence in about 1518, he was trying to recruit young artists to work with him in England on other commissions in the Abbey.

Cellini, horrified at his confession, refused to take up his offer and Torrigiano left Italy again, never to return.

He spent the last few years of his life in Sevilla in Spain, where the Museum of Fine Arts houses his sculpture of Saint Jerome (Hieronymus), which he finished in 1525.

Still inclined to outbursts of violent temper, he became well known to the authorities and was often in trouble.  In fact, he died in prison in 1528 at the age of 55.

Inside the church of Santa Maria del Carmine
Inside the church of Santa Maria del Carmine 
Travel tip:

The church of Santa Maria del Carmine, of the Carmelite Order, is in the Oltrarno area of Florence. The Renaissance frescoes by Masaccio and Masolino di Panicale can be found in the Brancacci Chapel. The church was built in 1268, enlarged in 1328 and 1464 and renovated in Baroque style in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Part of Pinturicchio's fresco cycle at the Borgia Apartments
Part of Pinturicchio's fresco cycle at the Borgia Apartments
Travel tip:

During his brief time in Rome, Torrigiano worked with Pinturicchio – real name Bernardino di Betto – on decorating the Borgia Apartments, a suite of rooms in the Apostolic Palace adapted for personal use by Pope Alexander VI (Rodrigo de Borgia), with paintings and frescoes.  After Rodrigo’s death in 1503 the rooms remained little used for centuries but are now considered part of the Vatican Library.

28 March 2017

Fra Bartolommeo - Renaissance great

Friar rated equal of Michelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo

Bartolommeo's God the Father with SS Catherine of Siena and Mary Magdalene can be seen at Villa Guinigi in Lucca
Bartolommeo's God the Father with SS
Catherine of Siena and Mary Magdalene

can be seen at Villa Guinigi in Lucca
Fra Bartolommeo, the Renaissance artist recognised as one of the greatest religious painters, was born on this day in 1472 in Savignano di Vaiano, in Tuscany.

Also known as Baccio della Porta, a nickname he acquired because when he lived in Florence his lodgings were near what is now the Porta Romana, Bartolommeo created works that chart the development of artistic styles and fashion in Florence, from the earthly realism of the 15th century to the grandeur of High Renaissance in the 16th century.

His most famous works include Annunciation, Vision of St Bernard, Madonna and Child with Saints, the Holy Family, the Mystic Marriage of St Catherine, God the Father with SS Catherine of Siena and Mary Magdalene and Madonna della Misericordia.

Bartolommeo always prepared for any painting by making sketches, more than 1,000 in total over the years he was active.  Around 500 of them were discovered at the convent of St Catherine of Siena in Florence in 1722, where nuns were unaware of their significance.

Vision of St Bernard with SS Benedict and John the Evangelist, housed in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence
Vision of St Bernard with SS Benedict and John the
, housed in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence
He is also remembered for his striking profile portrait of Fra Girolamo Savonarola, the fanatical priest under whose influence he came in the 1490s.  He came to believe the message that Savonarola preached, that much of the art and literature of the Renaissance was sinful and that the sole purpose of painting should be to illustrate the lessons of the bible.

Consequently, he threw many of his own early paintings, particularly those which contained nudity or other sensual images, on Savonarola's famous bonfires.  When Savonarola was arrested, hung and burned at the stake in 1498, Bartolommeo gave up painting and entered the friary of San Domenico in Prato as a novice.

He entered the convent of San Marco in Florence in 1500 and was persuaded to return to painting in 1504 when his superior asked him to do so for the benefit of the order, who sold artworks to raise money.  He became head of the monastery workshop, a position occupied some 50 years earlier by another great Renaissance artist, Fra Angelico.

Before taking orders, Bartolommeo, the son of a mule driver, had been an apprentice in the Florence workshop of Cosimo Rosselli.  He set up a studio with another Florentine painter, Mariotto Albertinelli and soon came to be considered one of the greatest talents of his generation, his works standing comparison with those of Michelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci.

Fra Bartolommeo's portrait of Fra Girolamo Savonarola is in the San Marco museum
Fra Bartolommeo's portrait of Fra Girolamo
Savonarola is in the San Marco museum
Savonarola's influence changed the direction of Bartolommeo's career. If he had not entered Holy Orders, it is likely he would have become an even more famous name.  Where Raphael and Michelangelo went to Rome to work at the Vatican, he stayed behind in Florence.

After resuming his career he nonetheless made an indelible mark on the history of art.  Following the completion of his Vision of St. Bernard in 1507 for a chapel in the Badia Fiorentina, he befriended Raphael when the younger artist visited Florence and they were said to have influenced each other.  When Bartolommeo eventually did travel to Rome in 1513, Raphael completed two unfinished pictures in Florence.

In the meantime, Bartolommeo had spent time in Venice, where he painted a Holy Father, St. Mary Magdalene and St. Catherine of Siena for the Dominicans of San Pietro Martire in Murano. As the Dominicans failed to pay for the work, he took it back to Lucca, where it can be seen now.

Also in Lucca, he painted an altarpiece Madonna and Child with Saints for the local cathedral and was then commissioned to paint an altarpiece for the Sala del Consiglio of Florence, now in the Museum of San Marco.

In Rome, he painted a Peter and Paul, now in the Pinacoteca Vaticana, returning to Florence to execute his St. Mark Evangelist for the Palazzo Pitti in Florence and the frescoes in the Dominican convent of Pian di Mugnone, near Fiesole, just outside Florence. His last work is fresco of Noli me tangere also in Pian di Mugnone.

Fra Bartolommeo died in 1517 at the age of 44. The painter and art historian Giorgio Vasari recorded that he suffered a “violent fever” after “having eaten some figs.” But it is thought more likely that he died of malaria.

The Palazzo Pretorio in Prato
The Palazzo Pretorio in Prato
Travel tip:

The city of Prato is just half an hour from Florence yet is almost Tuscany's forgotten gem.  It has a commercial heritage founded on the textile industry and its growth in the 19th century earned it the nickname the "Manchester of Tuscany". Prato is the home of the Datini archives, a significant collection of late medieval documents concerning economic and trade history, produced between 1363 and 1410, yet also has many artistic treasures, including frescoes by Filippo Lippi, Paolo Uccello and Agnolo Gaddi inside its Duomo and the external pulpit by Michelozzo and Donatello. The Palazzo Pretorio is a building of great beauty, situated in the pretty Piazza del Comune, and there are the ruins of the castle built for the medieval emperor and King of Sicily Frederick II.

Check TripAdvisor's guide to Prato hotels

The Church of San Marco in Florence
The Church of San Marco in Florence
Travel tip:

The San Marco religious complex in Florence comprises a church and a convent. During the 15th century, the convent was home to both the painter Fra Angelico as well as the preacher Savonarola.  The convent was stripped from the Dominicans in 1808, during the Napoleonic Wars, and again in 1866, when it became a possession of the state.  Until recently, it still housed a community of Dominican friars, but is now home to the Museo Nazionale di San Marco, where Fra Bartolommeo's portrait of Savonarola is on display.  Also housed at the convent is a famous collection of manuscripts in a library built by Michelozzo.

More reading:

What made Michelangelo the greatest of all the great artists

The precocious genius of Raphael

Artist and inventor - the extraordinary talents of Leonardo da Vinci

Also on this day:

(Picture credits: Palazzo Pretorio by Massimilianogalardi; Church of San Marco by Sailko; both via Wikimedia Commons)


17 January 2016

Guidobaldo I – Duke of Urbino

Military leader headed a cultured court

Guidobaldo da Montefeltro, who was to become Duke of Urbino, was born on this day in Gubbio in 1472. 

He succeeded his father, Federico da Montefeltro, as Duke of Urbino in 1482.
The portrait by Raphael is housed at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence
Raphael's portrait of Guidobaldo da
Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino, can be
found at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence

Guidobaldo married Elisabetta Gonzaga, the sister of Francesco II Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantua, but they never had any children.

His court at Urbino was one of the most refined and elegant in Italy where literary men were known to congregate.

The writer Baldassare Castiglione painted an idyllic picture of it in his Book of the Courtier.

Castiglione was related on his mother’s side to the Gonzaga family of Mantua and represented them diplomatically.

As a result he met Guidobaldo, Duke of Urbino, and later took up residence in his court among the many distinguished guests.

During this time Castiglione also became a friend of the painter, Raphael, who painted a portrait of him that is now in The Louvre in Paris.

Castiglione’s book, Il Libro del Cortegiano, was written in the form of an imaginary dialogue between Elisabetta Gonzaga and her guests and provides a unique picture of court life at the time. It was published in 1528, the year before he died.

Guidobaldo fought as a captain on behalf of Pope Alexander VI alongside the French troops during the invasion of southern Italy by King Charles VIII of France.

As a condottiero (mercenary military leader) he was later hired by the Republic of Venice to fight against Charles. At one point he was taken prisoner but was freed after a few months.

He had to flee from Urbino in 1502 to escape the armies of Cesare Borgia, the Pope’s son, but was able to return in 1503 after the Pope died.

Guidobaldo adopted as his heir, Francesco Maria della Rovere, his sister’s child. In 1508 Guidobaldo died, aged 36, and was succeeded as Duke of Urbino by his nephew.

Travel tip:

Urbino, which is inland from the Adriatic resort of Pesaro, in the Marche region, is a majestic city on a steep hill.  It was once a centre of learning and culture, known not just in Italy but also in its glory days throughout Europe. The Ducal Palace, a Renaissance building made famous by The Book of the Courtier, is one of the most important monuments in Italy and is listed as a Unesco World Heritage site.

The Palazzo Ducale in Gubbio
Photo: Sailko (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Travel tip:

Gubbio, where Guidobaldo was born, is a small town in Perugia in the region of Umbria that still has many of its medieval buildings. It became absorbed into the territory of the Montefeltro family in the 15th century and Federico Montefeltro, Guidobaldo’s father, had the ancient Palazzo Ducale rebuilt in a similar style to his palace in Urbino.