Showing posts with label Piero della Francesca. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Piero della Francesca. Show all posts

7 October 2019

Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta - condottiero

Brutal tyrant or sensitive patron of the arts?

A portrait of Sigismondo by Piero della Francesca, painted in about 1451
A portrait of Sigismondo by Piero della
Francesca, painted in about 1451
One of the most daring military leaders in 15th century Italy, Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, died on this day in 1468 in Rimini.

He had been Lord of Rimini, Fano and Cesena since 1432 and is remembered as a generous patron of the arts during his rule.

Sigismondo commissioned the architect Leon Battista Alberti to build the most famous monument in Rimini, the Church of San Francesco, which is also known as the Tempio Malatestiano, and he welcomed artists and writers to his court.  But partly as a result of a systematic campaign of defamation by his enemy, Pope Pius II, some historians have ascribed a reputation for brutality to him.

Sigismondo was one of three illegitimate sons of Pandolfo Malatesta, who had ruled over Brescia and Bergamo between 1404 and 1421.

At the age of ten, after the death of his father, Sigismondo went to Rimini with his brothers to the court of his uncle, Carlo Malatesta. His birth was later legitimised by Pope Martin V.

After Carlo’s death, Sigismondo’s older brother inherited the Lordship of Rimini, but after two years he abandoned it to go into a monastery and handed over power to Sigismondo.

Pope Pius II accused Sigismondo of a number of crimes
Pope Pius II accused Sigismondo
of a number of crimes
From the age of 16, Sigismondo sold his military talents as a condottiero (mercenary captain) to all sides during the Italian wars.

In 1434, when he was 17, he married Ginevra, the daughter of Niccolò III d’Este and a few years later he commissioned the building of Castel Sismondo in Rimini.

After the death of Ginevra, he married Polissena, the daughter of Francesco Sforza. When she died eight years later, Sigismondo could finally make his relationship with his lover, Isotta degli Atti, public and they married in 1456.

Sigismondo surrounded himself with artists and intellectuals, including Piero della Francesca, one of the greatest painters of the Renaissance.

After Pope Pius II was elected in 1459 he imposed humiliating conditions on Sigismondo who rebelled against him. He was excommunicated and his reputation was tarnished by the Pope.

Sigismondo was deprived of all his land, apart from the city of Rimini, and was ruined financially. In an attempt to improve his fortunes, Sigismondo went to Morea, the Peloponnese peninsula in Southern Greece, in 1464 to fight on behalf of Venice against the Turks and he did not return to Italy until after the death of Pope Pius II.

He died on 7 October 1468 in Castel Sismondo in Rimini and was buried in the Malatesta Temple, even though it was still not finished. He was succeeded by his son and nominated heir, Sallustio, who ruled Rimini under the regency of his mother, Isotta.

Sigismondo Malatesta with Galeazzo Maria Sforza in a fresco by Benozzo Gozzoli
Sigismondo Malatesta with Galeazzo Maria
Sforza in a fresco by Benozzo Gozzoli
Sigismondo was popular as a ruler and admired as a condottiero but he also gained a reputation for brutality, which was perpetuated by historians, partly because he was repeatedly defamed by one of his most powerful enemies, Pope Pius II, who accused him of murder, rape, adultery and incest. In a unique ceremony, Pius II ‘canonised him to hell’ while he was still alive.

One theory is that the Pope wanted Sigismondo’s land and resorted to invoking supernatural aid and using earthly propaganda against him when he couldn’t beat him in war.

Sigismondo acknowledged he was not without sins and tried to justify them in a series of love sonnets dedicated to Isotta.

In 1906, Edward Hutton published the historical novel, Sigismondo Malatesta, which was mostly sympathetic to its hero.

The American poet Ezra Pound published Malatesta Cantos in 1923, which were about Sigismondo’s career as a soldier, lover and patron of the arts. But more than 500 years after his death, some of the mud the Pope threw at Sigismondo still sticks.

The remains of the Castel Sismondo, designed in part by the great architect Filippo Brunelleschi
The remains of the Castel Sismondo, designed in part by
the great architect Filippo Brunelleschi
Travel tip:

Work began on Castel Sismondo in 1437 but only the central part of the structure remains today in Piazza Malatesta in Rimini.  Sigismondo is said to have designed it himself but the architect Brunelleschi also worked on it, visiting Rimini in 1438. You can see how the castle would have looked originally in one of Piero della Francesca’s paintings in the Tempio Malatestiano. Sigismondo died in the castle in 1468. In 1821 the castle was turned into barracks for the local Carabinieri but it is now used for cultural exhibitions.

The Tempio Malatestiano is the cathedral church of the Italian Adriatic resort town of Rimini
The Tempio Malatestiano is the cathedral church of the
Italian Adriatic resort town of Rimini
Travel tip:

The Tempio Malatestiano is the cathedral church of Rimini, originally dedicated to St Francis. Sigismondo commissioned Leon Battista Alberti to rebuild the original 13th century Gothic church and make it into a mausoleum for himself and his wife, Isotta. The building was never finished because Sigismondo’s fortunes declined after his excommunication. Inside there is a fresco by Piero della Francesca portraying Sigismondo kneeling before St Sigismund, the patron saint of soldiers.

More reading:

How Piero della Francesca explored the use of perspective

Niccolò III d'Este and the rise of Ferrara

Giovanni Sforza - Lord of Pesaro and Gradara

Also on this day:

304: The execution of Saint Giustina of Padua

1675: The birth of Venetian portrait painter Rosalba Carriera

1972: The birth of celebrity cook Gabriele Corcos


1 July 2018

Alberto Magnelli - abstract painter

Self-taught artist whose work became known as Concrete Art

Animated Tension (1953): An example of the abstract art of  the Italian painter Alberto Magnelli
Animated Tension (1953): An example of the abstract art of
the Italian painter Alberto Magnelli
The abstract painter Alberto Magnelli, who became a leading figure in the Concrete Art movement, was born on this day in 1888 in Florence.

Concrete Art is described as abstract art that is entirely free of any basis in observed reality and that has no symbolic meaning. It had strong geometric elements and clear lines and its exponents insisted the form should eschew impressionism and that a painting should have no other meaning than itself.

The movement took its name from the definition of concrete as an adjective rather than a noun, meaning ‘existing in a material or physical form’.

It became Magnelli’s focus after he moved to Paris in 1931. Until then, he had experimented in various genres.

Alberto Magnelli taught himself to paint while on holiday in rural Tuscany
Alberto Magnelli taught himself to paint
while on holiday in rural Tuscany
He was born into a comfortable background in Florence, his father coming from a wealthy family of textile merchants.  He never studied art formally but would spend hours in museums and churches looking at paintings and frescoes. He particularly admired the Renaissance artists Andrea del Castagno, Paolo Uccello, and Piero della Francesca.

Magnelli’s first paintings were landscapes, which he began to produce while on holiday in the Tuscan countryside.  His work was good enough for him to submit to the Venice Biennale, as a result of which he made his first sale in 1909.

By 1915, he had moved towards painting in abstract style, having become part of a circle of artists in Florence in which the Futurist Gino Severini was a prominent member and having met Cubists such as Pablo Picasso and Fernand Léger.

After the First World War, in which he did compulsory military service, he continued to paint entirely abstract works but was unhappy that the avant-garde movement in Italy appeared to be supportive of Fascism and returned to painting quiet Tuscan landscapes, and figure studies. These had echoes of the Metaphysical style of Italian artists Giorgio de Chirico and Carlo Carrà.

Some of Magnelli's works, such as The Readers (1931), had  echoes of the Metaphysical movement in Italian art
Some of Magnelli's works, such as The Readers (1931), had
 echoes of the Metaphysical movement in Italian art
Towards the end of the 1920s, suffering a crisis in confidence, he almost gave up painting but decided to return to Paris in the hope of making a fresh start. There he joined the Abstraction-Création group.

Following the invasion of France by the Nazis, during the Second World War, Magnelli and his future wife, Susi Gerson, went to live in Grasse with several other artists. Some of the group, including Gerson, were Jewish so they were forced to hide. Because conventional art materials were in short supply, Magnelli created textural geometric collages using materials such as corrugated cardboard, emery cloth, music paper, stitched wire, and metal plates.

He also made paintings on schoolchildren’s wood-framed slate boards. Many of these were geometric compositions constructed from flat areas of colour and inscribed white lines, while others were inscriptions of purely geometric lines. It was the beginning of Concrete Art. He again exhibited at the Venice Biennale and major galleries organised retrospectives of his work.

Following the Second World War, Magnelli returned to Paris which was to be his home for the rest of his life.  He died there in 1971.

The Giubbe Rosse has been serving customers in Florence's Piazza della Repubblica since 1896
The Giubbe Rosse has been serving customers in Florence's
Piazza della Repubblica since 1896
Travel tip:

Florentine artists of Magnelli’s era used to meet at the Caffè Giubbe Rosse in Piazza della Repubblica, which took its name from the red jackets - giubbe rosse - the waiters still wear to this day. When opened in 1896, it was called Fratelli Reininghaus after the German brothers who founded it. The writer and poet Alberto Viviani called the Giubbe Rosse a "fucina di sogni e di passioni - a forge of dreams and passions".

The central square in Sansepolcro, Tuscany
The central square in Sansepolcro, Tuscany
Travel tip:

Sansepolcro, which is the birthplace of Piero della Francesca,  is a town of 16,000 inhabitants situated about 110km (68 miles) east of Florence and 38km (24 miles) northeast of Arezzo. The historic centre is entirely surrounded with fortified walls, built in the early part of the 16th century. The centre of the town is the Piazza Torre di Berta, named after the 13th-century tower of the same name, off which can be found the impressive Palazzi Pichi and Giovagnoli and the 14th-century cathedral, dedicated to St John the Evangelist.

More reading:

Giorgio di Chirico, founder of the Scuola Metafisica 

Carlo Carrà and the Futurist movement

Giorgio Morandi - master of still life

Also on this day:

1586: The birth of 'lost' composer Claudio Saracini

1878: The birth of career burglar and cult figure Gino Meneghetti


20 July 2017

Giorgio Morandi – painter

The greatest master of still life in the 20th century

Giorgio Morandi pictured in his studio in Bologna in 1953
Giorgio Morandi pictured in
his studio in Bologna in 1953
The artist Giorgio Morandi, who became famous for his atmospheric representations of still life, was born on the day in 1890 in Bologna.

Morandi’s paintings were appreciated for their tonal subtlety in depicting simple subjects, such as vases, bottles, bowls and flowers.

He studied at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Bologna and taught himself to etch by studying books on Rembrandt. Even though he lived his whole life in Bologna, he was deeply influenced by the work of Cézanne, Derain and Picasso.

In 1910 Morandi visited Florence, where the work of Giotto, Masaccio, Piero della Francesca and Paolo Uccello also impressed him.

Morandi was appointed as instructor of drawing for elementary schools in Bologna, a position he held from 1914 until 1929. He joined the army in 1915 but suffered a breakdown and had to be discharged.

During the war his paintings of still life became purer in form, in the manner of Cezanne. After a phase of experimenting with the metaphysical style of painting he began to focus on subtle gradations of hue and tone.

Morandi's 1956 painting Natura morta
Morandi became associated with a Fascist-influenced Futurist group in Bologna and was sympathetic to the Fascist Party in the 1920s, although he also had friendships with anti-Fascist figures, which led to him being arrested briefly.

He took part in the Venice Biennale exhibitions, in the Quadriennale in Rome and also exhibited his work in different cities.

He was professor of etching at Accademia di Belle Arti from 1930 until 1956 and was awarded first prize for painting by the 1948 Venice Biennale.

Morandi lived for most of his adult life in Via Fondazza in Bologna with his three sisters until his death from lung cancer in 1964.

He was buried at the Certosa cemetery in Bologna in the family tomb, which bears a portrait of him executed by his friend, the sculptor Giacomo Manzù.

During his life Morandi completed 1350 oil paintings and 133 etchings. He once explained: ’What interests me most is expressing what’s in nature, in the visible world, that is.’

A 1952 still life from Morandi
A 1952 still life from Morandi
Morandi is perceived as being one of the few Italian artists of his generation to remain detached from contemporary culture and politics and he is now regarded as one of the best modern Italian painters and the greatest master of still life in the 20th century.

His work has been discussed and written about by many art critics. Director Federico Fellini paid tribute to him in La Dolce Vita, which features his paintings, as does Michangelo Antonioni in La Notte.

The novelists Sarah Hall and Don DeLillo and the poet Ivor Cutler have all written about him. Barack Obama chose two oil paintings by Morandi, which are now part of the White House collection.

A Giorgio Morandi museum - the Museo Morandi - which includes a reconstruction of his studio, was opened in 1993 in Bologna.

Many famous photographers took images of him at his house or in his studio and the interior of his house has been filmed. In 2016 the American photographer Joel Meyerowitz published Morandi’s Object, a book containing his photographs of more than 260 objects that the painter had collected during his life.

Morandi's tomb at the Certosa di Bologna
Morandi's tomb at the Certosa di Bologna
Travel tip:

The Certosa di Bologna, where Morandi, is buried is a former Carthusian monastery founded in 1334 and suppressed in 1797, located just outside the walls of the city. In 1801 it became the city’s monumental cemetery and would later be praised by Byron in his writings. In 1869 an Etruscan necropolis was discovered there.

Travel tip:

The Museo Morandi, which displays a large collection of works by the painter, is being temporarily housed in the Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna, which is in Via Don Giovanni Minzoni in Bologna.

7 June 2016

Federico da Montefeltro – condottiero

Patron of the arts made money through war

Portrait of Federico da Montefeltro
Piero della Francesca's stark portrait
of Federico da Montefeltro
Federico da Montefeltro, one of the most successful of the Italian condottieri, was born on this day in 1422 in Gubbio.

He has been immortalised by the famous portrait painted of him by Piero della Francesca, where he was dressed in red and showing his formidable profile.

Federico ruled Urbino from 1444 until his death, commissioning the building of a large library where he employed his own team of scribes to copy texts.

He was the illegitimate son of Guidantonio da Montefeltro but he was legitimised by the Pope with the consent of Guidantonio’s wife.

Federico began his career as a condottiero - a kind of mercenary military leader at the age of 16. When his half brother, who had recently become Duke of Urbino, was assassinated in 1444, Federico seized the city of Urbino.

To bring in money he continued to wage war as a condottiero. He lost his right eye in an accident during a tournament and later commissioned a surgeon to remove the bridge of his nose to improve his field of vision and make him less vulnerable to assassination attempts.

Subsequently, he refused to have his portrait painted in full face, hence he is depicted in profile by Piero della Francesca.

Federico fought on behalf of the Sforza family, the King of Naples and various Popes.

In 1482 he was asked to command the army of Ercole I of Ferrara in his war against Venice but he then caught a fever and died in Ferrara.

Federico imposed justice and stability on Urbino and supported up and coming artists such as Raphael.

He took care of his soldiers when they were killed or wounded by providing dowries for their daughters. As a result his soldiers remained loyal to him and he never lost a battle.

Photo of Ducal Palace in Urbino
The Ducal Palace in Urbino, a Unesco World
Heritage Site
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.

Travel tip:

Gubbio, where Federico 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 had the ancient Palazzo Ducale rebuilt in a similar style to his palace in Urbino.

(Photo of Ducal Palace at Urbino by Florian Prischi CC BY-SA 3.0)