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Entries in Sienese Art (13)


Bartolo di Fredi: A Sienese Success

Bartolo di Fredi - The Annunciation to Joachim - c. 1383 - Tempera and gold on wood, 25 x 37 cm - Pinacoteca, Vatican (click photo for larger image)Bartolo di Fredi (c. 1330-c.1410) was the most successful Sienese painter of the later fourteenth century. He produced a large number of altarpieces and frescoes, and, in addition, collaborated with other artists on mural and altarpiece paintings and polychrome sculptures. He worked on many of his most important commissions with his son, Andrea di Bartolo.

The small panel featured here was one of a polyptych from the life of the Virgin. It was a commission granted to Bartolo di Fredi by the Company of Saint Peter on May 9, 1585, for the Chapel of the Annunciation in the Church of S. Francesco in Montalcino, where the artist had already painted other works. The polyptych has since been broken up, and parts of it can be seen in various museums.

The portrayal is of Saint Joachim in a mountainous setting. The angel Gabriel has come to bring him the news that his wife, Saint Anne, will bear a child. On the right side there are two shepherds near their flock, one of whom holds a bagpipe.

Joachim was the husband of Saint Anne and the father of Mary, the mother of Jesus, according to the Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican traditions. The story of Joachim and Anne first appears in the apocryphal Gospel of James. Joachim and Anne are not mentioned in the Bible.

While his work is decidedly medieval—note the very heavy-handed haloes—there are all touches of slowly emerging proto-Renaissance ideas. There is not an over-fussiness of details, and there is a fair amount of clearer space. The tendancy toward horror vacui (a tendency to fill up every inch of space with details) is also not present here.


Pietro Lorenzetti: Sienese Master  

Pietro Lorenzetti - Entry of Christ into Jerusalem - c. 1320 - Fresco - Lower Church - San Francesco, Assisi, Italy (click photo for larger image)Pietro Lorenzetti (c. 1280-1348), along with his brother Ambrogio, were part of the Sienese School, dominated by the stylized Byzantine tradition developed by masters Duccio di Buoninsegna and Simone Martini. The Lorenzetti brothers were the first Sienese artists to adopt the dramatic quality of the Tuscan sculptor Giovanni Pisano, and the naturalistic approach of the great Florentine painter Giotto. In their experiments with three-dimensional, spatial arrangements, the brothers were among those few artists who foreshadowed the art of the Renaissance.

Pietro was the more traditional of the two brothers, showing harmony, refinement, and detail but also dramatic emotion. Ambrogio—more realistic, inventive, and influential than Pietro, is best known for the “Good Government” and “Bad Government” fresco cycles, discussed elsewhere on What About Art?.

The scene featured here depicts one of the scenes from the life of Christ featured on the vault of the south arm of the western transept of the Lower Church. The scene is set against a colorful architectural background.

Sadly, both brothers were lost far too soon to the Black Death.


Scenes from the Life of St. Nicholas 

Ambrogio Lorenzetti - Scenes of the Life of St. Nicholas - c. 1332 - Tempera on wood, 92 x 49 cm - Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence (click photo for larger image)Ambrogio Lorenzetti (c. 1290-c. 1348) was an Italian artist who ranks in importance with the greatest of the Italian Sienese painters. Only six documented works of Ambrogio, apparently covering a period of merely 13 years, have survived. They include four scenes from the Legend of St. Nicholas of Bari, the Good and Bad Government wall decorations of 1337–39 (discussed elsewhere on this site), and the signed and dated panels of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple (1342) and of the Annunciation (1344). The Sienese school was dominated by the stylized Byzantine tradition, which also embodied the dramatic quality of the Tuscan sculptor Giovanni Pisano and the naturalistic approach of the Florentine painter Giotto. Ambrogio’s work foreshadowed the art of the Renaissance.

The panel featured here came from the church of St. Procolo in Florence, where it was recorded by Giorgio Vasari. It was probably painted as side wing of a triptych which had a figure of St Nicholas in the central panel (now disappeared). Lorenzetti likely painted it during a second visit he made to Florence between 1327 and 1332. It’s also possible that the panels made up a tabernacle door.

As the story goes, St. Nicholas gave a dowry to three virgins. An impoverished nobleman was ready to prostitute his three daughters, because no one would accept them in marriage without dowries. To save them from such a dishonorable fate, St Nicholas threw each of them a bag full of gold through their window, on three consecutive nights.

St. Nicholas is also said to have performed miracles. In the top scene of the first panel (featured here), the Saint brings a dead boy back to life.


Sassetta: A Dreamlike Blending of Reality and Unreality

Sassetta - Death of the Heretic on the Bonfire - 1423 - Panel, 24,6 x 38,7 cm - National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (click photo for larger image)Sassetta (Stefano di Giovanni) (1394-1450) was perhaps the greatest of the early fifteenth century Sienese painters. He mingles an innate conservatism, especially in his architectural structures, with a delight in the svelte forms of International Gothic figure design, and in the clarity and unity of Renaissance pictorial space. The essentially fourteenth century basis of his style is the dreamlike blending of reality and unreality, and of graceful calm and visionary fervor.


Beccafumi: Chromatic Lyricism

Domenico Beccafumi - Head of a Youth Seen in Profile - 1529-35 - Polychrome oil on paper, 28 x 21 cm - Musée du Louvre, Paris (click photo for larger image)The marvelous Sienese artist Domenico Beccafumi (c. 1486-1551) was (with Parmigianino) the most interesting of the non-Florentine Mannerists and the last of the great Sienese painters. Although he was part of the High Renaissance generation of painters—Beccafumi’s works point toward the eventual modern era, in their strong effects of perspective and contrapposto, intensity of emotion, subtle, shot color, and lurid effects of light.

Mannerism rejected Renaissance harmony and balance in favor of emotional intensity and ambiguity—a uniquely modern idea. It was an enormously popular movement for a time, however the Church favored the more conservative Baroque for its Counter-Reformation commissions.

This “bozzetto" on paper is a study for the head of the youth seated in the foreground in one of the frescoes of the vault of the Sala del Concistoro of the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena. While it maintains certain classical elements found in sixteenth century painting—it also responded to a demand for something different—something new—in the Italy of its day.