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Pietro da Cortona, byname of Pietro Berrettini, born Pietro Berrettini da Cortona,[1] (1 November 1596 – 16 May 1669) was an Italian artist and architect of High Baroque. He is best known for painting fresco ceilings, a pursuit in which he had ample competition in the Rome of his day, but he was equally adept and masterful with architectural design. While an influential contemporary and peer of the giants of the Roman Baroque, his present fame, somewhat undeservedly, does not match the reverence awarded the likes of Caravaggio, Bernini, and Borromini.

Church of Santi Luca e Martina, Rome.

Contents

Biography

Berrettini was born to a family of artisans including his uncle Filippo Berrettini, in Cortona, then a town in the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. He first apprenticed with Andrea Commodi in Florence. But soon departed for Rome at about 1612, where he joined the studio of Baccio Ciarpi. In Rome, he had encouragement from many prominent patrons including the Colonna. According to a biography, his deft copies of Raphael's Roman frescoes brought him to the attention and patronage (1623) of the Sacchetti brothers, Marcello and Giulio Sacchetti, who became respectively papal treasurer and cardinal (1626) during the Barberini papacy. In the Sacchetti orbit, he met Cardinal Francesco Barberini, the nephew of Pope Urban VIII, as well as the antiquarian, Cassiano dal Pozzo.

These three men helped him gain a major commission in Rome (1624-1626), a fresco decoration in the newly constructed Bernini church of Santa Bibiana. In 1626, the Sacchetti engaged Cortona to paint for them three large canvases of Sacrifice of Polyxena, Triumph of Bacchus, and Rape of the Sabines (the latter, c. 1629),[2] and to paint a series of frescoes in the Villa Sacchetti in Castel Fusano, near Ostia, using a team that included the young Andrea Sacchi. Soon the rising prodigy would attract the patronage of the powerful papal Barberini family. He had already been involved in the fresco decoration of the Palazzo Mattei. And Cardinal Orsini had commissioned from him an Adoration of the Shepherds (c. 1626) for San Salvatore in Lauro.

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Grand Salon of Palazzo Barberini

Fresco cycles were numerous in Cortona's Rome; most represented framed episodes imitating canvases such as found in the Sistine Chapel ceiling or in Carraccis' The Loves of the Gods in the Farnese gallery (completed 1601). In 1633, Pope Urban VIII (Maffeo Barberini) commissioned from Cortona a large fresco painting for the ceiling of their family palace.[3] Completed six years later, the huge Allegory of Divine Providence and Barberini Power marks a watershed in Baroque painting. A putative sketch of the plan, of doubtful authenticity, is exhibited in the hall. The fresco is an illusion with the central field apparently open to the sky and scores of figures seen 'al di sotto in su' apparently coming into the room itself or floating above it. It contains endless number of heraldic symbols and subthemes.

Cortona's panegyric trompe l'oeil extavaganzas have lost favor in minimalist times, yet they are precursors of sunny and cherubim infested rococo excesses. They contrast starkly with darker renegade naturalism prominent in Caravaggisti, and remind us that the Baroque style was not monolithic. Cortona, like Bernini in sculpture, appears reactionary, patronizing; yet if excellence in art is measured by the ability to match style to intent within the limitations of the medium, then Cortona was triumphant. He was among the first of the fresco painters that dispensed with the architectural masonry of the roof, erasing it away with painted integral architecture and a broad, non-framed vista. While rising heavenward, works like the Barberini Allegory are meant to stagger and humble the visitor, who seems to stand over, and not below, a looming abyss of mythic power that threatens to overwhelm the viewer.

The Golden Age by Pietro da Cortona.

By this time, Cortona was recognized among the top artists of his generation, and was elected director of the Academy of St Luke (Rome) during 1634-38.

Frescoes in Palazzo Pitti

Cortona had been patronized by the Tuscan community in Rome, hence it was not surprising when he was passing through Florence in 1637, that he should be asked by Grand Duke Ferdinando II de' Medici to paint a series of frescoes intended to represent the four ages of man in a small room, the Sala della Stufa, in the Palazzo Pitti. The first two represented the "ages" of silver and gold.[4] In 1641, he was recalled to paint the 'Bronze Age' and 'Iron Age' frescoes.

He began work on the decoration of the grand-ducal reception rooms on the first floor of the Palazzo Pitti, now part of the Palatine Gallery. In these five Planetary Rooms, the hierarchical sequence of the deities is based on Ptolomeic cosmology; Venus, Apollo, Mars, Jupiter (the Medici Throne room) and Saturn, but minus Mercury and the Moon which should have come before Venus.[5] These highly ornate ceilings with frescoes and elaborate stucco work essentially celebrate the Medici lineage and the bestowal of virtuous leadership.[6] Pietro left Florence in 1647, and his pupil and collaborator, Ciro Ferri, completed the cycle by the 1660s.[7]

Late works

For a number of years, Cortona was involved for decades in the decoration of the ceiling frescoes in the Oratorian Chiesa Nuova (Santa Maria in Vallicella) in Rome, a work not finished until 1665.[8] Other frescoes are in Palazzo Pamphilj in Piazza Navona (1651-4).

Towards the end of his life he devoted much of his time to architecture, but he published a treatise on painting in 1652 under a pseudonym and in collaboration. He refused invitations to both France and Spain.

Cortona and Andrea Sacchi were involved in theoretical controversies regarding the number of figures that were appropriate in a painted work. These arguments were voiced in talks at the Accademia di San Luca, the painter's guild. Sacchi argued for few figures, since he felt it was not possible to grant meaningful individuality, a distinct role, to more than a few figures per scene. Cortona, on the other hand, lobbied for an art that could accommodate many subplots to a central concept. In addition, he also likely viewed the possibility of using many human figures in decorative detail or to represent a general concept. Sacchi's position would be reinforced in future years by Nicolas Poussin. Others have seen in this dichotomy, the long-standing debate whether visual art is about theoretical principles and meant to narrate a full story, or a painterly decorative endeavor, meant to delight the senses. Cortona was a director of the Accademia from 1634-1638.

Cortona employed or trained many prominent artists, who then disseminated his grand manner style. Other than Ferri, others that worked in his studio were

Painter Dates Birthplace Source
(H)
Lazzaro Baldi 1623-1703 Pistoia, moved to Rome (H)(W)
Francesco Bonifazio (H)(W)
Lorenzo Berrettini (Cortona's nephew) Florence (W)
Giovanni Ventura Borghesi 1640-1708 Rome (H)(W)
Giovanni Maria Bottala 1613- Naples (H)
Andrea Camassei 1602-1649 Bevagna, moved to Rome (W)
Salvi Castellucci 1608-1672 Florence (H)(W)
Carlo Cesi 1626-1686 (H)(W)
Giovanni Coli ?-1681 (H)(W)
Guglielmo Cortese (Il Borgognone) (H)(W)
Vincenzo Dandini 1607- Florence (W)(W)
Nicholas Duval 1644- The Hague (H)
Onofrio Gabriello 1616-1706 Messina (H)
Camillo Gabbrielli (W)
Giacinto Gimignani 1611-1681 Pistoia, moved to Rome (H)(W)
Filippo Gherardi 1643-1701 (H)(W)
Paolo Gismondi 1612-1685 Perugia (H)(W)
Luca Giordano 1632 Naples (H)
Giovanni Battista Langetti 1635-1676 Genoa (H)
Pietro Lucatelli (W)
Giovanni Marracci 1637-1704 Lucca (H)(W)
Livio Mehus (Lieven Mehus) 1630-1691 (Active Florence) (H)(W)
Giovanni Battista Natali 1630-1700 (H)
Adriano Palladino 1610-1680 Cortona (MB)
Bartolomeo Palommo 1612- Rome (H)
Pio Paolino ? -1681 Udine (H)
Giovanni Francesco Romanelli 1617-1662 (H)(W)
Pietro Paolo Ubaldini (H)(W)
Raffaello Vanni (W)
Adriano Zabarelli (W)

Romanelli and Camassei also trained under Domenichino. Giovanni Maria Bottalla was one of his assistants on the Barberini Ceiling. Sources for (W);[9] while sources for (H)[10][11]. Source for MB is Bryan, Michael (1889). Walter Armstrong & Robert Edmund Graves. ed. Dictionary of Painters and Engravers, Biographical and Critical (Volume II L-Z). York St. #4, Covent Garden, London; Original from Fogg Library, Digitized May 18, 2007: George Bell and Sons. http://books.google.com/books?id=K2cCAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA1&dq=Michael+Bryan+Painters+Engravers#PPP7,M1.  

Architectural projects

Among Cortona's more important architectural projects are the church of Santi Luca e Martina(completed in 1664, the church of the Accademia di San Luca, located in the Roman Forum. While Cortona was principe or director of the Accademia from 1634-38, he obtained permission to dig in the crypt of the church, which led the likely mistaken finding of remains attributed to the first century Roman martyr and Saint Martina. This discovery led to further patronage for construction of the church. The layout is almost a Greek cross, with four nearly identical wings extending from the striking central dome. Much of the ground structure is undecorated, above intricately decorated. The overwhelmingly vertical decoration of the facade is granted liveliness by horizontal convexity. In his will, this bachelor called this church his beloved daughter.

He also renovated the exterior renewal of the ancient Santa Maria della Pace (1656-1667), and the façade (with an unusual loggia) of Santa Maria in Via Lata (appr. 1660).

Another influential work for its day was the design and decoration of the Villa Pigneto commissioned by the Marchese Sacchetti.[12] This garden palace or casino gathered a variety of features in a novel fashion, including a garden facade with convex arms, and highly decorated niches, and elaborate tiered staircases surrounding a fountain.

Anatomical plates

Prior to becoming famous as an architect, Pietro drew anatomical plates that would not be engraved and published until a hundred years after his death. The plates in Tabulae anatomicae are now thought to have been started around 1618. The dramatic and highly studied poses effected by the figures are in keeping with the style of other Renaissance Baroque anatomical artists, although nowhere does such an approach find any fuller expression than in these plates.

Notes

  1. ^ www.kirchenlexikon.de Retrieved 2009-08-01
  2. ^ Three canvases now in Capitoline Gallery
  3. ^ Palazzo Barberini is now the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome.
  4. ^ Age of Gold
  5. ^ Campbell, Malcolm, Pietro da Cortona at the Pitti Palace. A Study of the Planetary Rooms and Related Projects, Princeton University Press, 1977, p. 78
  6. ^ Campbell, M. 1972, p. 146-154
  7. ^ Pietro Berrettini -Catholic Encyclopedia article
  8. ^ seen here
  9. ^ Wittkower R. p 543 and p 550.
  10. ^ J.R. Hobbes, p. 58.
  11. ^ *Hobbes, James R. (1849). Picture collector's manual; Dictionary of Painters. T. & W. Boone, 29 Bond Street, London; Digitized by Googlebooks (2006) from Oxford library. pp. 63–65. http://books.google.com/books?q=intitle:picture+intitle:collector's.  
  12. ^ seen here

References

  • Rendina, Claudio (2000). Enciclopedia di Roma. Rome: Newton Compton.  
  • Haskell, Francis (1980). Patrons and Painters; Art and Society in Baroque Italy. pp. 38–40, 60–62.  
  • Connors, Joseph (1998). "Pietro da Cortona 1597-1669". The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians: 318–321.  
  • Loire, Stéphane (1998). "Pietro da Cortona". The Burlington Magazine: 219–222.  

External links


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