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Posts Tagged ‘Renaissance Italian art’

It was during a recent visit to the Alte Pinakothek in Munich that I encountered The Annunciation by an artist whose name I did not recognize: Fra Carnevale.

Portrait Fra Carnevale 1470 Artist Unknown

Portrait Fra Carnevale
1470
Artist Unknown

My curiosity was roused and I began to research this little known, reclusive, Renaissance artist.

Between the years 1420 and 1425, records are scarce; a child by the name of Bartolomeo di Giovanni Corradini was born in the city of Urbino. Little is known of his childhood. At the age of sixteen, he entered an apprenticeship under the guidance of a respected artist from Ferrara, Antonio Alberti. With the encouragement and connections of his master, the twenty year old Corradini moved to Florence in 1445 and, for one year, studied under Fillipo Lippi, one of the finest painters of his age. 

While Corradini’s apprenticeship in Florence was but one year long, he studied works by Donatello, Brunelleschi and Battista Alberti. It was during the apprenticeship that his fascination with architectural perspective began.

In the latter part of 1448, he left Florence and returned to Urbino.

Here is some important historical background about Carnevale’s home city.

Between the years 1444 and 1482 Urbino was controlled by a powerful condottieri, Federico di Montefeltro. From within the walls of Palazzo Ducale in Urbino, Federico assembled one of the finest libraries in Renaissance Italy. His interest in art and the creation of a center for learning, caused him to issue numerous artistic commissions across Italy.

Presentation of the Virgin at the Temple Fra Carnevale, Circa 1467

Presentation of the Virgin at the Temple
Fra Carnevale, Circa 1467

The Dominican order in Urbino was centered in the Church of Santa Maria della Bella. It was amidst the convolutions of power, politics and religion that Federico first encountered Fra Carenvale, who had taken the Dominican vows in 1449.

One of Carnevlale’s earliest works, part of an altarpiece for a church in Urbino, is Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple (Circa 1467). This particular work clearly demonstrates Carnevale’s fascination with perspective. The powerful arch and background of his work nearly overpower the figures in the foreground. An interesting side-note about the work is that the shape of the altarpiece is recognizable at the top of the painting. The two figures that surmount the arch were originally the edges of the painting’s frame.

One other work stands out among the many created by Carnevale: The Ideal City (ca 1480 – 1485). This was one of several commissions by Duke Federico di Montefeltro of Urbino for his palace.

In a long rectangular frame, the artist has created a sterile, balanced and bleak study of a city. Perspectives are finely focused, the four Cardinal Virtues of Justice, Prudence, Temperance (Restraint) and Courage (Fortitude), top four columns near the center of the work.

Why the artist chose to include only twenty-one figures in the work remains a mystery. There is a sterility to the painting. While the scene is balanced in its geometric form, the work exudes no warmth, no emotion. Were the intent to replicate Carnevale’s interpretation of an ideal world, one based on Roman concepts of balance and form, then the artist has well succeeded. This work does show a clear retreat from the emotion demonstrated in his 1467 work of the Virgin and Temple, possibly in reaction to his ascetic and withdrawing life in the Dominican order.

https://i1.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/5c/Fra_Carnevale_-_The_Ideal_City_-_Walters_37677.jpg

The Ideal City
Fra Carnevale
ca. 1480-1485

The three panels in Carnevale’s only polyptych (altar piece with three or more panels) have been dispersed across Italy. Visitors can view one panel each in the Pinacoteca di Brera and the Pinactoteca Ambrosiana. The third panel is in the province of Le Marche Italy, in Loreto’s Museum of the Holy House.

This elusive and little understood artist created numerous works that remain enigmatic gifts to the world of Renaissance art. He is much worthy of more study. 

Following is a partial list of his known works and current collections:

Birth of the Virgin, Metropolitan Museum New York

Annunciation, National Gallery, Washington, DC

Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple, Boston, Museum of Fine Arts

 

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Torment of St. AnthonyMichelangeloca. 1488

Torment of St. Anthony
Michelangelo
ca. 1488

A young Michelangelo, barely twelve years of age, copied an engraving while in the workshops of Domenico Ghirlandaio.

I never would have guessed this to be a work by the same master who painted the Doni Tondo, or the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel.

Originally attributed to ‘a student of the workshop,’ it was only after the 2008 purchase of the work by a New York art collector, that the panel was definitively studied and attributed to Buonarotti.

What a surprising and unusual piece it is.

Martin Schongauer, one of four sons of an Augsburg goldsmith, created a varied and complex set of copper engravings. The Torment is one of the few pieces that exist as a separate print. Martin’s more famous works are series: Passion, Death and Coronation of the Virgin, and Wise and Foolish Virgins.

How did this engraving find its way to Florence? The Medici Bank had many offices across Europe. It is possible that the work was sold to collectors in Bruges or Geneva, for example and then it was traded among merchants who traveled to and from Florence on business; all conjecture at this point, to be sure.

It is certainly difficult to understand why Michelangelo selected, or perhaps was given the commission to paint, his interpretation of this engraving. The young man tightened the design of the original engraving and, it is said by art experts, he studied the anatomy of fish so that a more lifelike rendering of sea creatures could be added to the work.

Why would Ghirlandaio’s workshop, in the heart of Renaissance Florence, select such an engraving for their study? Difficult to say. Perhaps it was the unique structure of the work, the elliptical, nearly hypnotic, central core that both draws you in and seems to circulate as you study it.

Martin SchongauerTorment of St Anthony1488

Martin Schongauer
Torment of St Anthony
1488

Regardless, the young Michelangelo created a painted wooden panel that moves the tormented saint from the skies above the middle eastern desert to the blue skies of Tuscany. In the background is a river scene that could easily be interpreted as that of the Arno River as it courses through the city.

Whether his work was created in the workshops of Florence, in his studio carving masterpieces in marble, or laboring under incredibly difficult conditions on scaffolds in the Sistine Chapel in Rome, the diversity, skill and artistic eye of Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni continue to fascinate.

The Torment is now in the collection of the Kimball Art Museum in Ft. Worth, Texas. As of this writing, I was unable to ascertain the engraving’s location or collection.

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