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( Originally Published 1955 )
Italian painter who most completely typifies the classical art of the High Renaissance in its ordered equilibrium, idealized naturalness, and standardized types of characters. His art exemulifies the political and philosophical strivings of the papacy under Julius II and especially Leo X for a glory to match that of ancient Rome. He was born in Perugia, the son of a painter, Giovanni 5anti, with whom he probably began his training. After his father's death in 1494 he may have studied with Evangelista di Meleto and Timoteo Viti, and perhaps with Perugino in Urbino (1493-99). He may also have been Perugino's assistant in the decoration of the Cambio in Perugia (1499-1503). He was active in Florence from 1505 to 1508 and then went to Rome. There he worked the rest of his life as painter, architect, designer, and director of antiquities, and was the center of a group of artists and intellectuals at the papal court. The increasing number of commissions for portraits, altarpieces, and decorative schemes led to an ever increasing number of assistants and students in his studio.
His career divides itself logically into three periodsPerugia (1500-04), Florence (1505-08) and Rome (1508-20). His earliest style is obviously dominated by the sweet and sentimental style of Perugino and shows a marked resemblance to that of Timoteo Viti. His first major commission was the St. Nicholas of Tolentino Altar in Sant' Agostino Citta di Castello (1500-O1, fragments in Brescia and Naples). The first signed work is the Crucifixion in S. Domenico, Citta di Castello (1503, London) ; it was followed by the Coronation of the Virgin (1503, Vatican), and the masterpiece of this period, the Sposalizio, or Marriage of the Virgin (1504, Brera). The Morgan Altar (Metropolitan, predella panels in London and Gardner Collection, Boston) shows a transition from the Peruginesque to the Florentine style. His activity in Florence seems limited by a lack of important commissions and he spent a great deal of time studying and making drawings after Donatello, Pollaiuolo, Leonardo, and Michelangelo. His style during this period was based on Leonardo and was very close in many ways to Fra Bartolommeo. It was then that he did his many intimate and poetic early halflength Madonnas: Duca di Terranuova (Berlin), Granduca (Pitti), Cowper (Washington), Goldfinch (Uffizi), and La Belle Jardiniere (Louvre). Paintings of a more monumental character belonging to this period are the Madonna del Baldacchino (c.1508, Pitfi), and the Entombment (Borghese, Rome, predella in Vatican). His two most important portraits of the time are of Angelo Doni and his wife Maddalena 5trozzi (1505-07, Pitti).
His last or Roman period is dominated by the great decorations for Julius and Leo in the Vatican, and is characterized by a new and classical monumentality under the influence of Michelangelo but transformed by his own sense of calm grandeur. He began his great cycle of decorations in the Vatican with the Stanza della Segnatura (1509-11), comprising the Disputa, School of Athens, Parnassus, and Jurisprudence; continued it with the Stanza d'Eliodoro (151114) ; the Stanza dell' Incendio (1514-17), carried out mostly by students; and the Sala di Constantino, executed by his pupils after his death. The magnificent tapestry series which ranks second only to his Stanza decorations was done for Leo X and depicts the Acts of the Apostles. They were executed in Brussels by Pieter van Aelst from cartoons done in 1515-16 (seven of the original ten in Victoria and Albert, London). Of smaller compass yet important for its lyrical classicism is his Triumph of Galatea (1514), part of the decoration of the Farnesina Palace; the loggia, decorated with scenes from the story of Psyche and Amor, was carried out by his assistants (1518). The same group with the addition of Pierino del Vaga executed the Loggie of the Vatican (1517-19). The great altars of this period include the Madonna del Foligno (1512, S. Francesco, Foligno),the most famous Sistine Madonna (c.1512-14, Dresden), and the magnificent Transfiguration (c.1519, Vatican). Of the smaller altarpieces there are the Alba Madonna (1508-10, Washington), Madonna with the Veil (c.1510, Louvre), Madonna of the Chair (c.1516, Pitti), and Madonna of the Curtain (c.1516, Munich). Among his brilliant portraits are Julius II (1511-12, Uffizi), Baldassare Castiglione (1515-16, Louvre), and Leo X (1517-19, Pitti). He was the culmination of the Roman High Renaissance and its end, but he had a profound influence upon subsequent European painting, first upon his students, especially Giulio Romano, then upon later sixteenth-century painting through the Caracci, and lastly upon all of later academic art in the West.