Painting In The Fifteenth Century
( Originally Published 1915 )
NORTHERN ITALY.PAINTERS OF FERRARA AND BOLOGNA.
Cosimo Tura 1423?—1495.
Francesca Cossa 1430?—1480?
Lorenzo Costa. 1460—1535.
Il Francia (Francesco di Marco Raibolini), 1450—1517.
Cosimo Tura is thought to have studied under Squarcione, showing the same antiquarian interests in his work, which is often rude but full of energy. The angular folds of his draperies are a marked characteristic. He planned the decorations of the palace of the Este family in Ferrara, assisted by his pupils.
Francesco Cossa, one of these, removed to Bologna in 1470, where the short remainder of his life was spent and where his best work, severe and dignified in character, was done.
Lorenzo Costa, also a pupil of Tura in Ferrara, went to Bologna in 1483. His friendship with Francia, whose shop was near his own, influenced the art of both young men. Their altarpieces are similar in design, and in 1499 they worked together on the altarpiece for the church of the Misericordia in Bologna. In 1506 they decorated, together with pupils, the Oratory of St. Cecilia with graceful scenes from the life of the saint, a commission from Giovanni Bentivoglio. After the overthrow of the Bentivogli, Costa was invited by Isabella d'Este to Mantua, where the remainder of his life was spent in the service of the Gonzaga family.
Francia, trained as a goldsmith, became a famous medallist and worker in niello. He took up painting comparatively late in life, possibly through the influence of Costa. He painted many altarpieces for the Bentivoglio family and decorated with frescos their palace, soon to be destroyed by the populace. Most of his paintings are still in Bologna, where his life was spent. His latest biographer believes him to have been influenced by Perugino, whose fine Assumption was sent in 1497 to S. Giovanni in Monte, the church in which Francia was then at work. He must also have known Raphael. His work, however, has its own originality in landscape and facial types, whatever suggestions may have come to him from others. He had many pupils, among them his two sons, who copied his manner closely.
NOTES ON THE PICTURES.
No. 279. Triumph of Venus.
Schifanoia Palace, Ferrara.
One of a series of frescos painted, 1467-1470, in the pleasure palace (Sanssouci or Carefree) of Duke Borso d'Este, designed by Tura. The months of the year arranged in three tiers formed the theme for the decoration of the great hall. Above, the triumphal progress of the appropriate Deity; below, a suitable field scene celebrating the life of Duke Borso; between, the Zodiacal signs.
April, the " month of the revival of the forces of life," is symbolized by Venus, with the warrior as prisoner on her car drawn by swans. Rabbits appear (spring-time symbols still used by us at Easter) and scenes of love-making. At the right is seen the group of the " Three Graces " which had been discovered in Rome in 1464 and presented to Siena. (A 209a, Handbook of Greek and Roman Sculpture, p. 207.)
This picture is of interest as showing the quaint conceits of the day and contemporary costumes seldom seen in Florentine art.
No. 280. Madonna Enthroned.
National Gallery, London.
The central panel of an altarpiece painted by Tura for the Rovarella family chapel in the church of St. George, Ferrara.
The antiquarian interest of the artist is seen in the throne loaded with ornament in wrought metal, and with the " Tables of the Law " in Hebrew characters on either side.
The sleeping child on the Madonna's lap is an unusual motive, used once by Bellini; the angel musicians are also used by the Venetians, those below playing on a portable organ of unusual form. Notice the characteristic draperies. Study the unusual building up of the composition. Compare with Paduan work.
No. 281. Madonna Enthroned, with Saints.
Canvas, figures life size. Painted by Cossa in 1474. The donor, Alberto de' Catanei, kneels at the side beyond St. Petronius, bishop and patron saint of Bologna, who holds the model of the city. St. John Evangelist is at the right. Above is the Annunciation.
Notice the strength and hauteur of the faces, the massive draperies, the study of light and shade on faces and garments, the decorations in metal work, the small size of the donor.
No. 282. Madonna and Saints.
S. Giovanni in Monte, Bologna.
Painted by Costa about 1497, one of his finest works. St. Augustine and St. John Evangelist are on the left, a local saint and a monk on the right. The charming landscape seen through the base of the throne and the angel musicians are Ferrarese characteristics.
Compare with the Madonnas by Tura and Cossa; the eccentricities have been given up, but the strength of drawing and of character are lost. Compare especially the Christ child in all three pictures.
No. 283. Court of Isabella d'Este.
6 by 5 feet. Painted by Costa between 1515 and 1520 for the study of Isabella d'Este in the Reggia at Mantua. (Cf. 312, note.) The subjects and their treatment were dictated by her.
In the center of the picture Love places a wreath of laurel on the head of Isabella, inspirer of musicians and poets who gather around her. In the foreground a group of young girls crown a bull, emblem of strength, and a lamb (?), of innocence. The figure standing at the left is thought to be Baldassare Castiglione, writer of the celebrated " Cortigiano." The exalted tranquillity of the scene is emphasized by the conflict to the left below.
The charm of Costa's scene makes us forget the pedantry. The trees, the water, the poetry of the opposite bank, the luminous distance are unusual in painters of this period.
No. 284. Madonna Enthroned, with Saints.
Oil on wood, 6 by 4 1/2 feet. Painted by Francia in 1500 for the church of the Annunziata, Bologna, at the order of Giovanni Scappi, according to the inscription on the pedestal. The saints are Paul and Francis, with little John kneeling in the center. Beyond the arches is seen the landscape that suggests the influence of Perugino. Compare with his landscapes. Notice the wrought metal work on the pedestal. Cf. 282,noting the greater repose in 284. Study the design and treatment of light and shadow as elements in this tranquillity.
This is one of the most characteristic of Francia's altarpieces.
No. 285. Annunciation.
Transferred from wood to canvas. 71 feet square. Painted by Francia for the Duke of Mantua. This picture was long attributed to Perugino. Compare with his work, noting great differences in types, treatment of draperies, character of architecture and even of landscape. Williamson speaks of the low bushy trees which appear in all Francia's backgrounds.
Notice the pleasure which the eye takes in moving rhythmically about this picture, swinging from angel to Madonna, on lines of lily and tree. The tranquillity so characteristic of Francia is here expressed by the quality of movement within the picture. Cf. 284.
No. 286. Madonna and Child with Angels.
Alte Pinakothek, Munich.
Small panel, 2 feet high, formerly in a private collection in Bologna. Probably a late work. The color is rich.
Compare with other work by Francia, noticing the development of his typical faces. Compare the Child with those by Perugino, with Costa's Madonna and Child.
No. 287. Portrait of Giovanni Evangelista Scappi.
Oil on wood, life size. Scappi was a notary of Bologna, connected undoubtedly with the patron for whom the altarpiece, 284, was painted.
The absolute simplicity of the dress centers the attention upon the face, which is sympathetically treated, though without a trace of flattery.
No. .288. Pietà.
National Gallery, London.
On wood, 6 feet by 3 feet 2 inches. The lunette, from one of Francia's finest altarpieces, painted about 1515, for the Buonvisi Chapel in S. Frediano, Lucca. The central picture, also in the National Gallery, has St. Anne enthroned with the Madonna and patron saints on either side. The lunette is of unusual beauty and pathos, and should be studied in detail.