Amazing articles on just about every subject...

The Art Of Sodoma


FOR the complete expression of the complex soul of her, Siena had to wait for the dexterous Lombard who in 1501 knocked at her gate. Here was, indeed, a painter after her own heart. No frigid Florentine this, with the memories of chisel-work in dusty botteghe clogging his brush; no student of "anatomies," with a weakness for joints and attachments, prone, therefore, to thrust a meager Jerome or a gaunt Magdalene into a tender brood of angels or the blithest of Holy Families; no curious, erudite experimenter seeking after a (possibly) fatiguing perfection and juggling with light and shadow; no precisian or pedant he, but one to whom Temperament had been so bountiful that he had ignored the favors of that more niggardly mistress, Training.

. . . Sodoma (Giovan Antonio Bazzi) found his native element in the capricious and voluptuous republic; and Siena soon discovered in him, the whimsical scatterbrain and facile painter, her most faithful exponent. She had but scant enthusiasm for Beccafumi's cold academies; she bestowed but a half-hearted admiration on Peruzzi's spare elegance; she disregarded the strictures of the correct and respectable Vasari, and loaded Bazzi with commissions and admiration. What were mastery of perspective, unfailing sense of pro-portion, balanced composition, compared with a vivid personality expressing itself with agile facility and possessed of exquisite sensitiveness to grace and beauty! . . .

Considered from the point of view of technique pure and simple, Sodoma was unequal as draftsman and colorist, indifferent as composer. He could draw excellently, but rarely did; his heads are a souvenir of Leonardo's with a strong added personality of his own; as to their bodies, his figures often look as if some of Raphael's frescoed men and women had been painted with so liquid a medium that they had spread upon the walls and passed beyond their outlines, until they seemed boneless and gelatinous.

M. Müntz, praising the figures of the Farnesina frescos, says of them, "Les figures sont du Raphael, mais du Raphael plus fluide et plus suave." This is precisely what they are to so great a degree that their fluidity has made some of them relatively shapeless and very unsatisfactory to the student, although their suavity has, it is true, much of the charm which never deserted Sodoma.

In the frescos of the Oratory of San Bernardino Giovanni has attempted to be monumental, and has succeeded in obtaining a certain impressiveness ' and an ensemble which is thoroughly characteristic of the amplification that art had received in the beginning of the sixteenth century; but if these figures are lacking in construction, still more are they lacking in subtlety of drawing. They look exactly like figures in old tapestries, which have been stretched and pulled until not one line in face or figure is correct.

The admirable figures (see especially the `St. Victor') in the Palazzo Pubblico have all the qualities which belong to those in the Oratory of San Ber nardino, and most of the qualities which are lacking in the latter. . . . If Sodoma had always worked as earnestly as he did upon these figures, few painters would have equaled him. The frescos at Monte Oliveto, without possessing the Florentine hardness of contour, resemble Milanese work and are agreeably firm in silhouette, yet not dry or "cut out." In spite, however, of an occasional effort to better his slurring and slovenly manner of drawing, Sodoma is generally lacking, and wilfully lacking, in "the probity of art."

His color (being more an affair of temperament and more instinctive) is sometimes warm and transparent; sometimes distinguished, as in the 'Swooning of St. Catherine'; sometimes monochromatic, as in the `St. Sebastian,' is often pleasing and never disagreeable.

He had little capacity as a composer of groups, and was most at home when he had but one or two figures to deal with; composition did not come easily to him; lacking mental order and sensitiveness to distribution of masses, deficient also in the capacity for continued effort in a given direction, which is indispensable to the evolution of monumental composition, he is confused and incoherent when he attempts to handle a number of figures. . . .

Sodoma's finest performances are his single figures, and it is in them that we read his title clear to the admiration of his contemporaries. The St. Catherine fainting under the intolerable glory of her espousal is one of those relatively rare works which give to the painter a very high rank as a complete artist, and not merely as an artist of phenomenal temperament. He has treated a very difficult subject not only with charm but with skill and thought, adding to his natural suavity a care in the grouping of the three lovely heads, in the arrangement of the draperies, and in the rendering of the latter, which is not often found in his works. As for the spiritual side of the picture, it may be said that the poignant delights of mysticism were never more adequately interpreted. The `St. Sebastian,' which "combines the beauty of the Greek Hylas with the sentiment of Christian martyrdom," is in a certain delicate loveliness and simple pathos unsurpassed by any work of its time. Yet in spite of the fact that its comeliness is informed with spiritual significance, that the representation of suffering is free from exaggeration, in some subtle way it announces the decadence, the work of Guido Reni, and of the seventeenth century. Although the drawing of the figure is far more serious, the silhouette more studied, than in most of Sodoma's work, it must be admitted that as a whole it is lacking in solidity and is even papery-looking in its lack of modeling. .. .

To estimate at their true value Sodoma's freshness of feeling and natural charm combined with sensuousness and an unfailing sense of humor, we must leave Siena and drive over a dull-colored cretaceous soil, furrowed by baize, to the monastery of Monte Oliveto.. . .

Amidst solemn surroundings, more sympathetic to the fiery, virile genius of his predecessor Signorelli than to the mischievous and beauty-loving Sodoma, the cycle of St. Benedict was painted. In these frescos, commenced in 15o6 and still in admirable preservation, there is nothing which rises to the height of two or three of Sodoma's best pictures, but as a series it is, on the whole, the most amiable of his works. In their wide, sunlit cloister, protected from damp and wind by the glass with which the government has filled its outer arches, nothing could be more cheerful or attractive than these clear-colored frescos, light in tone, free in their handling, yet far more serrés and close in drawing than are many of the artist's more pretentious pictures.

There is a certain childlike sweetness, a simplicity of arrangement, a genial sense of humor, which is as completely suited to the presentation of these indescribably petty miracles and trifling temptations as the genius of Signorelli was unsuited to it. The subjects themselves, forming "a painted novella" of monastic life, are utterly puerile in character, and their whole charm is in their treatment. . . .

M. Müntz tells us that justice will not be done to this master until he has been placed near Correggio, indeed by his side (immédiatement à côté de lui).

It is very rarely that one takes issue with the enlightened criticism of the author of the 'Histoire de l'art pendant la Renaissance,' but in this case it is impossible to accept his dictum. Great as he is, Sodoma, if placed by the side of Correggio, stands on a far lower plane. Charm he has, and style to an extraordinary degree, but where in his work is there any masterliness to be compared with that shown by Correggio in his cupola of Parma or his St. Jerome ? One is a discoverer and a creator, the other a most gifted and inventive Master of the Revels, who can amuse and fascinate and delight, but to whom the divine afflatus is denied.

The same charm of personality, of abandon, of naturalness, which subjugated the Sienese is potent over the critic who attempts to analyze the works of the fantastic Lombard. Sodoma reminds one of the old tale of the prince to whom all good things were given and yet whose career was spoiled by the malicious gift of one wicked fairy. No painter was more richly dowered by nature: facility, elegance, sweetness, were his; a keen and delicate feeling for grace of line and beauty of feature; remarkable powers of assimilation and a fertile fancy; occasionally he attained distinction, and he rarely, even in his most careless moments, lacked style. But all these great qualities were obscured by one fatal defect—frivolity. There is no better example of how much and how little temperament can do for an artist, or what painting becomes when it is divorced from hard thinking and laborious study. The absence of the appearance of effort, which is such a different thing from the actual absence of effort, is replaced in his work by a slovenliness that is the more irritating because we feel that it is wilful negligence. Every one of his more ambitious pictures manifests carelessness or lassitude in some particular. . . . He lacked the mental coherence, the capacity for intellectual tension, which are indispensable for the planning and excution of large compositions; and though pathos and poetic feeling were within his scope, he was wanting in elevation of thought and, above all, in conviction.

Yet when all these reserves are made, when we have recovered from the annoyance produced by the wanton neglect of splendid gifts, how much re-mains to delight us in Bazzi's work! His sense of humor, a rare quality and one that is almost incompatible with intense convictions, which enlivens the frescos of Monte Oliveto; his capacity for characterization, his vitality, the diversity and suppleness of his genius, are all potent factors in the sum of our pleasure. The greatest of these is doubtless his sensitiveness to physical beauty, above all, the beauty of youth, of girls, and adolescents. . . .

Sodoma's feminine ideal was derived from Leonardo's; less distinguished, it is more seductive; less noble than the subtle Madonnas of Luini, it is more captivating. An oval face with languishing eyes; an over-ripe curved mouth, the upper lip much fuller than the lower one; a delicate nose slightly retroussé; a softly rounded chin, and a slender, long-limbed body, such was Giovan Antonio's type. Add to it those arie di testa which Vasari admired, sometimes an air of dreamy voluptuousness which is as far removed from coarseness as it is from severity; again, a pathos and tenderness that suggest the influence of Perugino, and a quality of youth and freshness, something dawnlike and springlike, and you have the ideal that took Siena by storm. Naturally this sweetness often degenerates into insipidity or becomes cloying; mere loveliness cannot atone for the lack of nobility any more than facility and fertility of invention can replace high thought and strenuous endeavor; but, after all, to analyze the faults of this alluring genius is almost as destructive to the fine edge of the critical spirit as to study the physical defects of a beautiful person.


SODOMA is a most able and gifted painter, worthy at his best to rank with the greatest masters. His finest works are at Siena, and there he should be studied in the churches of San Spirito, San Domenico, San Bernardino, in the Academy, and the Palazzo Pubblico, and at Monte Oliveto near the city... .

When students examine the great number and variety of works by this many-sided painter, I think they will agree with me that Sodoma, taking him all in all, is the most important and gifted artist of the school of Leonardo—the one who is most easily confounded with the great master himself. Jovial, careless, pleasure-loving, and almost licentious, he had neither ambition nor earnestness of purpose. On the other hand, a true artist, arrogance and self-assertion were foreign to his nature. . . . In his best moments, when he brought all his powers into play, Sodoma produced works which are worthy to rank with the most perfect examples of Italian art. Michelangelo's influence, which carried all before it in his day, never diverted Sodoma, who was strictly an original painter, from his own independent course. His female heads, as even his adversary Vasari was forced to acknowledge, are unsurpassed. From a certain point of view he may be classed, with Lotto and Corregglo, with that body of gifted artists who, like Leonardo, mainly strove to depict "the sweetness of the soul."


IT is, on the whole, not easy to estimate justly the artistic position of a man so productive as Sodoma, and so extraordinarily unequal in his productions, without falling either into the error of viewing him too completely in the light of his inferior work, and so underrating his masterpieces, or that of extending an unmerited value to all that came from his hand. He has suffered from literary injustice in Vasari's biased criticism, he has suffered from technical contempt through his own defect of over-production, and consequent inequality. The mere fact that his life was a long one, and his paintings far too numerous, has crowded out, in popular estimation, the memory of those few works of absolute genius on which his higher reputation rests.

Much that has been put down to Sodoma's wayward individuality may, in reality, be attributed to the general tendencies of his age and the society in which he lived. And one has to bear in mind, also, that what his con-temporaries, sought in art was less the edification of the mind than the pleasure of the eye. The sensuousness that had entirely taken possession of Italian literature was spreading now into the more lately developed field of painting, and the criticism of either art was directed rather towards its beauty of form, pleasing line, or ringing meter, than to the idea or sentiment expressed. Painting especially, in seeking thus exclusively for mere plastic beauty, was losing touch more and more with thought, and as it became less intellectual, beginning to lose some of the highest qualities of beauty.

The whole of Sienese art had been from the beginning less thoughtful, less literary, than the Florentine; it was the emotional expression of simpler natures not trained in the subtleties of feeling which the combined influence of the Florentine scholastics and Greek revivalists had brought about. Siena awoke late to a knowledge of the classics, and suffered much less than Florence and Venice from that form of religious eclecticism which ended in artistic insincerity. But even Siena on her hilltops could not escape the general tide of thought which was sweeping over Europe, and in the transition from the medieval to the modern standpoint, she, too, passed through her phase of uncertainty and affectation.

Sodoma came at the beginning of this phase. What was best in him held to the old tradition, the sincerity of the middle ages. The practical side of him, the obvious need of bread, carried him along with the tide; and the sincerity which is found in modern art, the poetry of realism, was as yet undiscovered. Hence the anomalous character of his painting, the indecision of his mental bias.

He left a great deal that was showy and trivial; he was often unequal in the different parts of a picture itself, frequently throwing all his skill into the working of a central figure and dashing in the subordinate subjects hurriedly; or else working but half-heartedly at the ostensible motiv, and concentrating his energy upon the perfection of some lesser group. He had all the advantages and all the defects of an over-rich artistic imagination, and a bias towards the subtle and mystic which often degenerated into the production of what was merely weak... .

Sodoma's strength can never be said to have lain in dramatic grouping or even in proportion of composition. His abundant fancy often led him to over-crowd his canvas, and a violent twofold action going on at the same time induces a great feeling of restlessness in most of his larger works. He was at his best in the portrayal of single figures overwhelmed by some profound or subtle emotion. If he could not invest his Madonnas with the great purity of Perugino or Botticelli's solemn thoughtfulness, he could at least paint men and women under the influence of strong and exalted passion, the mysterious sweetness of whose faces haunts one with persistent power.

Unfortunately, Sodoma, as Rio observes, was too often content to sacrifice quality to quantity, and, amid all his work, there are only some five or six of his paintings which can take their place among the great works of the century. But it is through the merits of these that his claim to greatness lies, and one has grown to associate with his name a sense of the dignity of suffering and the majesty of human nature at its moments of martyrdom and sacrifice.

Wherever humanity has escaped from its daily round to reach a supreme crisis of noble emotion, the artist became, as it were, inspired by his subject and rose to the occasion in art that was both spiritual and strong.


SODOMA'S most stable quality was his instability. Even the work of his best period is full of inconsistencies and contradictions. It was impossible for his contemporary admirers to predict what he might do. In the same series, nay, in the same picture, there is work of the most diverse quality. He was, in fact, a kind of artistic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. And, alas! it was the Mr. Hyde in him that was the most often in evidence.

He is weakest in composition. His works are too crowded; and the heads of the personages represented in them are often arranged in a straight horizontal line. He could draw well; but sometimes his drawing is indescribably weak and careless. As a colorist he had a more orderly development. But even here he is somewhat fitful and uncertain. At first his coloring is hard. It reveals the influence of the school of Florence, and, though better, is only a little better than that to be found in the colored outline drawings of many of the Florentine fifteenth-century artists. After his visits to Rome his color became warmer and richer; and as time went on he showed, as a result of constant study, an appreciation of values rare in his own day and for many generations afterwards. In his concluding period his color is colder and grayer, but his sense of values remains. The best features of his achievement are his modeling, especially his modeling of flesh, and his fine painting of landscape.

It seems ungracious to dwell upon the faults of one who has enriched our memories with several beautiful shapes. But yet even in his rendering of flesh certain faults must be noted. We see in his work, first of all, a tendency to over-modeling, a tendency which in his later work manifests itself in vulgar tours-de-force. Again, his flesh is too fleshy. The bodies he paints look some-times as though they were nothing but flesh and muscle. They do not satisfy our structural sense. His flesh does not suggest a robust framework of bone underneath. His young men are fleshy in the knee, the ankle, and the shoulder. They look as though they would have been the better for a month or two of hard training. Even his St. Victor has lived too well; and his Isaac is a singularly flaccid, flabby youth. How lacking in virility seem many of Sodoma's pseudo-classical forms when set side by side with the true Hellenic types! How unmanly they seem to us when we visualize that "beautiful multitude of the Panathenaic frieze, that line of youths on horseback, with their level glances, their proud, patient lips, their chastened reins, their whole bodies in exquisite service"!

But whether we like or dislike Sodoma's types, it cannot be denied that he sometimes makes them very real to us. Vividly realized and vividly painted, they haunt the imagination of those who have seen them. Who that has once beheld them can forget the swooning St. Catherine, the Eve, the two St. Sebastians, and the young king in the `Adoration of the Magi' ? In the city of art are many mansions. In one we are warmed with an Opimian wine; in another we are regaled with sweet Malaga, The connoisseur of broad and generous nature realizes that the hypersqueamish are the physically and men-tally unhealthy, and he tastes all vintages. If the wine be good of its kind he drinks it with thankfulness.

To Sodoma as a painter of landscape it is possible to give unqualified praise. His treatment of natural scenery is singularly artistic. In composing a landscape he selects elements which, whether from association or from inherent beauty, are capable of giving us calm, abiding pleasure. He combines these into one harmonious whole. In his rendering he successfully grapples with problems of aerial perspective, and produces a satisfying illusion of distance. With the works of Sodoma, as with those of Perugino, when we are cloyed with the unvirile sentimentality of the figures he paints we find relief in contemplating the landscape behind them; and though Sodoma's firmaments are not as vast, as illimitable, as those of the Umbrian, his presentations of natural scenery have qualities of their own which almost compensate for this loss.

The Works of Sodoma


IN the year 1525 Sodoma painted for the confraternity of St. Sebastian in Camollia, near Siena, a processional banner, on one side of which is the full-length figure of St. Sebastian reproduced in plate i, and on the reverse side the Madonna and Child with saints and members of the brotherhood.

The `St. Sebastian,' now in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence, is regarded by many as the artist's masterpiece. It is in oils on a canvas measuring nearly seven feet high by a little less than five feet wide. "Notwithstanding its wan and faded coloring," writes John Addington Symonds, "Sodoma's `St. Sebastian' is still the very best that has been painted. Suffering, refined and spiritual, without a contortion or a spasm, could not be presented in a form of more surpassing loveliness. This is a truly demonic picture in the fascination it exercises and the memory it leaves upon the mind. Part of this remarkable charm may be due to the bold thought of combining the beauty of a Greek Hylas with a Christian sentiment of martyrdom. Only the Renaissance could have produced a hybrid so successful because so deeply felt."

The coloring is in a low key and contributes little to the beauty of the painting. The flesh-tints are cold; the landscape background almost monochromatic, only relieved by the warmer brown of the shadows on the tree-trunk and the yellow light surrounding the angel in deep blue robe who descends from heaven to place a jeweled crown upon the martyr's head.

The story of St. Sebastian is, in the main, better authenticated than are many of the ancient legends. He was a native of Narbonne, Gaul, the son of noble parents, and the commander of a company of the Pr etorian Guards in the service of the Roman emperor, Diocletian, with whom he stood high in favor. Upon discovering that he was a Christian, however, the emperor, having vainly tried to persuade him to renounce his faith, ordered that he should be bound to a stake and shot to death with arrows. This inhuman sentence was carried out that same night, but when Sebastian had been left for dead he was found by his friends to be still living, and so tenderly were his wounds cared for that in time he was restored to health. Rejecting all counsel to fly from Rome, where it was well known no mercy would be shown him were he discovered, Sebastian boldly stood forth before the palace gates, and in a loud voice proclaimed his faith. In his anger at such presumption, Diocletian ordered the young man seized, borne to the circus, beaten to death with clubs, and his body thrown into the great sewer of Rome. There, shortly after-wards, his remains were found by a friend, who had them secretly and reverently interred in the catacombs, at the feet of St. Peter and St. Paul.


THE Company of Santa Croce of Siena ordered Sodoma in 1525 to paint for them three scenes from the Passion: `Calvary," Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane,' and `The Descent into Hades.' The two latter in 1841 were taken to the Siena Academy, where they still are.

`The Descent into Hades' shows Jesus leaning over Abel, helping him to rise, while other unfortunate souls are crowding round watching. Eve, whose head is here reproduced, stands at the left beside Adam. She is universally considered one of the most beautiful of all Sodoma's semi-nude figures, with the pliant, tender grace and wistful, appealing charm so characteristic of his paintings of women.

In the `Garden of Gethsemane' Jesus is kneeling upon a mound while the three sleeping disciples are below him. John, whose head alone is here given, has a delicate purity of expression and fineness of line that might well have characterized the beloved youthful disciple.

This latter fresco is nearly eight feet high by almost four feet wide; `The Descent into Hades' is about eight feet high by five feet four inches wide.


FOR St. Catherine of Siena the Sienese had a special adoration. Catherine Benincasa, as she was known in her girlhood, lived right there among them, and though she was only a tanner's daughter, she devoted her whole time and strength to the poor and sick. It was she, too, who by her preaching and exhorting was at least partly responsible for bringing the papal court back from Avignon to Rome. More than one chapel had already been decorated in her honor, when, in 1526, for the Church of San Domenico, Sodoma painted three frescos illustrating scenes from her life. The one of which the lower part is here reproduced is considered by far the best.

The scene apparently takes place in the portico of a church. St. Catherine is receiving the Stigmata, marks imitating the wounds on the crucified body of Christ, said to have been supernaturally impressed upon certain persons. The Saviour is poised above her in the air, surrounded by a cloud of baby angels, while St. Catherine, dressed in the white robes of a nun, is sinking back into the arms of two sister nuns.

Of this fresco Langton Douglas writes: "Artists and physiologists have united in praising the figure of the fainting St. Catherine. Outside the works of Michelangelo and of the great Venetians, there are few figures more finely modeled in the whole range of Italian art. But even this fresco is by no means of equal value. We forget, however, the feebleness of the upper part of it in contemplating the group of women below. In presence of such a master-piece we have something better to do than to criticize. In all of us there is more than one person, and in complex, many-sided geniuses there are often several. One of the many Sodomas was a very great man. Standing before this work we forget Sodoma the mountebank, Sodoma the blagueur, Sodoma the obscene, Sodoma the lazy and the superficial, and are filled with the emotions the master sought to convey."


SOON after his arrival in Siena, probably about the year 1502, Sodoma painted this large altar-piece for the Cinozzi Chapel in the Church of San Francesco in that city. "It is a fine painting of his early time," writes the Contessa Priuli-Bon, "and was evidently thought much of by contemporary critics, for it was placed in the company of pieces by Raphael, Perugino, and Pintoricchio. Vasari, who, as we know, did not willingly praise Sodoma's work, was forced to write with admiration of the beautiful group of women supporting the Virgin, and the fine figure of the soldier with the carefully painted reflected lights on helmet and cuirass.

"The composition of the picture is the conventional composition of the period. The cross with its Hebrew inscription occupies the central foreground.

A broad valley lies behind, bordered to the left by low blue hills, and a river of some width has carved its course across the plain, fringed with little castles and clumps of tufty trees. In the group of women so praised by Vasari we get for the first time a touch of Sodoma's peculiar quality, the grace and tenderness in handling female forms for which he afterwards became so noted."

`The Descent from the Cross' is now in the Siena Academy. It is painted on wood in tempera, and measures fifteen feet three inches high by nine feet wide.


CRITICS disagree as to the date in Sodoma's career to which this picture should be assigned. By some it is placed as early as 1516—18; by others it is regarded as a work of his middle period, while others again believe it to be a production of his later years, of which it is the finest example. All concur, however, as to the high rank it should hold in his achievement by reason of its technical qualities, its warm color, and the tender sentiment ex-pressed.

In the center of the panel the Madonna is seated holding the Child, who turns towards St. Leonard (or, as some say, St. Calixtus), kneeling at the right. On the other side is St. Joseph, reading. The faces are full of a serene and spiritual beauty, that of the Madonna being especially lovely. The landscape is painted with the utmost delicacy, and in the ruined amphitheater seen in the distance the fact of Sodoma's sojourn in Rome is recalled.

The picture is painted in tempera washed over with glazes of oil, and has suffered from time and restorations. It originally hung over the altar of the Chapel of St. Calixtus in the Cathedral of Siena, but at the time of some re-pairs in the building it was removed to the Palazzo Pubblico, and placed in the little chapel of the palace, where it now hangs.

The panel measures nearly six and a half feet high by five and a half feet wide.


IT was in 1529 that Sodoma received his first important commission from the city of Siena. In the Palazzo Pubblico at each end of the large Sala del Mappamondo, and on one of the side walls, he painted a huge figure standing in a simulated arch of most elaborate architectural design and decoration. `St. Ansanus' is at one end and `St. Victor' at the other, over the door leading into the Sala della Pace.

St. Victor, a Roman soldier who for his profession of Christianity suffered martyrdom in 303 A.D. by being cast into a flaming oven, is the favorite saint of north Italy. In Sodoma's fresco here reproduced he is shown in his suit of armor with the green and gold cuirass, over which are flung a brilliant toga of red and a blue cloak. His right hand holds aloft a bared sword. His eyes are gazing straight ahead, his brow almost knitted to a frown in the earnestness of his regard. At his feet are two cherubs, one holding an olive branch and a blue shield engraved with the word Liberta, the other clasping the helmet of the warrior saint.

Says the Contessa Priuli-Bon: "Sodoma certainly portrayed strength in the commanding figure of St. Victor, but it is the strength of young, vigorous manhood in repose. The power of movement is suggested under the heavy armor, but there is no attempt at representing action, and for this very reason he attained a greater success than if he had aimed at dramatic display."


THIS fresco is one of a series painted between 1518 and 1532 by Sodoma, Pacchia, and Beccafumi, on the walls of the Oratory of San Bernardino, Siena. The four large compositions by Sodoma, in which many figures are introduced, are `The Presentation of the Virgin," The Visitation," The Assumption,'and `The Coronation.' Of these the fresco reproduced in plate vii is one of the finest paintings that the artist has left in Siena. The composition, so often Sodoma's weak point, is excellent, the technical execution careful and well-sustained, the coloring warm, and the modeling far better than is usual in the artist's work. The grouping follows the conventional arrangement of this favorite subject. In the center is placed an open tomb filled with lilies and roses, from which the Virgin, robed in white, ascends in glory to heaven. Her voluminous mantle of blue is upheld by angels who hover about her in a semi-circle. Beneath, on either side of the tomb, kneel the apostles, awe-struck by the wondrous vision, while St. Thomas, on the right, receives the mystic girdle which the Virgin lets fall to convince his doubting spirit.

The fresco, although damaged in parts, notably in the figures of the apostles on the left, has retained much of its original beauty. It measures nine feet three inches high by nine feet seven inches wide.


M MORELLI thinks that it was about the time of Sodoma's first visit to Rome that he painted this panel of the Mother and Child, now in the Brera Gallery at Milan. It has all the characteristics, as Morelli and others have pointed out, of the Lombard school, in some respects almost exaggerating the attributes which were peculiarly Leonardo's own. The type of the Madonna's face, the illusive, uncertain smile, the shape of the brows, and the curve of the upper lids—these are distinctly reminiscent of Leonardo and Luini.

Sodoma was rioted for his landscapes, and by some the landscape here is regarded as one of his most beautiful attempts at interpreting nature. The time is sunset. The clouds are flaming in the rosy glow which makes more transparent the blue-toned mountains that rise above the lake in the distance. From this lake the wide river so often found in Sodoma's pictures sweeps nearly straight across the panel. In front of this is a low bank, the foreground sprinkled with columbine and wild parsley. Here the Mother sits, holding on her knee the baby Jesus, whose arms are tight about the lamb beside him.

This painting is on wood, and the critics praise it highly, not only for the ten-der sentiment which is its greatest charm, but for the wonderful jewel-like coloring that fairly floods it—in the sunset sky, in the river reflecting the burning clouds, and in the transparent shadows and softly rich flesh-tints of Mother and Child.

It measures two feet one inch high by one foot ten inches wide.


THIS portrait in the Stadel Institute, Frankfort, ascribed by some to the Venetian artist Sebastiano del Piombo, by others to Parmigiano, by Mr. Claude Phillips to Pacchia, and believed by Dr. Bode to be by the Flemish painter Jan Scorel, was first pronounced by Signor Morelli to be the work of Sodoma, some of whose leading characteristics he finds in the hands, with their tapering fingers and knuckles indicated by dimples, in the almond-shaped eyes, the form of the ear, the arrangement of the crisply curling hair, and the general treatment of the landscape. This attribution is accepted by Dr. Frizzoni, Sir A. H. Layard, and others.

The portrait, formerly supposed to represent a member of the Medici family, is now thought to be that of an unknown young Sienese lady of high position. She is richly dressed in an elaborate gown of green trimmed with gold thread, and wears, in addition to a necklace of pearls, a long chain of Etruscan workmanship, with ear-rings of similar design. In one hand she holds her gloves and in the other a feather fan. A table covered with a red tapestry cloth is at her side, and behind her is a heavy green curtain; to the left, through an open window, is seen a mountainous landscape traversed by a winding river.

Vasari tells us that Sodoma painted many portraits during the first years of his residence in Siena, but very few of his works in this branch of art have come down to us, and, like the much disputed panel here reproduced, those few have for the most part been ascribed to other hands.


TWENTY-FIVE of the thirty-one scenes which Sodoma executed in the cloister of the monastery of Monte Oliveto Maggiore depict incidents from the life of St. Benedict.

The story which the fresco here reproduced illustrates tells how Florentius, a wicked priest and bitter enemy of St. Benedict, brought a company of dancing-girls into the monastery, hoping to ruin the characters and reputations of the monks. The moment depicted shows St. Benedict exhorting the girls to reform. It is represented as happening in the loggia of the convent, with St. Benedict standing on a balcony at the left, leaning over and talking to the group of women clustered below him at the right. Immediately beneath him are members of the brotherhood, one of the monks holding by the bridle a laden donkey whose sleepy eyes belie the inquisitive twist of his big ears. The delicate background of arches and colonnades opens in the center through a portico showing a landscape of trees and buildings and winding roadway.

While Sodoma was painting this fresco he kept it entirely covered from the monks' inspection. To their horror, when it was finally exposed, they saw that all the women were depicted nude. Sodoma had the true painter's love for the human figure and he could and did paint it with a purity of contour, a restraint of line, and a dignity and sweetness of pose few have excelled. But it is more than likely that it was quite as much to startle and anger the Brothers Benedictine as to display his ability as a painter of the nude that he evolved these lovely figures on the convent walls. Fortunately for posterity, the monks did not make him entirely blot out the group. They did, however, insist upon his properly clothing the figures, and though it was a task which the painter must have abominated, he succeeded in achieving a charming. arrangement of color, as well as beautiful flowing lines in the superimposed draperies. The first of the girls is dressed in shot crimson and green, the second in sky-blue, the third in blue with an orange-toned mantle, the fourth in black.

Müntz calls this fresco "perhaps the most marvelous of all the series," and says that the first two maidens "in their exquisite grace, are sisters of the Muses with whom Raphael peopled his Parnassus."

Symonds writes of the scene that it "carries the melody of fluent lines and the seduction of fair, girlish faces into a region of pure poetry."

( Originally Published 1906 )

Giobanni Antonio Bazzi - Called Sodoma

The Art Of Sodoma

A List Of Principal Paintings By Sodoma And Their Present Locations

Home | More Articles | Email: