FRA BARTOLOMMEO: THE RENAISSANCE PAINTER OF DELICATE SPIRITUALITY

Creating dazzling, instantly recognizable narratives with a dense and somewhat shadowy atmospheric treatment, the Italian painter, Fra Bartolommeo, is celebrated as one of the most innovative and accomplished painters of the Italian Renaissance.

Famous for painting his masterpieces both with craft and compassion, Bartolommeo, also called Bartolommeo della Porta or Baccio della Porta, was born on March 28, 1472, in Savignano di Prato, Tuscany. In 1483 or 1484, Bartolommeo served as an apprentice in the workshop a of Cosimo Rosselli and then formed a workshop with the painter Mariotto Albertinelli.

Bartolommeo’s early works, such as the ‘Annunciation’ (1497), were influenced by the balanced compositions of the Umbrian painter Perugino and by the sfumato (smoky effect of light and shade) of Leonardo da Vinci. In 1499, Bartolommeo was commissioned to paint a large scale fresco, ‘The Last Judgement’, for one of the cemetery chapels in Santa Maria Nuova.

Influenced by the preaching of the Florentine Dominican religious reformer Girolamo Savonarola, Bartolommeo joined a convent in 1500, and in 1501 he gave up painting and joined the Dominican order. In 1504, he again began painting producing devotional paintings mostly at the service of his order.

In 1507, Bartolommeo completed the ‘Vision of St. Bernard', which shows him achieving the transition from the subtle grace of late Quattrocento painting to the monumentality of the High Renaissance style. In 1508, he visited Venice and assimilated the Venetian painters' use of rich color harmonies.

Back in Florence, Bartolomeo painted a number of calm and simple religious pictures brimming with spiritualism and heartfelt piety. Among such works are his ‘God the Father with SS. Catherine of Siena and Mary Magdalene’ (1509) and the ‘Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine’ (1512).

In 1514, Bartolommeo visited Rome, where he influenced by Raphael's mature work and Michelangelo’s frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and incorporated a greater power of dramatic expression in his art, as in ‘Madonna della Misericordia’ (1515) and the ‘Pietà’ (1516). His large frescoes of ‘St. Mark' and ‘St. Sebastian’ Sebastian’on the wall at San Marco in Florence were also in this line.

Despite his assimilation of the progressive currents of his time, Bartolommeo's art is restrained, conservative and somewhat severe, and he almost exclusively painted religious subjects. His production of drawings and preparatory sketches shows a delicate sensitivity and technical superiority. His landscapes are among the most notable of his time.

While working on a painting, Bartolommeo fell out of the window and became paralyzed. Later he contracted severe food poisoning and developed a violent fever and died at the age of 48, on October 31, 1517, in Florence.

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