In the first article of this pair looking at painting in Italy around 1500, to provide context for the commemoration of the life and work of Piero di Cosimo, I looked at more established artists, including Leonardo da Vinci. This article concludes by looking at those by younger painters still making their reputation, and the state of mythological painting at the time.
Michelangelo (25 years old) was another Florentine artist; he was preoccupied with sculpture at this time.
His Entombment from about 1500-01 shows his skill painting in oils.
The rising star among Venetian painters was Giorgione (23 years old), who was apprenticed to Giovanni Bellini and developed his style into the Venetian School.
Giorgione’s Virgin and Child with Saint Nicasius and Saint Francis of Assisi (the ‘Castelfranco Altarpiece’) from about 1500 combines a fine depiction of the Virgin and infant Christ with two wonderful saintly figures – Nicasius’ armour is spectacular – and an innovative naturalist landscape. The buildings at the upper left are meticulously painted, and there is excellent aerial perspective at the upper right.
Attributed to Giorgione or his circle, The Virgin and Child with a View of Venice (The Tallard Madonna) (c 1500) is an excellent example of an embedded landscape seen through a window.
The Virgin Mary and infant Jesus (who never of course came anywhere near Venice) are seen with a view through the window of the south-eastern corner of the Piazza san Marco, during completion of the first Campanile, when it still had a flat roof (which was in place between 1489-1511). Surprisingly the painter doesn’t take the opportunity to show the frontage of the Basilica. There is also the odd contradiction that the Basilica and Piazza as a whole are dedicated to Saint Mark, who was martyred in about 68 AD in Alexandria.
Less securely attributed to Giorgione is this famous triple portrait, The Three Ages of Man (c 1500). Its faces are very lifelike and expressive, and are clearly from the hand of a master.
As Raphael (17 years old) was probably still working as an assistant to Pietro Perugino in 1500, his early style was indistinguishable.
That style was fairly conservative for the time, more consistent and reliable than evolutionary or revolutionary. It’s probably fair to describe Raphael’s earliest paintings, like the Solly Madonna or Madonna and Child Holding a Goldfinch, from about 1501, as being from the school of Perugino. The modelling of flesh is distinctly pre-Raphaelite, and there is comparatively little attention paid to the surface textures of fabrics.
Almost all of the paintings I have shown in these two articles have religious motifs. Secular themes, particularly stories from classical mythology, were in their relative infancy.
This superb panel painted by Jacopo da Sellaio in 1475-80 tells much of the classical tragedy of Orpheus and Eurydice, played across an integrated fantasy landscape. Orpheus, Eurydice and Aristaeus is one panel of a series, now sadly dispersed across continents.
The start of the story is at the left, where Orpheus is tending a flock of sheep. To the right of that, his bride Eurydice is bitten by a snake very shortly after their wedding. At the far right, Orpheus, with the assistance of Aristaeus, puts the dead body of Eurydice in a rock tomb.
Although Botticelli remained conservative in the retention of egg tempera as his medium for easel paintings, it was he who developed secular narrative paintings most.
In about 1482, Botticelli painted using that traditional medium a huge elaboration of classical myth in his Primavera, and followed that with other mythological motifs.
He also painted a commissioned series telling a literary narrative drawn from the highly secular Decameron by Boccaccio, The Story of Nastagio Degli Onesti (1482-83), with its innovative female nudity.
In 1500-01, still working in egg tempera, Botticelli told The Story of Lucretia.
Even twentieth century painting looks relatively dull and slow-moving by comparison.