Benvenuto Tisio da Garofalo
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An Italian painter of the Ferrarese school ; b. in 1481 at Garofalo, whence, as was the custom among artists, he took his name; d. at Ferrara, 6 (or 16) September, 1559. With Mazzolino (1481-1530) and Dosso Dossi (1479-1541), Garofalo makes up the modest triumvirate of the Ferrarese school in the sixteenth century. At an earlier date the school could boast of such men as Cosimo Tura, Francesco Cossa, and Ercole Roberti, and at one time in the sixteenth century was perhaps the foremost school of poetry and painting in Italy. In the wonderful frescoes of the Schifanoja Palace (1470), depicting the life of Prince Borso d'Este, it created an aestheticism all its own, half allegory and half realism, portraying the world of the day in heroic fashion with all the pomp and circumstance of festal parade, and a magnificent display like that described in the "Trionfi" of Petrarch. These frescoes are not only the most precious document we possess of the courier life and the worldly ideal of the fifteenth century, but they mark in Italy the beginning of what is known as "genre painting ", that is, sketches from real life, but characterized by a good taste, a dignity, and a decorative sense so sadly lacking in similar work of the Dutch school later. This new style forms the artistic glory of the House of Este, which had also the honour of pensioning Ariosto. Its spirit can be still recognized in the famous paintings (now in the Louvre) executed in 1505 for the Duchess Isabella by Mantegna, Perugino, and Lorenzo Costa. It survives in the works of Dosso Dossi — in the charming Judith of the Modena gallery, and in the incomparable Circe of the Casino Borghese.
Garofalo's real vocation lay in such work. His peculiar talent consisted in feeling and giving naive expression to the joy of life, the charm of the world around him, the beauty of elegant and rural customs, and all that is now called "idyllic", but as it appeared to Italian courtiers of the Renaissance period . His youthful works — the Boar Hunt in the Palazzo Sciarra, the Knight's Procession in the Palazzo Colonna at Rome — gave promise of a Latin Kuyp, less commonplace, more romantic, more artistic, and more refined than the Dutch artist. This was the result of his early study under Panetti and Costa, and of his companionship with his fellow pupil Dossi. In 1495 he had lessons at Cremona from Baccaccino, who initiated him into the secrets of Venetian colouring. But a few years later, when entering on early manhood, he fell unfortunately under an influence quite alien to his own genius. It was at Rome, where he spent three years (1509-1512), that he succumbed to the charm of the new idea. Raphael was painting the "Camera" or hall of the Segnature, and that of the Heliodorus; Michelangelo was decorating the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Garofalo was overcome by these masterpieces; he was unable to refrain from the contemplation of a higher beauty than that which he himself had expressed.
From this moment disappears the charming artist, the delicate painter of contemporary life, into which Garofalo was developing. The majesty of the Roman works imposed on him an ideal beyond his power to realize. The Ferrarese Garofalo might have been a master — of the second class of creative artists, indeed, but of true originality; after his visit to Rome, he was but a "Raphael in miniature". It is not easy to criticise harshly works which are always sincere and whose greatest defect arises from the conscientious pursuit of an ideal. All Garofalo's works bear traces of this extreme conscientiousness of execution — a quality that became ever rarer in the school of Raphael. As a moral force Garofalo has no equal in the group that surrounded the master; in this respect he is vastly superior to such a painter as Giulio Romano. Even his least successful works retain, amid their somewhat frigid and commonplace purity, that transparency, glow, and harmony which are the marks of all Venetian colouring. But though the eye is charmed, all illusion as to the artistic quality of the work soon disappears. The figures have no life, the expression is uncertain, ideal heads betray a lack of intellect. The larger the figure the more emphatic are its defects. No elegance of design or skill in execution can hide the fact that Garofalo's art consists in a clever handling of pure abstractions.
Nevertheless, despite his many ambitious but insignificant (though never vulgar) works, the natural instinct of the Ferrarese school had not quite forsaken him. It asserted itself amid all his idealistic straining, and led him to create a style of "tableaux de piete", little pious scenes as helps to private devotion, to be set up in bed-rooms and oratories. We have here the Bible interpreted in a familiar mode, reduced to the proportions of a "genre" picture and making a popular appeal. The vast numbers of these little paintings in the Borghese, Doria, and Capitol galleries at Rome is a sufficient indication of their vogue. This was the style so successfully developed by Elsheimer and Rembrandt in the seventeenth century. But, even in this new departure, the false ideal with which Garofalo was smitten at Rome continued to stifle his native genius. Ever more and more he condemned himself to be but the pale reflection of Raphael. One can follow step by step the progress of his self-imposed decadence. The "Virgin in the Clouds with four Saints" (1518) in the Academy of Fine Arts at Venice is an excellent work; the "Pieta" (1527) in the Brera Gallery at Milan reveals an increasing frigidity of treatment. If one Madonna (1532) in the Modena Gallery is a charming picture, another of slightly later date no longer merits this eulogy. The large "Triumph of Religion" in the Ateneo at Ferrara is a purely "bookish" work, whose ensemble is null and whose stray pleasing episodes are hard to discover. Later even his sense of colour begins to fail; year by year it grows colder and finally deserts him. Henceforth he can produce only such melancholy monochromes as the "Kiss of Judas" in the Church of San Francisco at Ferrara.
Such was the gradual process of distortion under a foreign influence of this charming genius, adapted by nature to feel and proclaim the poetry and homely realities of life, but rendered sterile by an unnatural endeavour to give expression to an ideal which was not its own. In the pursuit of this ideal, we see Garofalo lose his native qualities one by one, his exquisite sensitiveness as painter and colourist being the last to forsake him. From 1550 till his death Garofalo was blind. His history is one of the most eloquent examples of mistaken vocation. With him the Ferrarese school loses all its originality, and abdicates the place it should have filled in the history of art. Venice soon occupies the vacancy ; she is destined to translate to canvas those formulae for "painting from life", which Ferrara had dimly foreseen; Giorgione, Titian, Palma, Bonifazio are to reap the laurels which Garofalo refused, and to deprive him of the honour of inaugurating a style so fruitful in the subsequent history of painting.
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