Andrea del Verrocchio
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Born at Florence, 1435; d. at Venice, 1488. He was called Andrea di Michele di Francesco de' Cioni, but for his true name he substituted that of his master, the goldsmith Giuliano Verrocchio. Some authorities hold that the frequented the studies of Donatello and Baldovinetti, but in any case the impress of his early education with a goldsmith is strongly evident in his work. He always retained a very keen taste for delicate chasing, which taste is especially manifested in the equestrian statue of Colleoni, wherein the horse's head and the harness are chased like a piece of jewellery. He excelled in depicting the charms of children and womanly grace. Nevertheless he was not married, but lived in the household of a married sister, who had many children. Although favoured with the friendship of Lorenzo de' Medici, honoured with important commissions, and reputed the greatest artist of his time, he seems never to have known the favours of fortune. His art, which often shone with a radiantly smiling beauty, seems to have been the reflection of a happy and cheerful life. He was both painter and sculptor, but chiefly the latter.
His chief sculptural works were: the tomb of Piero and Giovanni de' Medici, in the Church of San Lorenzo, in marble and bronze, without religious emblem. His "David" in bronze was in the national museum (the Bargello), Florence. The "Child holding a dolphin ", in bronze, made to adorn a fountain of the Villa Medici at Careggi, is in the courtyard of the Palazzo Vecchio at Florence. These three works were ordered from Verrocchio by Lorenzo the Magnificent. In the terra-cotta "Madonna" made for the hospital of Santa Maria Novella "supreme distinction of thought is united to the most scrupulous observation of nature " (A. Michel). The marble bust of the "Flower-girl" is in the Bargello. The silver bas-relief of the "Decollation of St. John the Baptist ", which adorned the altar of the baptistery of San Giovanni, is preserved n the cathedral museum (Opera del Duomo), Florence. The marble monument erected in memory of Cardinal Fortteguera in the cathedral of Pistoia was designed by Verrocchio but executed by his pupils.
His two masterpieces, both in bronze, were the "Incredulity of St. Thomas" (1483) and the "Colleone" (1479-88). The first group, wherein the artist has touchingly represented Christ urging the doubting Apostle to put his hand in His pierced side, was ordered by the Council of Merchants and placed outside the Church of San Michele, in a beautiful niche made by Donatello. But Verrocchio erred in making so much of the draperies, for this exaggerated realism greatly distracts the attention from a subject so pathetic in itself. The second work was the splendid equestrian statue which the Republic of Venice ordered to honour the memory of the celebrated condottiere , Bartolommeo Colleoni of Bergamo, who had commanded the Venetian troops. While casting it Verrocchio was seized with a chill, which ended fatally. The statute was completed by the Venetian Alessandro Leopardi, who had the audacity to sign a work of which he had only finished the casting and perfected the details. The statute was not erected until 1495; it is still to be seen on the Piazza dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo. Assuredly, "we have a right to say that this equestrian statute is the finest in the world" (J. Burckhardt).
Only two paintings can with certainty be assigned to Verrocchio, the "Baptism of Christ", which was made for the Convent of San Salvi at the gates of Florence, and which is now at the Academy of Fine Arts n the same city; and the "Madonna" of the Duomo of Pistoia, long ascribed to Lorenzo di Credi, on the word of Vasari, but which a document published by Signor Chiti assigns to Verrocchio. The "Baptism" (c. 1470) is an oil painting, at that time still a great novelty in Florence. Accordingly, it shows traces of grouping and experiment. Its different parts are of unequal value, which led Vasari to assert boldly that the angel respectfully guarding the garments of Christ is by Leonardo da Vinci. It is more perfect than the other figures in the picture. The "Baptism" marked an epoch in the history of Italian painting, because the accuracy of design and the refinement of the model were an innovation whereby Verrocchio broke with the school of the frescoists, less correct and broader in execution. But these technical studies, so evident especially in the angular figure of St. John Baptist, explain why Vasari called Verrocchio's manner "alquanto dura e crudetta". The perfection of the landscape which forms the background of the picture foreshadows modern art, because "for the first time the artist gives attentive observance to the study of values, the gradation of colours, especially to the unity of the figures with the environment" (M. Raymond). This "somewhat rough and crude" manner disappears in the "Madonna" of Pistoia. This delightful composition represents the Blessed Virgin between St. John the Baptist and St. Zeno, supporting the Infant Jesus Who lifts His little hand to bless.
Critics do not agree with regard to the other pictures ascribed to Verrocchio; nevertheless he may be unhesitatingly credited with the beautiful "Annunciation" at the Uffizi, and the graceful "Madonna with the Carnation", in the Old Pinacothek at Munich. The authorship of the Madonnas at the museums of Berlin and London is disputed. Verrocchio was perhaps the greatest artist of the second half of the fifteenth century. On the boundary of two ages, between the old Florentine school, about to disappear, and the School of the Renaissance in course of formation, he was not, like the masters of preceding periods, a Christian artist, because he rejected the purpose of placing art at the service of a moral and religious idea ; he was not as yet an artist of the Renaissance neglecting the soul to study the body, for he did not attempt to imitate antiquity; instead of drawing his inspiration from the statutes which he has bequeathed to us, and of becoming exclusively enamoured of the plastic beauty of corporeal forms, he preferred to observe living nature, and like his predecessors continued to subordinate form to the expression of the feelings of the soul, but, more skilful than they, he succeeded in perfecting his methods of expression, because his drawing is more correct and his modelling more scientific.
Hence Verrocchio's powerful influence over painting ; his studio was the centre of resistance to the invasion of antique influence; and his pupils Lorenzo di Credi, Perugino, and Leonardo da Vinci continued to spread the doctrine of the Florentine School. This doctrine may be summarized as follows: art should be spiritual, that is, it should make form serve the expression of thought and sentiment.
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