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Fra Bartolommeo

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An Italian painter and a member of the Dominican Order, b. in 1475 in the territory belonging to Florence, d. at Florence in 1517. He bore the worldly name of Bartolommeo di Pagholo del Fattorillo and was called, more familiarly, Baccio della Porta, the nickname being a reference to the circumstances of his family. His work as a painter characterizes the transition of the Renaissance from its early period to the time of its greatest splendour. In 1484 he entered the studio of Cosimo Rosselli one of whose pupils at the same time was a lad of about Bartolommeo's age, Mariotto Albertinelli. The friendship between Bartolommeo and the somewhat more worldly Albertinelli caused the two to form a business partnership in 1490 which lasted until 1312. At times the two friends were estranged on account of Bartolommeo's admiration for Savonarola.

Bartolommeo adopted Savonarola's theories concerning art, painted the reformer's picture a number of times and after Savonarola's tragic end (1498) entered the same order to which the reformer had belonged. Before this, though, he had painted the fresco of the Last Judgment, which is in the Church of Santa Maria Nuova, Florence. The upper part of the fresco depicts the Saviour, the Virgin Mary, and the Apostles; the figures while preserving their traditional dignity exhibit a striking freedom in the pose. The work also shows an entirely new perception of perspective. The lower half of the fresco, painted by Albertinelli is also skillfully composed. At times, perhaps, a little more action would be preferable. Besides this work all that we have of Bartolommeo's first period are numerous carefully executed drawings which are in various collections. Savonarola made the same deep impression on Bartolommeo that he made on many other Florentine painters. According to Vasari, the artist, influenced by Savonarola's preaching, threw his secular and mythological designs into the bonfire.

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For a number of years after his entrance (1500) into the Convent of San Marco he gave up his art although he did not become a priest. However, he resumed his work, painting in the style of Angelico which was in agreement with the spirit of Savonarola and also in part in the style of Masaccio and Filippino He had previously studied the Florentine art of the time with great care and painted, above all, in the manner of this school. The influence of Leonardo da Vinci, who worked at Florence, or near by, from 1501 to 1508, is also evident. The "Last Judgment" drew the attention of Raphael, who was eight years the younger of the two, to Bartolommeo. Bartolommeo had charge of the studio of San Marco when Raphael came to Florence. Raphael visited Bartolommeo and the acquaintance was productive of benefit to both. In 1508 Raphael went to Rome. In the same year a visit to Venice gave Bartolommeo a new stimulus. The influence of the rich colouring used by Bellini and Titian showed itself in the altar-piece (in the Museum at Lucca ), which represents God the Father, with St. Catherine and Mary Magdalen in ecstasy. Some years later Bartolommeo went for a short time to Rome. Here he studied the works of Michelangelo in addition to those of Raphael. For a while he was in Lucca, but generally he worked at San Marco, where he finally died.

Fra Bartolommeo developed his undoubted talent for painting by the most diligent study. In his work depth of religious feeling and the dignity suitable to sacred subjects are happily united with the advance in the technic of art of his time. In perspective, characterization of his subject, drapery, colour, grouping, and rhythm of pose and movement Bartolommeo holds to the Cinquecento, while the impression made by his devotional pictures is in no way lowered by realism or by seeking after external effect. The works which he painted to sell were not so naive and unconscious as the Fiesole pictures, for Bartolommeo came more in contact with the world. The "Vision of St. Bernard" exhibits a shy tender grace, the "Marriage of St. Catherine" (in the Pitti Palace, Florence) has more animation although filled with the mystic depths of religious feeling. Bartolommeo loved symmetry in the grouping, but he understood how to avoid monotony by varying the position of the body, the turn of the head, and by the use of other signs of movement as, for example, in the "Mother of Mercy" in the museum at Lucca. In an unfinished altar-piece a beauty of form expressive of the character of the personages is united to skillful variety and strict adherence to the subject. This altar-piece (in the Uffizi Palace, Florence) represents the patron saints of Florence with the Madonna and Child. St. Anna who is also portrayed is somewhat higher in position, while two angels sit at the foot of the altar and others are poised over the whole group.

The art with which Bartolommeo expressed the individuality of his subjects is still greatly admired in small frescoes which he produced, such as the "Ecce Homo" and representations of the Madonna with various saints. The heroic figure of St. Mark in the Pitti Palace, Florence, an imitation of the style of Michelangelo, is less striking in expression and pose than in the treatment of the drapery. A delightful simplicity and dignity characterize the painting of a Risen Christ blessing the world. The evangelists are with him and the world is seen as a landscape in a mirror held by two angels. Still more unassuming but yet more beautiful is a Madonna with St. Stephen and John the Baptist. Another canvas which is greatly admired is a "Descent from the Cross"; or, "Lamentation over Christ", in which the expression of suffering on the faces is most finely graded and so subdued that a heavenly peace illumines the group. Bartolommeo's masterpieces are to be found chiefly in Florence and Lucca.

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