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Italian Renaissance Learning Resources

In collaboration with the National Gallery of Art

Presentation of Self

Alberti, Leon Battista

(b Genoa, 14 Feb 1404; d Rome, April 1472). Italian architect, sculptor, painter, theorist and writer. The arts of painting, sculpture and architecture were, for Alberti, only three of an exceptionally broad range of interests, for he made his mark in fields as diverse as family ethics, philology and cryptography. It is for his contribution to the visual arts, however, that he is chiefly remembered. Alberti single-handedly established a theoretical foundation for the whole of Renaissance art with three revolutionary treatises, on painting, sculpture and architecture, which were the first works of their kind since Classical antiquity. Moreover, as a practitioner of the arts, he was no less innovative. In sculpture he seems to have been instrumental in popularizing, if not inventing, the portrait medal, but it was in architecture that he found his métier. Building on the achievements of his immediate predecessors, Filippo Brunelleschi and Michelozzo di Bartolomeo, he reinterpreted anew the architecture of antiquity and introduced compositional formulae that have remained central to classical design ever since.

Paul Davies, David Hemsoll

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Alexander the Great

[Alexander III], King of Macedon

(b Pella, Macedonia, 356 BC; reg 336–323 BC; d Babylon, 10 June 323 BC).

Macedonian monarch and patron. Having inherited the kingdom from his assassinated father, Philip of Macedon (reg 359–336 BC), he invaded Asia in 334 BC and twice defeated the Persians. After invading Egypt, he founded Alexandria in 331 BC and was hailed by the oracle of Amun at Siwah as ‘Son of Zeus’. He then moved into Persia, crushed the main Persian army at Gaugamela, occupied Persepolis, Susa and Pasargadae and declared himself Great King. Advancing via Afghanistan into India, he founded en route several other Alexandrias. However, after his defeat of the Indian king Porus in 326 BC, his army mutinied, compelling his return to Babylon. Increasingly alcoholic and devastated by the death of his lover Hephaistion but still planning further conquests, he died of a fever in 323 BC. Alexander’s patronage of major artists and his conquest of the Near East were major catalysts for change in Greek art, so that within a generation of his death the parochial artistic styles of the Classical city states had given way to the cosmopolitan art of the Hellenistic world.

Andrew F. Stewart

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Alighieri, Dante

(b Florence, May 1265; d Ravenna, ?14 ?Sept 1321).

Italian writer. He is universally recognized as the greatest poet of the Middle Ages. His masterpiece, the Divine Comedy (begun 1307 or 1314), contains many passages in which Dante expressed his appreciation of painting and sculpture, and the themes in the poem have challenged artists from the 14th century to the present day.

Joan Isobel Friedman

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Altoviti, Bindo

(b Rome, 26 Nov 1491; d Rome, 22 Jan 1557).

Italian banker and patron. He was born of a noble Florentine family. At the age of 16 he inherited the family bank in Rome and, after the closure in 1528 of the rival bank founded by Agostino Chigi, became the most important papal financier in the city. Despite his position as Florentine consul in Rome, he was vigorously opposed to the Medici regime and his residence near the Ponte Sant’Angelo became the gathering place of many Florentine exiles. This palazzo was restored by Altoviti in 1514 (destr. 1888) and housed a rich collection of antiquities from Hadrian’s Villa and many commissioned works.

Clare Robertson

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Angelico, Fra

[Fra Giovanni da Fiesole; Guido di Piero da Mugello]

(b nr Vicchio, c. 1395–1400; d Rome, 18 Feb 1455).

Italian painter, illuminator and Dominican friar. He rose from obscure beginnings as a journeyman illuminator to the renown of an artist whose last major commissions were monumental fresco cycles in St Peter’s and the Vatican Palace, Rome. He reached maturity in the early 1430s, a watershed in the history of Florentine art. None of the masters who had broken new ground with naturalistic painting in the 1420s was still in Florence by the end of that decade. The way was open for a new generation of painters, and Fra Angelico was the dominant figure among several who became prominent at that time, including Paolo Uccello, Fra Filippo Lippi and Andrea del Castagno. By the early 1430s Fra Angelico was operating the largest and most prestigious workshop in Florence. His paintings offered alternatives to the traditional polyptych altarpiece type and projected the new naturalism of panel painting on to a monumental scale.

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(b Stagira, 384 BC; d Khalkis, 322 BC).

Ancient Greek philosopher. Born to a physician at the Macedonian court, Aristotle travelled to Athens in his 18th year to study philosophy at Plato’s Academy. He remained for nearly twenty years until Plato’s death in 348 BC; he was then forced to leave Athens: probably he had come under suspicion because of his Macedonian connections. He went first to Assos, then to Mytilene, doing the original biological research on which his later scientific writings are based. During this period, he spent some time as tutor to the young Alexander the Great (reg 336–323 BC); the relationship does not seem to have been a warm one. Returning to Athens in 335 BC, he set up his own philosophical school, later called the Lyceum. From the colonnaded path, or peripatos, attached to the building, his followers were later called ‘Peripatetics’. Here he taught, and wrote most of his surviving works. After Alexander’s death in 323 BC, anti-Macedonian feeling once again forced Aristotle to leave Athens; he died in exile of a stomach ailment about a year later.

Martha C. Nussbaum

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Bellini, Giovanni


(b ?1431–6; d Venice, 29 Nov 1516). Painter and draughtsman, son of Jacopo Bellini. Although the professional needs of his family background may have encouraged him to specialize at an early date in devotional painting, by the 1480s he had become a leading master in all types of painting practised in 15th-century Venice. . . . His increasing dominance of Venetian art led to an enormous expansion of his workshop after c. 1490; and this provided the training-ground not only for his numerous shop-hands and imitators (generically known as Belliniani) but probably also for a number of major Venetian painters of the next generation. . . . It was thanks to Giovanni Bellini that the Venetian school of painting was transformed during the later 15th century from one mainly of local significance to one with an international reputation. He thus set the stage for the triumphs of Venetian painting in the 16th century and for the central contribution that Venice was to make to the history of European art.

Peter Humfrey

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Bertoldo di Giovanni

(b ?Florence, c. 1430–?1440; d Poggio a Caiano, nr Florence, 28 Dec 1491).

Italian sculptor and medallist. Throughout most of his career he was a member of Lorenzo the Magnificent’s Florentine household and in his old age was put in charge of the academy that met in the Medici sculpture garden. Bertoldo’s work contributed to the antique revival, and, in particular, he developed the genre of the bronze statuette, of which six examples by him survive. He also produced bronze reliefs and medals as well as working in other media. It is very likely that he is identifiable with one Bertoldo di Giovanni di Bertoldo, who was involved in a minor commercial transaction in 1463.

James David Draper

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Biagio d’Antonio

Biagio d’Antonio (Tucci)

(b Florence, 1446; d Florence, 1 June 1516).

Italian painter. He was previously confused with three other painters: Andrea Utili (fl 1481–96) of Faenza; ‘Giovanni Battista Utili’ (?1465–1516), whose second family name was Bertucci, also of Faenza; and Benedetto Ghirlandaio. . . . According to a catasto (land registry declaration), his surname was Tucci. An eclectic artist, he reflected the styles of many contemporary Tuscan painters, although his own slightly stiff and doll-like figure style is constant. . . . Biagio also produced many cassone paintings, in which he combined an animated narrative vein with an almost courtly taste for the description of rich and highly coloured costumes and armour.

Roberta Bartoli

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Boccaccio, Giovanni

(b ?nr Florence, 1313; d Certaldo, 21 Dec 1375).

Italian writer. He was the natural child of an unknown mother and Boccaccino di Chellino, a merchant banker. At the age of 14 Boccaccio was sent to Naples and apprenticed to a Florentine counting house; subsequently he attended the University of Naples, where he studied canon law and met many of the city’s leading scholars and humanists, including Paolo da Perugia, Andalo del Negro and Cina da Pistoia. Boccaccio’s desire to pursue a literary career eventually supplanted all other interests. One of the most influential writers of the 14th century, he is now known primarily for his works in Italian, in particular the Decameron. During his lifetime, however, such works in Latin as De claris mulieribus (1361), De casibus virorum illustrium (1355–60) and the immensely influential encyclopedia De genealogia deorum gentilium (written 1350–60; revised 1371–4) were the major sources of his fame and were often the subject of manuscript and book illustrations, especially in the 15th century.

Joan Isobel Friedman

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Botticelli, Sandro

[Filipepi, Alessandro (di Mariano di Vanni)]

(b Florence, 1444–5; d Florence, 17 May 1510).

Italian painter and draughtsman. In his lifetime he was one of the most esteemed painters in Italy, enjoying the patronage of the leading families of Florence, in particular the Medici and their banking clients. He was summoned to take part in the decoration of the Sistine Chapel in Rome, was highly commended by diplomatic agents to Ludovico Sforza in Milan and Isabella d’Este in Mantua and also received enthusiastic praise from the famous mathematician Luca Pacioli and the humanist poet Ugolino Verino. By the time of his death, however, Botticelli’s reputation was already waning. . . . From that time his name virtually disappeared until the reassessment of his reputation that gathered momentum in the 1890s.

Charles Dempsey

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Term used for large, lavishly decorated chests made in Italy from the 14th century to the end of the 16th. The word is an anachronism, taken from Vasari (2/1568, ed. G. Milanesi, 1878–85, ii, p. 148), the 15th-century term being forziero. Wealthy households needed many chests, but the ornate cassoni, painted and often combined with pastiglia decoration, were usually commissioned in pairs when a house was renovated for a newly married couple and were ordered, together with other furnishings, by the groom. Florence was the main centre of production, though cassoni were also produced in Siena and occasionally in the Veneto and elsewhere.

J. W. Taylor

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Castagno, Andrea del

[Andrea di Bartolo di Simone di Bargiella; Andreino degli Impicchati]

(b Castagno, before 1419; d Florence, bur 19 Aug 1457).

Italian painter. He was the most influential 15th-century Florentine master, after Masaccio, of the realistic rendering of the figure and the representation of the human body as a three-dimensional solid by means of contours. By translating into the terms of painting the statues of the Florentine sculptors Nanni di Banco and Donatello, Castagno set Florentine painting on a course dominated by line (the Florentine tradition of disegno), the effect of relief and the sculptural depiction of the figure that became its distinctive trait throughout the Italian Renaissance, a trend that culminated in the art of Michelangelo.

Hellmut Wohl

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Castiglione, Baldassare

Castiglione, Baldassare [Baldesar], Conte

(b Casatico, nr Mantua, 6 Dec 1478; d Toledo, 2 Feb 1529).

Italian writer, humanist, diplomat and soldier. He was educated from 1490 to 1499 at the court of Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, where he met Leonardo da Vinci and Giovanni Cristoforo Romano. He was in the service of Francesco II Gonzaga, 4th Marchese of Mantua, in 1499–1504, after which he was at the court of Urbino until 1516, serving first Guidobaldo I, Duke of Urbino, and afterwards his successor, Francesco-Maria I della Rovere. There he met Pietro Bembo, Ludovico da Canossa (1476–1532), Giuliano de’ Medici, Duc de Nemours, and Raphael, with whom he developed a strong friendship. In 1508 Castiglione began Il libro del cortegiano, for which he is best remembered. It was finished in 1518 and revised and published in 1528. In these fictitious dialogues, set in the palace rooms of Elisabetta Gonzaga, Duchess of Urbino, the courtiers, all historical persons, discuss the proper education for the ideal aristocrat. Castiglione dated the dialogues to 1506, when he was in fact in England representing Guidobaldo at the installation ceremony of the Order of the Garter. Il libro del cortegiano is divided into four books. In Book I, in the guise of Ludovico da Canossa, its interlocutor, Castiglione, expressed his views on sculpture and painting.

Doris Fletcher

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Catena, Vincenzo

Vincenzo di Biagio

(b ?Venice, c. 1470–80; d Venice, Sept 1531).

Italian painter. His paintings represent the perpetuation of the style of Giovanni Bellini into the second quarter of the 16th century. He made few concessions to the modern style that was being introduced to Venice by Titian, Palma Vecchio, Pordenone and others in the same period. This archaicizing tendency was shared by several minor Bellinesque painters of the period . . .  Catena, together with Marco Basaiti, with whose works Catena’s are sometimes confused, can be considered the most accomplished of these. Despite the fact that he counted several humanists in his circle, the extant repertory of his subjects is limited to religious themes.

Philip Rylands

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One of the three theological virtues in Christian teaching; the others are faith and hope. These are complemented by the four cardinal virtues, prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude.


(b Arpinum [now Arpino, nr Frosinone], 3 Jan 106 BC; d Formiae [now Formia, Campagna], 7 Dec 43 BC).

Roman orator, statesman, philosopher and patron. His reverence for the past was reflected in both his public and private life. Having studied in Greece and apparently read at least one treatise on Greek art (see Brutus xviii.70), he was familiar with the work of the greatest Greek artists and alluded to Myron, Polykleitos, Pheidias, Lysippos, Apelles and to Greek art in general throughout his writings.

Valerie Hutchinson Pennanen

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Compagnia de’ Magi

The lay confraternity (a religious organization of lay persons) in Florence that produced the Festival of the Magi on January 6 (Feast of the Epiphany), which was the most lavish in the city for most of the fifteenth century. The company, which also carried out other charitable works, was a special interest of Lorenzo de’ Medici.


Originally a goddess of Phrygia in Asia Minor whose cult spread widely across the Roman empire, where she was also known as Magna Mater or Great Mother and celebrated with orgiastic rites.


Darius III was the last Achaemenid king of ancient Persian, defeated by Alexander the Great in 330 BC. His forebear, Darius I, the Great, led the Persian invasion of Greece in the fifth century, which was halted by the Greek victory at Marathon in 490 BC.

Descho da parto

Italian medieval wooden birth tray. Both deschi da parto and the related maiolica accouchement services (vasi puerperali) were used for carrying gifts to a woman who had given birth. The tray was usually painted with mythological or domestic scenes, and sometimes with heraldic decoration. The finest surviving descho da parto is The Triumph of Fame (New York, Met.), which was commissioned by Piero de’ Medici and Lucrezia Tornabuoni to commemorate the birth of Lorenzo, their first son, and painted by Scheggia, the younger brother of Masaccio.

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“Duke,” the title used for the elected chief-of-state in Venice and a few other cities.


[Donato di Niccolo di Betto Bardi]

(b Florence, 1386 or 1387; d Florence, 13 Dec 1466).

Italian sculptor. He was the most imaginative and versatile Florentine sculptor of the early Renaissance, famous for his rendering of human character and for his dramatic narratives. He achieved these ends by studying ancient Roman sculpture and amalgamating its ideas with an acute and sympathetic observation of everyday life. Together with Alberti, Brunelleschi, Masaccio and Uccello, Donatello created the Italian Renaissance style, which he introduced to Rome, Siena and Padua at various stages of his career. He was long-lived and prolific: between 1401 and 1461 there are 400 documentary references to him, some for nearly every year.

Charles Avery

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Este, Isabella d’

Marchesa of Mantua

(b Ferrara, 18 May 1474; d Mantua, 13 Feb 1539).

Daughter of Ercole I d’Este. She was brought up in the cultivated atmosphere of her parents’ court at Ferrara, where she studied with tutors, including the humanist scholars Giovanni Battista Guarino and Mario Equicola. Her intelligence was particularly noted by the envoys sent to assess her by Francesco II Gonzaga, Marchese of Mantua, whom she married in 1490, when she was 16. Her private quarters in Mantua were in the tower of the Castello di S Giorgio, part of the complex of buildings which make up the Ducal Palace. The apartment included her first studiolo and the cave-like grotta beneath, which housed her collection of antiquities. Her fame as a patron is due to the decorations she commissioned for her studiolo, a set of paintings of Classical and allegorical subjects, rather than the religious works associated with other female patrons.

Clifford M. Brown

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Facio, Bartolomeo

Facio [Fazio], Bartolomeo

(b La Spezia, nr Genoa, before 1410; d Naples, Nov 1457).

Italian humanist and writer. From a family of Ligurian notaries, he received his early education at Verona with Guarino Guarini (i) in the early 1420s and at the end of the decade studied Greek at Florence. After holding various minor positions in Genoa and Lucca, he was appointed official Genoese envoy to Naples in 1443 and 1444, entering the service of King Alfonso of Naples the following year. At Naples, where he remained for the rest of his life, he obtained the highly paid position of Royal Historiographer and served as tutor to Prince Ferrante.

Jill Kraye

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Giotto (di Bondone)

(b ?Vespignano, nr Florence, 1267–75; d Florence, 8 Jan 1337).

Italian painter and designer. In his own time and place he had an unrivalled reputation as the best painter and as an innovator, superior to all his predecessors, and he became the first post-Classical artist whose fame extended beyond his lifetime and usual residence. This was partly the consequence of the rich literary culture of two of the cities where he worked, Padua and Florence. Writing on art in Florence was pioneered by gifted authors and, although not quite art criticism, it involved the comparison of local artists in terms of quality. The most famous single appreciation is found in Dante’s verses (Purgatory xi) of 1315 or earlier. . . . About the same date, Giotto’s unique status was suggested by his inclusion, unprecedented for an artist, in a world chronicle (c. 1312–13) by Riccobaldo Ferrarese. The artist’s name first became synonymous with ‘the best painting’ in a poem by the Florentine Cecco d’Ascoli (d 1327) and, more subtly, in several observations by Petrarch. . . . Giotto’s frescoes in the Arena Chapel (Capella degli Scrovegni) at Padua comprise his earliest work of known date and that on which our idea of his art is chiefly based. . . . Praise of Giotto began by claiming that he was not indebted to his predecessors; his naturalism was contrasted with the Byzantine ‘Greek manner’ of Cimabue, with whom he is traditionally thought to have trained. The notion of a rigid, lifeless Byzantine art, however, has been challenged, and such works as Cimabue’s Assisi Crucifixion fresco have been shown to stress similar dramatic human concerns to those found in Giotto’s work; differences occur in the drawing of the figures, where Byzantine conventions are rejected by Giotto and a more naturalistic style, much influenced by French Gothic sculpture and Classical Roman work, is adopted.

Creighton E. Gilbert

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Gonzaga, Francesco II

4th Marchese of Mantua

(b Mantua, 1466; reg 1484–1519; d Mantua, 29 March 1519).

Son of Federico I Gonzaga. He made his career and reputation as a condottiere and was involved in turbulent political and military events. When Charles VIII, King of France, invaded Italy in 1494, Francesco assisted in the formation of a league to defeat him, and, as commander of the league’s forces, joined battle with Charles at Fornovo on 6 July 1495. He gained the victory but only with heavy loss of life. Despite skilful diplomatic manoeuvring, the security of Mantua was under threat from the French until Francesco’s death. Francesco’s patronage of the arts, which was surpassed by that of his wife, Isabella d’Este, was supported by state revenues and military stipends. It was essentially strategic and pragmatic in nature, a characteristic most strongly expressed in the sculpture, music and the applied arts that Francesco patronized.

Gordon Marshall Beamish

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Landi, Neroccio de’

Landi (del Poggio), Neroccio (di Bartolommeo di Benedetto) de’

(b Siena, 1447; d Siena, 1500).

Italian painter and sculptor. Born into the noble Sienese family of Landi del Poggio, he probably learnt painting and sculpture from Lorenzo di Pietro, called il Vecchietta, the teacher of almost all Sienese artists of the second half of the 15th century. Neroccio is first documented in 1461 when he was employed as a garzone (‘shop boy’) with the Cathedral Works of Siena. .Neroccio formed a partnership with the Sienese painter and architect Francesco di Giorgio Martini, with whom he collaborated on numerous cassone paintings and altarpieces. Francesco di Giorgio’s influence on the younger Neroccio was significant, and he was primarily responsible for encouraging Neroccio’s delicate figure style and pastel palette.

Genetta Gardner

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[Laocoon; Laocoön]

Marble sculptural group that represents an episode recounted in Virgil’s Aeneid (II.199–231), in which a sea monster attacks the Trojan priest Laokoon and his two young sons in front of the walls of Troy. The date and provenance of the work (Rome, Vatican, Cortile Belvedere; h. 2.42 m) is disputed. . . . They regard it as a work of the 1st century AD in the stylistic tradition of the sculptures of Hellenistic Pergamon . . .  For centuries the Laokoon enjoyed enormous fame, equal to that of the Apollo Belvedere (Rome, Vatican, Mus. Pio-Clementino).

Luca Leoncini

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Leo X, Pope

[Giovanni de’ Medici]

(b Florence, 11 Dec 1475; reg 1513–21; d Rome, 1 Dec 1521).

Son of Lorenzo the Magnificent. His mother was Clarice Orsini. His teachers included the humanists who frequented the Palazzo Medici in Florence, such as Angelo Poliziano, Pico della Mirandola (1463–94) and Marsilio Ficino. By the age of eight he was admitted into minor orders, and by 1486 he was Abbot of Montecassino and Morimondo. He spent three years at the University of Pisa, where he was introduced to the study of theology and canon law by Filippo Decio (1454–1535) among others. In 1492 he was made a cardinal by Pope Innocent VIII.

Marlis von Hessert

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Lippi, Filippo

Fra Filippo (di Tommaso) Lippi

(b Florence, c. 1406; d Spoleto, 9 Oct 1469).

He was one of the leading painters in Renaissance Florence in the generation following Masaccio. Influenced by him in his youth, Filippo developed a linear, expressive style, which anticipated the achievements of his pupil Botticelli. Lippi was among the earliest painters indebted to Donatello. His mature works are some of the first Italian paintings to be inspired by the realistic technique (and occasionally by the compositions) of Netherlandish pioneers such as Rogier van der Weyden and Jan van Eyck. Beginning work in the late 1430s, Lippi won several important commissions for large-scale altarpieces, and in his later years he produced two fresco cycles that (as Vasari noted) had a decisive impact on 16th-century cycles. He produced some of the earliest autonomous portrait paintings of the Renaissance, and his smaller-scale Virgin and Child compositions are among the most personal and expressive of that era. Throughout most of his career he was patronized by the powerful Medici family and allied clans.

Eliot W. Rowlands

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(d. AD 17), Roman who wrote a history of Rome in 142 books, from the traditional founding of the city in the mid-eighth century BC to the end of the first century BC.

Loredan, Leonardo

Doge of Venice

(b 6 Nov 1436; elected 1501; d Venice, 22 June 1521).

Italian ruler and patron. He was born into a noble family of Venetian rulers and patrons. . . . Leonardo Loredan received a humanist education, subsequently making his fortune in Levantine trade while rising through the governing hierarchy of Venice. By 1489 he was an overseer of the building of S Maria dei Miracoli, Venice, by Pietro Lombardo, his only known involvement with the arts until his election as Doge. His long reign was dominated by the wars of the League of Cambrai (1508–17), but despite this the visual arts flourished. Although Venetian rulers were discouraged from commemorating themselves in public monuments or images, Loredan did not observe this tradition.

Paul H. D. Kaplan

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Lotto, Lorenzo

(b Venice, c. 1480; d Loreto, 1556).

Italian painter and draughtsman. He had a long and often prosperous career as a painter, and, although he travelled widely, his style retained a close affinity with the paintings of his native Venice. He was one of an outstanding generation of painters, including Giorgione, Titian, Palma Vecchio and Pordenone, who appeared in Venice and the Veneto during the first decade of the 16th century. In comparison with his contemporaries, Lotto was a fairly traditional painter in that he worked primarily in the long-established genres of altarpieces, devotional pictures and portraiture. Such paintings were popular in the Venetian provinces and the Marches where Lotto spent much of his career and where he often received more money for his commissions than he could obtain in Venice.

David Oldfield

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Luini, Bernardino

(b ?Luini, c. 1480–85; d ?Lugano, before 1 July 1532).

Italian painter and draughtsman. He was one of the generation of Lombard painters active around 1500 who, influenced by Leonardo and Raphael, blended High Renaissance innovations with indigenous Milanese elements to create a Lombard Renaissance style. Luini’s paintings were extremely popular with both collectors and critics from c. 1790 to the end of the 19th century. This widespread popularity, however, had unfortunate consequences: many of his frescoes were detached from their original settings, many of the panel paintings were transferred to canvas and other works were heavily restored. As a result, few survive in a good state.

M. T. Binaghi Olivari

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Maiano, Benedetto da

(b Maiano, nr Florence, 1442; d Florence, 24 May 1497).

Sculptor and wood-carver, brother of Giuliano da Maiano. He was technically one of the most accomplished marble-carvers of the 15th century and the foremost sculptor in Florence of the generation following Bernardo Rossellino. Technical difficulties had been largely overcome by his predecessors, however, and he lacked the innovative qualities of Rossellino’s generation. There are close parallels between Benedetto and his contemporary and sometime collaborator Domenico Ghirlandaio in their technical proficiency, powers of narrative expression, excellent portraiture and adherence to traditional techniques.

Gary M. Radke

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Term used strictly to describe tin-glazed earthenware of Italian origin. The name may be derived from the imported lustrewares sent from Valencia via the Balearic island of Maiolica (now Mallorca) to Italy, or may derive from Málaga wares known as opus de Melica.

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Matthias Corvinus

King of Hungary

(b Klausenburg [now Cluj-Napoca], 1443; reg 1458–90; d Vienna, 1490).

Hungarian patron and collector. He was the son of Governor John Hunyadi (d 1456) and took over both the political and cultural affairs of Hungary with great energy and determination. The buildings, collections and workshops set up by him testify to his powers of organization and co-ordination. His patronage was concerned with art as an enhancement of his nation’s glory and he also exploited the decorative arts to represent the power of the state through pageants and festivals, delegations and sumptuous gifts. Owing to his patronage, Hungarian art became pre-eminent in the cultural development of central Europe, with the early introduction of Renaissance ideas and styles drawn directly from the great Italian centres, Florence in particular.

Győngyi Tőrők

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Medici, Cosimo de’

Cosimo [il vecchio] de’ Medici, Lord of Florence

(b Florence, 27 Sept 1389; d Careggi, 1 Aug 1464).

Son of Giovanni di Averardo de’ Medici. He was the greatest private patron of his time, who, motivated through ambition for his family, and perhaps through a desire to expiate the sin of usury, introduced a new conception of patronage; a humanist, he fully appreciated the propaganda value of architecture and sculpture, and his ambitions rivalled those of the Comune. Primarily an architectural patron, Cosimo favoured Michelozzo di Bartolomeo, but he also gave generous support to Donatello and others. Cosimo increased his father’s trading and banking business and became one of the wealthiest men of his time. He dominated Florence from 1434; yet he himself valued his burgher status and constantly emphasized it, and the artistic tradition associated with him is simple and restrained. He was prior of his guild in 1415 and 1417, accompanied the antipope John XXIII to the Council of Constance and then travelled in Germany and France. He was Florentine ambassador to Milan (1420), Lucca (1423), Bologna (1424) and the court of Pope Martin V in Rome. His long association with Michelozzo began in this period: in the 1420s Michelozzo remodelled Cosimo’s austere villa at Trebbio and the monastery of S Francesco at Bosco ai Frati, both of which were situated in his patron’s native region of the Mugello.

Marlis von Hessert

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Medici, Cosimo I de’

Grand Duke of Tuscany

(b Florence, 11 June 1519; reg 1569–74; d Castello, 21 April 1574).

Nephew of (10) Ottaviano de’ Medici. His mother, Maria Salviati (d 1543), was a granddaughter of Lorenzo the Magnificent; his father, the professional soldier Giovanni delle Bande Nere (1498–1526), was killed when Cosimo was seven. When, in 1537, Lorenzino de’ Medici murdered Alessandro de’ Medici, the tyrannical Duke of Florence, Cosimo was the only available successor. Initially his power was limited, but he became Duke of Florence in 1537, after his victory at the Battle of Montemurlo, and Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1569. Cosimo, more powerful than any earlier Medici, strove to create a court whose splendour should rival the proudest European courts and to express the triumphs and ambitions of his dynasty through the architectural magnificence of his palazzi and public works. He cultivated the myth of the great tradition of Medici art patronage, restoring the plundered Palazzo Medici, and reassembling and enriching the Biblioteca Laurenziana, founded by Cosimo il vecchio.  . . . Humanists and poets, such as Vincenzo Borghini, and artists, such as Agnolo Bronzino, Benvenuto Cellini, Pierino da Vinci and Giorgio Vasari, gathered around him and enhanced his glory and power. In 1554 he established the Arazzeria Medicea, and he was joint head, with Michelangelo, of the Accademia del Disegno.

Marlis von Hessert

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Medici, de’

Italian family of merchants, bankers, rulers, patrons and collectors. They dominated the political and cultural life of Florence from the 15th century to the mid-18th. Their name and their coat-of-arms showing five to nine spheres were not derived from medical ancestors, since the family had always been merchants. However, they appropriated this interpretation, making the physicians Cosmas and Damian their patron saints. International trade in wool, silk, metals and spices made them one of the wealthiest and most influential families in Italy.

Marlis von Hessert

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Medici, Eleonora de’

[Eleanora of Toledo], Grand Duchess of Tuscany

(b Naples, 1522; d Pisa, 1562).

First wife of Cosimo I de’ Medici. She was the second daughter of the Viceroy of Naples, Don Pedro di Toledo, Marquis of Francavilla, the Emperor Charles V’s senior lieutenant. In 1539 Cosimo I married her as part of his policy to strengthen his connections with the Emperor. The union appears to have been happy and resulted in 11 children, two of whom eventually succeeded to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany: Francesco I de’ Medici, on Cosimo’s death in 1574, and Ferdinando I de’ Medici in 1587. Spanish by birth, and notably pious, Eleonora retained the influences—and language—of her upbringing throughout her life. Her physical beauty is attested to by a considerable number of portraits by Agnolo Bronzino (e.g. 1546, Florence, Uffizi; 1560, Berlin, Gemäldegal).

Warren Hearnden

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Medici, Lorenzo de’

Lorenzo the Magnificent [Lorenzo de’ Medici; Lorenzo il Magnifico], Lord of Florence

(b Florence, Jan 1449; reg 1469; d Florence, 8 April 1492).

Son of Piero de’ Medici. In 1469 Piero organized a joust to celebrate Lorenzo’s marriage to Clarice Orsini, and in the same year the succession passed, without discord, to Lorenzo. The Pazzi conspiracy (1478) and the following war challenged Medici predominance, yet Lorenzo’s leadership was consolidated by constitutional changes and by his securing peace with the papacy in 1480.

Lorenzo was both ruler and scholar. A distinguished vernacular poet, he was also passionately interested in Classical antiquity and became the centre of a humanist circle of poets, artists and philosophers, which included Marsilio Ficino, Pico della Mirandola, Angelo Poliziano, Botticelli, Bertoldo di Giovanni and Michelangelo. His taste in architecture was formed by Leon Battista Alberti, with whom he had studied antiques in Rome in 1465 and whose treatise he read repeatedly. He showed great interest in the architectural projects of his day; this has stimulated a debate on whether he may have been an amateur architect. Even if Lorenzo was not a practising architect, there is no doubt that Giuliano da Sangallo, whom he saw as able to revive the glories of antiquity, worked in close collaboration with him.

Lorenzo’s interest in antiquity is further underlined by the keenness with which he built up an expensive collection of antiquities, including sculptures, gems, cameos, vases and large-scale marble sculpture. . . . Moreover, he established a sculpture garden at S Marco, where he encouraged Michelangelo to study from the Antique, and before 1492 Michelangelo had carved his Virgin of the Steps and the Battle of the Centaurs (both Florence, Casa Buonarroti). Both Bertoldo and Michelangelo formed part of Lorenzo’s household, and this treatment of artists as the equals of humanist scholars and poets was unprecedented in Republican Florence. It introduced a new type of patronage and was associated with an increasing emphasis on the production of collector’s pieces.

Mary Bonn

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Medici, Piero de’

Piero (di Cosimo) [the Gouty] de’ Medici, Lord of Florence

(b Florence, 1416; reg 1464–9; d Florence, 3 Dec 1469).

Son of Cosimo de’ Medici. Raised in early humanist Florence, he was trained to assume his father’s civic and cultural leadership. His artistic tastes were apparently stimulated less by the aesthetic ideals of Republican Florence, however, than by those manifested in such north Italian centres of patronage as Ferrara and Venice, where the Medici lived in exile in 1433–4. Piero watched over family interests at the Council of Ferrara (1437–9) and responded positively to the style of Este court patronage, which he may have sought to emulate (with the wealth of the Medici bank behind him) in the decorations he commissioned for the new Palazzo Medici in Florence. His aesthetic preferences may be deduced from such commissions, which contrast with the large-scale ecclesiastical projects that his father sponsored: typically they show precise, often minute detailing (as in a bust of Piero by Mino da Fiesole), brilliant and resonating colour and rich surface finish.

Francis Ames-Lewis

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Italian family of patrons. One of the greatest Roman dynasties, the Orsini are documented from the 11th century and rose to prominence under the pontificate of Pope Celestine III (reg 1191–8). The founder proper of the Orsini dynasty was Matteo Rosso Orsini (d after 1254). In 1241 they defended Rome from the assault of the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II, and as a consequence began their traditional enmity with the Colonna family. By the 13th century they had had two popes: Celestine III and Nicholas III. The latter’s emblem, also that of the family, was a standing bear (It. orso). At the close of the 13th century the Orsini began to divide into numerous branches, the principal ones being those of Monterotondo, the Conti di Nola and Pitigliano and the Duce di Bracciano and Gravina. So extensive was the family that it is not possible to reconstruct a comprehensive genealogy. The French family of Jouvenel des Ursins claimed kinship with them, and they were connected by marriage to the Medici and Farnese families.

Jacqueline Colliss Harvey


Italian family of merchants, bankers and patrons. They were established as merchants in Florence by the late 13th century. Andrea di Guglielmo Pazzi (1372–1445) made his fortune as a banker, initially working for the Medici bank in Rome in the 1420s, and had a successful diplomatic and political career. When René I, King of Naples, came to Florence in 1442, he stayed with the Pazzi and conferred a knighthood on Andrea.

Amanda Lillie

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Petrarch, Francesco

Petrarch [Petrarca], Francesco

(b Arezzo, 20 July 1304; d Arquà, nr Padua, 19 July 1374).

Italian poet and humanist. He was the central figure of Italian literary culture in the mid-14th century. The son of an exiled Florentine notary who moved to Avignon in 1312, Petrarch led a peripatetic career as a man of letters; after studying law at Montpellier (1316) and Bologna (1320), he alternated residence between France and the Italian courts until 1353, when he finally settled in Italy. He often acted as an ambassador and orator on state occasions. His work largely initiated the transition from the fragmentary humanism of the late Middle Ages to the more systematic classicism of the Renaissance. His observations on art were sporadic and usually marginal, but they are crucially important for the understanding of the development of a critical vocabulary for art, and for revealing the way in which an appreciation of the visual arts began to be absorbed into the concerns of literary humanism. Petrarch also has an important place in art history owing to his known connections with contemporary artists, the visual interpretation or illustration of his work in the Trecento, and the unusually large number of portraits made of him during or just after his lifetime.

John Richards

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Plato’s Phaedrus

One of the late dialogues of Plato, probably from about 370 BC, which addresses ostensibly the question of love. The dialogue, which takes place between Socrates and Phaedrus, also considers the nature of inspiration.


[Santi, Raffaello; Sanzio, Raffaello]

(b Urbino, 28 March or 6 April 1483; d Rome, 6 April 1520).

Italian painter, draughtsman and architect. He has always been acknowledged as one of the greatest European artists. With Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Titian, he was one of the most famous painters working in Italy in the period from 1500 to 1520, often identified as the High Renaissance, and in this period he was perhaps the most important figure. His early altarpieces (of 1500–07) were made for Città di Castello and Perugia; in Florence between 1504 and 1508 he created some of his finest portraits and a series of devotional paintings of the Holy Family. In 1508 he moved to Rome, where he decorated in fresco the Stanze of the papal apartments in the Vatican Palace—perhaps his most celebrated works—as well as executing smaller paintings in oil (including portraits) and a series of major altarpieces, some of which were sent from Rome to other centres. In Rome, Raphael came to run a large workshop. He also diversified, working as an architect and designer of prints.

Nicholas Penny

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Rossellino, Antonio

(b Settignano, 1427–8; d Florence, 1479).

Sculptor, brother of Bernardo Rossellino. He belonged to the same generation as Desiderio da Settignano and Mino da Fiesole; his development more closely parallels theirs than it does that of his brother, and his style is softer and more fluid. Yet it should be assumed that Antonio received his formal training from his brother, and there are clearly similarities in their work, especially from the 1450s.

Shelley E. Zuraw

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Rossellino, Bernardo

(b Settignano, ?1407–10; d Florence, 1464).

Sculptor and architect. He was among the most distinguished Florentine marble sculptors in the second half of the 15th century. Extremely proficient technically, he was able to draw on a variety of sources, contemporary and antique, to create refined and sophisticated images. His architectural style is severely classical, and he was skilled in designing complex monuments, in which sculptured figures and architecture are harmoniously integrated.

Shelley E. Zuraw

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Italian family of patrons. The family was of Florentine origin, and some of its members held important civic and religious positions. Cardinal Giovanni Salviati (1490–1553) took into his service in Rome the painter Francesco de’ Rossi, who, as a sign of his attachment, used the name Francesco Slaviati.

Chiara Stefani

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Sassetti, Francesco

Sassetti, Francesco (di Tommaso)

(b Florence, 1 March 1421; d Florence, ?31 March 1490).

Italian patron. He became general manager of the Medici banking empire in 1463, and his relationship with the Medici shaped his life and informed his taste. His first major achievement as a patron was the purchase of a villa in Florence, which he rebuilt on a magnificent scale between c. 1460 and c. 1466 (now Villa La Pietra, Via Bolognese 120).

Amanda Lillie

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Sebastiano del Piombo

[Luciani, Sebastiano; Venetus, Sebastianus; Veneziano, Sebastiano; Viniziano,Sebastiano]

(b ?Venice, 1485–6; d Rome, 21 June 1547).

Italian painter. He was one of the most important artists in Italy in the first half of the 16th century, active in Venice and Rome (see fig.). His early, Venetian, paintings are reminiscent of Giovanni Bellini and to a lesser extent of Giorgione. With his move to Rome in 1511 he came under the influence of Raphael and then of Michelangelo, who supplied him with drawings. After the death of Raphael (1520), he was the leading painter working in Rome and was particularly noted as a portrait painter. In his finest works, such as the Pietà (1513; Viterbo, Mus. Civ.) and the Flagellation (1516–24; Rome, S Pietro in Montorio), there is a remarkable fusion of the Venetian use of colour and the grand manner of Central Italian classicism.

Mauro Lucco

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Sellaio, Jacopo del

[Jacopo di Arcangelo di Jacopo]

(b Florence, c. 1441; d Florence, 1493).

Italian painter. He is first mentioned in his father’s catasto (land registry declaration) of 1446 as a child of five. By 1460 he had joined the Compagnia di S Luca in Florence, and in October 1473 he appears in their records sharing a studio with Filippo di Giuliano (fl 1473–91). . . . Sellaio’s paintings show a brittle, linear technique and a light, pastel palette, clearly indebted to Botticelli. Vasari describes both Sellaio and Botticelli as fellow pupils of Fra Filippo Lippi.

Eliot W. Rowlands

Sixtus IV, Pope

[Francesco della Rovere]

(b Celle, nr Savona, 21 July 1414; elected 1471; d Rome, 12 Aug 1484).

Of humble origin, he rose through the Franciscan Order to become its general in 1464. His reign as pope was marked by his promotion of his della Rovere relatives and his aggressive pursuit of Italian politics. He was the first pope to act on the programme of renovation of Rome that had been conceived by Nicholas V, and his projects of urban planning, building and artistic patronage had a more lasting impact on the city than those of any Renaissance pontiff except his nephew Julius II.

Hellmut Wohl

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Spinelli, Niccolò di Forzore

[Niccolò Fiorentino]

(b Florence, 23 April 1430; d Florence, before 23 April 1514).

Medallist, great-nephew of Spinello Aretino. Only a few documents and contemporary references mark the progress of his career. In 1468 a ‘Nicolas de Spinel’, usually identified with this artist, was employed as a seal-engraver at the court of Charles the Bold, 4th Duke of Burgundy. He was in Flanders c. 1505, when Leonardo da Vinci wrote that Niccolò had advised him about a method of diverting a stream . . . Niccolò di Forzore Spinelli’s identity as a medallist is established by only five signed pieces (Hill, 1930, nos 922–6). . . . The five signed pieces epitomize the particular character of Niccolò’s work. Whatever the size of the medal, the portrait is distinctive and confident, dominating the circular field, although in most cases the lettering is not as elegant.

Stephen K. Scher

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Italian family of bankers and patrons. From the time of their election to the city government in 1284 until the Medici regime exiled four of the Strozzi in 1434, they were one of the most powerful families in Florentine politics. The size of the family, which in 1427 was divided between about 40 households, their entrenchment in Florentine patrician circles, their political skill and the wealth of a few individuals ensured their survival under the domination of the Medici.

Amanda Lillie

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Term generally used in 15th- and 16th-century Italy to describe a private domestic room, especially that of a ruler or other distinguished figure. It was not the bedchamber, which usually had a semi-public character, but a smaller, inner room, to which no-one but the owner had automatic access. Earlier studioli were used as studies or libraries. Later examples were essentially private museums. The contents were customarily the owner’s most precious possessions—books, jewels, objets d’art and other artefacts—which would be shown to favoured guests.

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Italian family of patrons. One of the most powerful merchant families of 15th-century Florence, the Tornabuoni were closely connected with the Medici. Both families were involved in banking and had literary and scholarly interests that brought them into association with the most distinguished humanist scholars of the day.

Donatella Pegazzano

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Veronese, Paolo

Veronese [Caliari], Paolo

(b Verona, 1528; d Venice, 19 April 1588).

Italian painter and draughtsman. With Titian and Tintoretto he makes up the triumvirate of great painters of the late Renaissance in Venice. He is known as a supreme colourist and for his illusionistic decorations in both fresco and oil. His large paintings of biblical feasts executed for the refectories of monasteries in Venice and Verona are especially celebrated. He also produced many altarpieces, history and mythological paintings and portraits. His compositional sketches in pen, ink and wash, figure studies in chalk, and chiaroscuro modelli and ricordi form a significant body of drawings. He headed a family workshop that remained active after his death.

Diana Gisolfi

Verrocchio, Andrea del

[Andrea di Michele di Francesco Cioni]

(b Florence, 1435; d Venice, ?30 June 1488).

Italian sculptor, painter, draughtsman and goldsmith. He was the leading sculptor in Florence in the second half of the 15th century, and his highly successful workshop, in which Leonardo da Vinci trained, had a far-reaching impact on younger generations. A wide range of patrons, including the Medici family, the Venetian State and the city council of Pistoia, commissioned works from him. Exceptionally versatile, Verrocchio was talented both as a sculptor—of monumental bronzes, silver figurines and marble reliefs—and as a painter of altarpieces. He was inspired by the contemporary interest in the Antique and in the study of nature, yet, approaching almost every project as a new challenge, developed new conceptions that often defied both traditional aesthetics and conventional techniques.

Yael Even

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