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Italian Renaissance Learning Resources

In collaboration with the National Gallery of Art

Recovering the Golden Age

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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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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Aspertini, Amico

(b Bologna, 1474–5; d Bologna, 19 Nov 1552).

Italian painter, sculptor, illuminator, printmaker and draughtsman. He was born into a family of painters, and his youthful facility reportedly astonished his contemporaries. His work developed in the Emilian–Ferrarese tradition of Ercole de’ Roberti, Lorenzo Costa the elder and, above all, Francesco Francia. Until the re-evaluation by Longhi, critical assessment of Amico’s oeuvre was over-reliant on literary sources, especially Vasari’s unsympathetic account of an eccentric, half-insane master . . .  Longhi presented Amico as a creative master whose expressive intensity and sensitive use of colour rescued Bolognese painting of the early 16th century from sterile echoes of Raphael. Today Aspertini is viewed as an influential precursor of Mannerism . . .

Phyllis Pray Bober

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Augustus, Emperor

[Octavian; Gaius Octavius; Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus Augustus]

(b Rome, 23 Sept 63 BC; reg 27 BC–AD 14; d Nola, 19 Aug AD 14).

Roman emperor and patron. When Gaius Octavius was named the heir of Julius Caesar (assassinated 44 BC), he was a politically unknown 18 year old. Early portrait types presented him bearded, as a sign of mourning for his adoptive father, thereby reinforcing his claim to be Caesar’s rightful successor. Octavian’s most important programme of artistic patronage, however, followed his assumption in 27 BC of the title ‘Augustus’ (Lat.: ‘venerable’) and with it effective monarchic power. Artistic patronage was a vehicle by which Augustus sought to legitimate his new position in terms of traditional Roman values.

Jeremy J. Tanner

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Bartolommeo, Fra

Bartolommeo [Bartolomeo], Fra [Porta, Baccio della]

(b Florence, 28 March 1472; d Florence, 31 Oct 1517).

Italian painter and draughtsman. Vasari and later historians agree that Fra Bartolommeo was an essential force in the formation and growth of the High Renaissance. He was the first painter in Florence to understand Leonardo da Vinci’s painterly and compositional procedures. Later he created a synthesis between Leonardo’s tonal painting and Venetian luminosity of colour. Equally important were his inventions for depicting divinity as a supernatural force, and his type of sacra conversazione in which the saints are made to witness and react to a biblical event occurring before their eyes, rather than standing in devout contemplation, as was conventional before. His drawings, too, are exceptional both for their abundance and for their level of inventiveness.

Ludovico Borgo, Margot Borgo

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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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Bellini, Jacopo

(b Venice, c. 1400; d Venice, between 26 Aug 1470 and 25 Nov 1471).

Painter and draughtsman. His surviving work consists of some 20 paintings—mostly small-scale, intimate devotional pictures—and nearly 300 drawings, contained in two volumes (Paris, Louvre; London, BM). The drawings constitute a unique oeuvre for a 15th-century artist, both in regard to their number and their nature; most of them are finished, independent compositions. Most of Jacopo’s large-scale picture cycles and important commissioned works have been destroyed. Known only through documentary evidence and contemporary sources, they are an indication of the high esteem in which he was held both in Venice and beyond.

Ursula Lehmann-Brockhaus

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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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Design engraved, carved or moulded in relief on gemstones, glass, ceramics etc; it uses layers of different colours, which can be transparent or opaque, so that the background and raised ground contrast. There are often just two colours: one dark colour, the other lighter, often white. The most common form is a medallion with a profile portrait. The cameo technique is the opposite of intaglio. Cameos were made in Classical Greece and Rome and revived during the Renaissance.

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A drawing or painted or engraved composition combining features of imaginary and/or real architecture, ruined or intact, in a picturesque setting. In its fantasy element it is the opposite of the Veduta. It reached its apogee as a popular genre during the era of the Grand Tour of Europe, which produced a heavy demand for pictorial souvenirs. Italy, in particular, offered real landscapes with Classical ruins; all that was required to elaborate and combine existing remains within a picturesque setting was a degree of poetic licence. Architectural fantasy in paintings, drawings and engravings had also a creative function, as an outlet for artists’ and architects’ imaginative expression or experiments, uninhibited by the prescriptive terms of commissions or by practical needs. The capriccio fulfilled in addition a decorative role, ranging from large-scale painted images within room decoration to miniature painted scenes on furnishings and ceramics.

John Wilton-Ely

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Cesare da Sesto

b Sesto Calende, 1477; d Milan, 27 July 1523).

Italian painter and draughtsman. He was one of the most significant artists to emerge from Leonardo’s circle in Milan, and his travels south of Rome helped to spread the ideas of the High Renaissance to painters in Naples and Sicily. As early as 1506 Cesare may have been in Rome, where he entered into a long working relationship with Baldassare Peruzzi.

Andrea Bayer

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Term used in modern writing about art for the posture of a sculpted figure standing at rest with weight shifted on to one leg. Polykleitos’ Doryphoros (c. 440 BC; copy, Minneapolis, MN, Inst. A.) is an early example of this posture, which displays the human body as a self-contained static system, in balance in the pose itself but visibly arrested and therefore implying past and future movement. Contrapposto, like acanthus ornament and wet drapery, became a signature of the Greek Classical style and its influence. The formula appears in innumerable Greek and Roman figures as well as in Far Eastern art and in medieval ‘renascences’, finally to be revived and developed as part of the Neo-classicism of the Italian Renaissance.

David Summers

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Este, Alfonso I d’

3rd Duke of Ferrara, Modena and Reggio

(b Ferrara, 21 July 1476; reg 1505–34; d Ferrara, 31 Oct 1534). Son of Ercole I d’Este. In 1502 he married Lucrezia Borgia and became a ruler of notable military and diplomatic ability. His chief claim to fame as patron was his employment of the poet Lodovico Ariosto, but he also patronized some of the outstanding artists of his day. His most important artistic commissions involved the decoration of his rooms in the so-called Via Coperta, the block linking the Palazzo del Corte (now Palazzo Comunale) with the Castello Estense in Ferrara, which he enlarged.

Charles Hope

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Francesco di Giorgio Martini

Francesco (Maurizio) di Giorgio Martini (Pollaiolo) [Francesco di Giorgio]

(b Siena, bapt 23 Sept 1439; d Siena, bur 29 Nov 1501).

Italian architect, engineer, painter, illuminator, sculptor, medallist, theorist and writer. He was the most outstanding artistic personality from Siena in the second half of the 15th century. His activities as a diplomat led to his employment at the courts of Naples, Milan and Urbino, as well as in Siena, and while most of his paintings and miniatures date from before 1475, by the 1480s and 1490s he was among the leading architects in Italy. He was particularly renowned for his work as a military architect . . .

Francesco Paolo Fiore, Pietro C. Marani

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Ghiberti, Lorenzo

Lorenzo (di Cione) Ghiberti

(b Florence, 1378; d Florence, 1 Dec 1455).

Bronze-caster, sculptor, goldsmith, draughtsman, architect and writer. He was the most celebrated bronze-caster and goldsmith in early 15th-century Florence, and his many-sided activity makes him the first great representative of the universal artist of the Renaissance. His richly decorative and elegant art, which reached its most brilliant expression in the Gates of Paradise (Florence, Baptistery), did not break dramatically with the tradition of Late Gothic, yet Ghiberti was undoubtedly one of the great creative personalities of early Renaissance art; no contemporary artist had so deep an influence on the art and sculpture of later times. His art, in which idealism and realism are fused, reflects the discovery of Classical art as truly as the realism of Donatello, and to label Ghiberti a traditionalist is to define the Renaissance art of the early 15th century one-sidedly in terms of increased realism. His competition relief of the Sacrifice of Isaac (1401; Florence, Bargello) determined the development of low relief not only in the 15th century but through the stylistic periods of Mannerism and Baroque, and up until the work of Rodin in the 19th century. Ghiberti’s writings, I commentarii, which include his autobiography, established him as the first modern historian of the fine arts, and bear witness to his ideal of humanistic education and culture. He was wealthier than most of his contemporary artists, and he owned considerable land and securities.

Manfred Wundram

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Giovanni d’Alemagna

(fl 1441; d 1450).

German painter, active in Italy. He collaborated with Antonio Vivarini on various important religious paintings in Venice and Padua. Although it is difficult to distinguish the two artists’ contributions, Giovanni is associated with the St Jerome (1444; Baltimore, MD, Walters A.G.), which carries the signature ‘Johannes’. This painting suggests that Giovanni’s work was generally flatter and more decorative than Antonio’s more naturalistic style.

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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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Term used to denote, since the 15th century, the architecture and, from the 19th, all the visual arts of Europe during a period extending by convention from about 1120 to c. 1400 in central Italy, and until the late 15th century and even well into the 16th in northern Europe and the Iberian Peninsula. The Early Gothic style overlapped chronologically with Romanesque and flourished after the onset of Renaissance art in Italy and elsewhere. . . . The term Gothic is applied to western European painting of the 13th century to the early 15th. Unlike Gothic architecture, it is distinguished more by developments in style and function than in technique, and even in these areas there is considerable national and regional diversity. The applicability of the term to Italian painting is debated, as is its usefulness in accounting for developments in Netherlandish painting from the early 15th century. Contact with Byzantine art was close in the early 13th century, but after c. 1250 survived principally in the Holy Roman Empire and Italy.

Peter Kidson

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Term applied to monochrome painting carried out mostly in shades of grey. The use of the French word can be traced only to 1625, since although grisaille painting was done in preceding centuries, it was not referred to as such. The alternative expression peinture en camaïeu (gris) is also documented only more recently. In the 16th century there are occasional references to ‘dead colour’, but this term is no longer used. At the time of its origin, in the medieval period, grisaille painting was simply called ‘painting in black and white.’

Michaela Krieger

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In painting, the attempt to make images that seemingly share or extend the three-dimensional space in which the spectator stands. . . . For imagery, the painter may represent a flat surface from which planes jut and recede to a slight depth—the range of effects properly known as trompe l’oeil—or alternatively sky and great distance: in both cases the effects of parallax are minimized. The illusion will be stronger if the image is lit in the same way as its location, and in murals it may also share the same architecture, extended into painted vistas.

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Julius II, Pope

[Giuliano della Rovere]

(b Albissola [Savona], 5 Dec 1443; elected 1503; d Rome, 20–21 Feb 1513). Nephew of Pope Sixtus IV. The great patron of the High Renaissance in Rome, he commissioned Donato Bramante to build the new St Peter’s, Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling (see fig.) and Raphael to decorate his private apartments, the stanze (all Rome, Vatican). He was born into a noble but impoverished family, the son of Raffaele della Rovere (d 1477) and Theodora Manerola. Following the example of his uncle Francesco della Rovere, he entered the Franciscan Order, and from 1468 he studied law at Perugia. With the election of Francesco as Pope Sixtus IV in 1471 Giuliano became titular Cardinal of S Pietro in Vincoli, Rome, and Cardinal of SS Apostoli there the following year. He undertook the restoration and embellishment of the two churches. . . . Giuliano was elected pope, as Julius II, on 31 October 1503. During his pontificate the Papal States became dominant in Italy and were again a major European power.

Sabine Eiche

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Leonardo da Vinci

(b Anchiano, nr Vinci, 15 April 1452; d Amboise, nr Tours, 2 May 1519).

Italian painter, sculptor, architect, designer, theorist, engineer and scientist. He was the founding father of what is called the High Renaissance style and exercised an enormous influence on contemporary and later artists. His writings on art helped establish the ideals of representation and expression that were to dominate European academies for the next 400 years. The standards he set in figure draughtsmanship, handling of space, depiction of light and shade, representation of landscape, evocation of character and techniques of narrative radically transformed the range of art. A number of his inventions in architecture and in various fields of decoration entered the general currency of 16th-century design. Although he brought relatively few works to completion, and even fewer have survived, Leonardo was responsible for some of the most influential images in the history of art.

Martin Kemp

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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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Mantegna, Andrea

(b Isola di Carturo, nr Padua, 1430–31; d Mantua 13 Sept 1506).

Italian painter and printmaker. He occupies a pre-eminent position among Italian artists of the 15th century. The profound enthusiasm for the civilization of ancient Rome that infuses his entire oeuvre was unprecedented in a painter. In addition to its antiquarian content, his art is characterized by brilliant compositional solutions, the bold and innovative use of perspective and foreshortening and a precise and deliberate manner of execution, an aspect that was commented on during his lifetime. He was held in great esteem by his contemporaries for his learning and skill and, significantly, he is the only artist of the period to have left a small corpus of self-portraits . . . His printmaking activity is technically advanced and of great importance, although certain aspects of the execution remain to be clarified. Due to the survival of both the Paduan and Mantuan archives, Mantegna is one of the best-documented artists of the 15th century.

Gabriele Finaldi

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Morone, Domenico

(b Verona, c. 1442; d Verona, c. 1518). Vasari—exceptionally well informed on Veronese artists—asserted that Domenico was taught by students of the Gothic painter Stefano da Verona. His earliest signed work, a fine Virgin and Child dated 29 April 1483 (Berlin, Gemäldegal.), reveals his conversion to Andrea Mantegna’s ideas, partly as filtered through Giovanni Bellini and Francesco Benaglio. His next, the signed and dated Expulsion of the Bonacolsi from Mantua (1494; Mantua, Pal. Ducale), parallels the Venetian panoramic narratives of Gentile Bellini and Vittore Carpaccio and may owe much to Giovanni Bellini’s lost battle paintings for the Doge’s Palace in Venice. Though damaged and repainted (the distant landscape, for example, is new), this spirited narrative remains valuable both for its detailed description of 15th-century Mantua and as the most convincing large-scale Quattrocento battle-piece that survives.

Francis L. Richardson

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Palma Vecchio

(Jacopo) [Giacomo] Palma (il) Vecchio

(b Serina, nr Bergamo, ?1479–80; d Venice, 28 July 1528). His birthdate is calculated on Vasari’s testimony (1550) that he died aged 48. By March 1510 he was in Venice, where he spent his working life. The stylistic evidence of his earliest works suggests that he was apprenticed to fellow Bergamasque artist Andrea Previtali, who had studied under Giovanni Bellini. . . . Palma Vecchio’s oeuvre reflects the change from an early to a High Renaissance conception of the human figure in secular and religious art. He specialized in certain themes that became established in the repertory of genres of the Venetian school in the generation after him. The principal of these were the wide-format sacra conversazione—that is, paintings of the Virgin and saints in a rural setting, for private piety but not devotional use—and half-length paintings of idealized women with some erotic intent.

Philip Rylands

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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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Term for a class of replicated, portable, small sculptural reliefs in metal (usually bronze) developed in Italy in the 1440s. Plaquettes were important there until the 1540s, whence the type diffused in the 16th and 17th centuries to Germany, Flanders and France. The word ‘plaquette’ was invented in France in the 1860s at the outset of the modern study of this art form; the 16th-century Italian words for the type are medaglietta and piastra, which were used generically for cap-badges, independent plaquettes and those incorporated in decorated utensils.

Douglas Lewis

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Pliny the elder

(b Comum [now Como, Italy], AD 23 or 24; d Bay of Naples, 24 Aug 79).

He was the author of the encyclopedic Natural History in 37 books, of which Books XXXIII–XXXVII on stones and metals offer the sole surviving history of art from antiquity. The text is eclectic, combining excerpts of earlier treatises from the 5th to the 1st century BC with Pliny’s own topical comments about the setting and meaning of art in mid-1st century AD Rome. Preserved through the Middle Ages, the Natural History exerted an enormous influence on artists and theoreticians from the Renaissance on. In particular Pliny’s historical scheme of an artistic evolution culminating in Greek art of the 5th and 4th centuries BC, with its vivid anecdotes about individual works and artists, fuelled movements of classicism and provided a foundation for the discipline of art history.

Bettina Bergmann

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(b Athens, ?c. 400 BC; d Athens, c. 330 BC).

Greek sculptor. His career spanned the 370s to the 340s BC. He was the foremost Attic sculptor of the Late Classical period, son (or possibly son-in-law or brother) and pupil of the sculptor Kephisodotos and father of the sculptors Kephisodotos the younger and Timarchos. Praxiteles’ affluence is attested by his practice of fashioning models for statues without having to depend on commissions and by his expensive gifts to his favourite model, the courtesan Phryne.

Olga Palagia

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Ricci, Marco

(b Belluno, 5 June 1676; d 21 Jan 1730).

Painter, printmaker and stage designer, nephew of (1) Sebastiano Ricci. He probably began his career in Venice in the late 1690s as his uncle’s pupil, concentrating on history paintings (untraced). Having murdered a gondolier in a tavern brawl, he fled to Split in Dalmatia, where he remained for four years and was apprenticed to a landscape painter (Temanza, 1738). Once back in Venice (c. 1700) he put this training to use in painting theatrical scenery. Little is known about his early development, and it remains difficult to establish a chronology for his work. . . . His earliest dated works, a tempera painting, View with Classical Ruins (1702; priv. col.), and a Landscape with Fishermen (1703; ex-Kupferstichkab., Berlin; untraced), are serene and classical, close in style to tempera paintings generally dated 1710–30.

Dulcia Meijers

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Rovere, della (i): (2) Pope Julius II

(b Albissola [Savona], 5 Dec 1443; elected 1503; d Rome, 20–21 Feb 1513).

Nephew of Pope Sixtus IV. The great patron of the High Renaissance in Rome, he commissioned Donate Bramante to build the new St Peter’s, Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling and Raphael to decorate his private apartments, the stanze (all Rome, Vatican). He was born into a noble but impoverished family, the son of Raffaele della Rovere (d 1477) and Theodora Manerola.

Sabine Eiche

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A building of stone or wood, deliberately constructed to give the impression of an intact structure that has decayed. Ruin building was particularly fashionable in Europe in the 18th century and the later 19th. The definition can be widened to include, for example, ruinous structures created from hedges; and illusionistic painting could create ‘ruinous’ interiors, as in the Sala dei Giganti (c. 1534) at the Palazzo del Te, Mantua, by Giulio Romano. Outdoor ruins also incorporated painting to create vistas and viewpoints to be seen from a distance, and also to mask intrusive walls. Constructions such as these, however, were primarily intended as scenery, and should be classified with temporary festival buildings. Artificial ruins also make frequent use of spolia, especially in ‘medieval’ constructions; but genuine ruins were also used as spolia to endow a modern aristocratic residence with historical authenticity, their presence in the park giving them the function of artificial ruins.

Reinhard Zimmermann

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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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Uccello, Paolo

[Paolo di Dono]

(b Florence, c. 1397; d Florence, 10 Dec 1475). Italian painter, draughtsman, mosaicist and designer of stained glass. His work vividly illustrates the principal issues of Florentine art during the first half of the 15th century. Trained within the tradition of the Late Gothic style, he eventually became a leading exponent of the application of linear perspective based on the mathematical system established by Filippo Brunelleschi and Leon Battista Alberti. It is the merging of these two diametrically opposed tendencies that forms the basis of Uccello’s style. As well as painting on panel and in fresco (many of his works in this medium have been severely damaged), he was also a master mosaicist and produced designs for stained glass.

Christopher Lloyd

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Publius Vergilius Maro (70–19 BC) was the greatest poet of the Latin Golden age and author of the Aeneid, which tells the story of the founding of Rome, after long trials, by the Trojan prince Aeneas. Tradition holds that the epic was commissioned by Augustus; it includes Augustan imagery and prophetic lines about the brilliance of Rome’s future under the first emperor. Other works include the Eclogues and the Georgics. Virgil was popular in the Middle Ages; many Christians found him more sympathetic than other ancient writers. Dante made Virgil his guide in Hell and Purgatory.


(fl late 5th century BC–early 4th). Greek painter. Zeuxis of Heracleia achieved wealth and fame as a painter in Athens around the time of the Peloponnesian Wars (431–404 BC). Pliny (Natural History XXXV.xxxvi.61) stated that Zeuxis began working in the fourth year of the 95th Olympiad (397 BC) and that writers who dated him to the 89th Olympiad (c. 424 BC) were mistaken. According to Pliny, Zeuxis was the pupil of either Demophilos of Himera or Neseus of Thasos. Both were active around 424 BC, perhaps explaining the confusion of other authors concerning Zeuxis’ own date. No paintings by Zeuxis survive, but ancient descriptions of his style suggest that he used painterly methods rather than line to create an illusion of three-dimensional form and depth.

Susan B. Matheson

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