Milan – Pinacoteca di Brera (Brera Art Gallery) (2/3)

As I mentioned at the end of my previous post, in this post, I’ll focus on works by the leading painters of the Venetian School including Gentile Bellini, Giovanni Bellini, Titian, Veronese, Tintoretto and so on. If you are interested in Leonardo da Vinci, although there are no works by him here, I’ll give you a brief introduction to some paintings by his pupils and admirers. At the end, I’ll take you to have a look at the masters belonging to the Parma School and School of Ferrara and some of their important works. Now, let’s get started with “St. Mark Preaching in a Square of Alexandria in Egypt” by Gentile and Giovanni Bellini.

“St. Mark Preaching in a Square of Alexandria in Egypt” by Gentile and Giovanni Bellini

The work is a huge canvas designed for the reception room of the Scuola Grande di San Marco in Venice, one of the city’s most prestigious and powerful confraternities. It occupies a space of more than 26 square meters, and has rich narrative and iconographic features. The cycle of paintings with scenes of the life of St. Mark was completed around 60 years later by Tintoretto, and is today housed in the Pinacoteca di Brera and the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice.

The canvas was started by Gentile in 1504 but left incomplete upon the death of the artist in 1507. It passed to his brother Giovanni, as indicated in Gentile’s will. Giovanni completed it and made some modifications. As I learnt from Wikipedia, the invitation to complete the work was probably from his brother just before he died, to which Giovanni probably responded negatively. This explains the insertion in the will of the section that consigned a precious collection of drawing to Giovanni should he complete the painting. The attribution of the various parts of the work to each artist is still under debate among scholars but modern criticism considers Gentile to have done the background, except for the modified parts and possibly the characters on the right hand. This is because elements of Venetian architecture (at first glance, I thought the building in the background was St. Mark’s Basilica) are superimposed on structures of clearly Mediterranean and Oriental derivation (for example the obelisks and the minarets of a mosque), which Gentile had the opportunity to study when he was sent to work for Mehmed II at Constantinople in 1497. What’s more, we can see a group of women in veils and some exotic animals such as the camels and a giraffe in the square, which Gentile probably saw during his trip. Giovanni is assigned with some certainty the portraits on the left, and some of the central group, which are of the members of the confraternity that commissioned the work. They are the ones wearing black berets among the round turbans, long white veils and tall red hats.

If you have a curious mind like I do, did you ever wonder why the top of the buildings are missing? As I learnt form Wikipedia, “the canvas was reduced at an unknown time, a strip along the top being cut away, where the buildings finished.” The work arrived in the Brera in 1809, following the Napoleonic invasion.

“The Finding of the Body of St. Mark” by Tintoretto (Jacopo Robusti)

“The Finding of the Body of St. Mark” is among a cycle of paintings depicting episodes associated with St. Mark, the patron saint of Venice. They were commissioned in 1562 by Tommaso Rangone, the “grand guardian” of the Scuola Grande di San Marco in Venice, for Tintoretto, who completed them by 1566. The series is made up of three paintings, that is to say, “Miracle of the Slave”, “The Finding of the Body of St. Mark” and “St. Mark’s Body Brought to Venice”. Except for the painting we see here, the other two are in Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice. They recounted not only the saint’s life but also the miracles in which he is alleged to have had a hand.

What story is this painting trying to tell us? St. Mark had died and was buried in Alexandria in Egypt. In the 9th century, the Venetian merchants went to retrieve his body. The painting shows Venetians busy removing corpses from tombs along the right wall and from a crypt in the background. In the left foreground, the standing luminous saint himself with a halo appears and beseeches them to stop, because his body has already been found and lies pale at his feet. He tries to stop the desecration but at the same time, from the way the people move down the corpse, gently and with care, we sense some kind of honoring. In the center of the canvas, an elder, which is actually the portrait of Tommaso Rangone, the commissioner of the paining, can be seen kneeling in a fabulous golden brocade, gesturing down to the body of St. mark in a protective way and acknowledging the miracle. The presence of a man possessed by devils on the right of the composition, above whom hover strands of smoke, adds to the miraculous tone of the episode.

Actually, this is a very complicated image, not only because of the skillful use of perspective and light and shadow effects but also because of the overlapping of time. Firstly, Tommaso Rangone was a 16th-century Venetian but he was placed in a 9th-century setting. Secondly, St. Mark from different periods appears in the same scene. At the back of the cemetery, his body is being retrieved. In the foreground we see his body on the carpet and next to it, we see St. Mark himself standing making a grand gesture.

Like its companion piece, “St Mark’s Body Brought to Venice”, the composition exemplifies Tintoretto’s preference for dramatic effects of perspective and light. Does the body of St. Mark remind you of the “Foreshortened Christ” by Mantegna which I mentioned in the previous post? As I read from the official website of the Brera, “the artist, a skilled narrator, depicts the miracle as though it were taking place on a stage, forcing his “actors” to adopt theatrical and emphatic poses. The observer, or in this case the spectator, is drawn into the heart of the action by the dizzying foreshortening that impresses a profound acceleration on the picture’s spatial depth accentuated by the play of light on the arcades.” If you make a comparison between this painting and the works of Raphael, I’m sure you will find a lot of differences. Instead of portraying a world of harmony and ideal beauty, it takes us into a world of mystery. The dramatic and intense contrast of light and dark and the extreme perspective make this painting a work of Mannerism, or Late Renaissance. As I read from Wikipedia, “opposite to High Renaissance art which emphasizes proportion, balance, and ideal beauty, Mannerism exaggerates such qualities, often resulting in compositions that are asymmetrical or unnaturally elegant. It favors compositional tension and instability rather than the balance and clarity.” All in all, Tintoretto’s mastery of color, light and perspective made him undoubtedly one of the leading painters of the Venetian School and this piece of work one of the finest examples of the Late Renaissance.

“Portrait of a Young Man” by Tintoretto (Jacopo Robusti)

This is another work by Tintoretto in the gallery, and as I learnt from the official website of Brera, this painting, with its diverse history of attributions, can be dated around 1565 thanks to a comparison with the “Portrait of an Old Man and a Boy” in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. The two works share a similar modelling of the young man’s face with its very marked features. “The clothing is aristocratic and the pose characteristically ‘scornful‘ – self-assured, haughty and detached – in keeping with a style invented by Titian and subsequently adopted in numerous 16th-century Venetian portraits.”

“Portrait of Count Antonio di Porcia e Brugnera” by Titian

Since we mentioned Titian and his influence in the 16th-cenury Venetian portraits in the previous section, why not taking a look at his own work in the same room? This painting, signed on the window ledge (which is not really very visible), portrays the noble Antonio di Porcia of Friuli. It belongs to Titian’s mature stage as a portrait artist, a stage when he emphasized his sitters’ social status (the knight’s collar, sword and black attire) rather than highlighting only their ideal aspects as he had done in his youth. The window opens out onto a landscape with a river and mountains, a compositional formula which he had also adopted in earlier portraits. The work had been transferred from the ancestral castle of the Porcia at Pordenone to the residence of Alfonso Porcia in Milan. It was then inherited by Eugenia Litta Visconti Arese, who donated it to Brera in 1891.

“Supper in the House of Simon” by Veronese (Paolo Caliari)

Exhibited in the same room as “The Finding of the Body of St. Mark” by Tintoretto, we can see five paintings by Paolo Caliari, known as Paolo Veronese. One of them is “Supper in the House of Simon”, which we will talk about in this section. Veronese was an Italian Renaissance painter, based in Venice, known for large-format history paintings of religion and mythology. Together with Titian, a generation older, and Tintoretto, a decade senior, Veronese is one of the “great trio” that dominated Venetian painting of the Late Renaissance in the 16th century. For me, the use of color in his works always attracts my attention and it helps me to identify his paintings rather easily.

This painting depicts an incident from Luke 7 where Jesus visits Simon the Pharisee, and has his feet anointed by a “sinful woman”.

One of the Pharisees invited him to eat with him. He entered into the Pharisee’s house, and sat at the table. Behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that he was reclining in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of ointment. Standing behind at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears, and she wiped them with the hair of her head, kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “This man, if he were a prophet, would have perceived who and what kind of woman this is who touches him, that she is a sinner.”

Luke 7:36-39, World English Bible

Jesus proceeds to tell the Parable of the Two Debtors:

Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

He said, “Teacher, say on.”

“A certain lender had two debtors. The one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they couldn’t pay, he forgave them both. Which of them therefore will love him most?”

Simon answered, “He, I suppose, to whom he forgave the most.”

He said to him, “You have judged correctly.” Turning to the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered into your house, and you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head. You gave me no kiss, but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss my feet. You didn’t anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.” He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

Luke 7:40-47, World English Bible

Veronese painted many banquets from the Gospels but in this painting, if you don’t look at Jesus with the halo and Mary Magdalene anointing his feet, will you think this is a religious scene? The servants bustle. The dogs fights with a cat over food. A servant steals wine from the table and a drunk is being carried out of the dining hall. Actually, the painter is showing us a secular scene in his own day, with the 16th-century setting and costumes.

“Last Supper” by Veronese (Paolo Caliari)

“In the ‘Last Supper’, the deliberately asymmetrical composition sidelining Christ, the unusually dark palette and the everyday setting strike a deep chord, plunging the observer into the scene.” Who is the traitor? Who is the greatest of all the disciples? These two questions cause a chaos in the left half of the painting. However, divided by the central column, the right half, featuring dogs, beggars and a beautiful woman by the window, shows that the earth rotates as usual. Why is Jesus about to sponge Peter’s feet? Is it related to the Dispute Over Greatness or the Denial of Peter?

“Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane” by Veronese (Paolo Caliari)

According to a recent hypothesis, brought to Brera in 1808, this was one of the works donated by the nobleman Simone Lanzo to the nuns of Santa Maria Maggiore in 1584 “to adorn the great chapel.” It dates from around 1582-1583, at a time when the “Baptism and Temptation of Christ” by the same artist was completed. The most important part of the depiction is located on the left side of the canvas, with the figures in the foreground picked out from the darkness by the light of the Holy Spirit. The stream of light is combined with an unusual choice of iconography, with Christ fainting at the announcement of the Passion. This representation is based on a story narrated by Pietro Aretino in his “Humanity of Christ” published in 1535. As the name of the book suggests, this work focuses on the human side of Jesus. As I read from the info board on site, “the artist’s evocative handling of light, intensifying the scene’s dramatic tone, points to the influence of Tintoretto.”

“Baptism and Temptation of Christ” by Veronese (Paolo Caliari)

This painting, similar to the one I mentioned above, is among Veronese’s later works. Once part of a large decorative cycle, it depicts two rarely associated episodes from the Gospels. What’s the connection here? The left half depicts the Baptism of Christ (preparation) while the right half depicts the Temptation of Christ (test). The latter is detailed in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. According to these texts, after being baptized by John the Baptist, Jesus fasted for 40 days and nights in the Judaean Desert and during this time, Satan appeared to him and tried to tempt him. The temptations were hedonism, egoism and materialism. The two episodes are linked visually by a series of diagonal lines stretching from the angel on the upper left, which guide the observer’s eyes towards the right half of the composition. As commented on the info board, “the painter’s true protagonist is the landscape in the center, with its magnificent light effects achieved with rapid brushstrokes fading towards Jerusalem in the distance.”

“St. Anthony Abbot between Sts. Cornelius and Cyprian” by Veronese (Paolo Caliari)

The work was executed for the high altar of the church of Sant’Antonio Abate in Torcello, which was abolished and demolished in the Napoleonic period. Due to the absence of documentary information, the painting was dated on the basis of a stylistic analysis and was assigned to the period between 1565 and 1571. Recent restoration has allowed a recovery of the vibrant tone of the original colours, which brought more assurance to the authorship of the painting.

The three saints look concentrated on the Gospel but the two pages seem to be absent-minded. One of them is looking at St. Anthony, showing respect while the other one, who seems to be younger, is looking outside the frame to attract the viewers’ attention. What did you find impressive when you first saw this painting? Probably not the looks of the characters right? These amazing, spectacular cloaks and garments truly testify to the artist’s mastery over colors and love of contrast.

“St. Roch Visiting the Plague Stricken” by Jacopo Bassano (Jacopo Da Ponte)

In the same room, you can see a painting by Jacopo Bassano, popular in Venice because of his depiction of animals and nocturnal scenes. This work was painted as an offering to mark the deliverance from the plague which stroke Venice in 1575 and it honors the saint renowned for his protection against epidemics. He is depicted in accordance with tradition, in a pilgrim’s attire with a cloak appearing to and helping the plague-stricken crowd. The painting here clearly shows the influence of the mature style of Titian and Tintoretto and the buildings at the background reflect the architecture of Palladio.

Followers of Leonardo da Vinci

“Madonna of the Veil” by Ambrogio Bergognone

This painting is not really on the masterpiece list of Brera but it caught my attention immediately when I was passing by. What features in it attracted me? Firstly, I would say the faces of Virgin Mary and the Christ Child. Much different from the depictions of the Early Renaissance, in this painting, we can feel the tendernesssweetness and in particular, the psychology of the characters. Mary at this moment has stopped praying and she’s covering Jesus with a transparent veil while he sleeps sound in her lap. How are they feeling? Peaceful? Happy? Worried? Sad? Their facial expressions somehow remind me of that of “Mona Lisa“. Judging from the mouth, Mary seems to be smiling but judging from her eyes, she seems sorrowful. The other impressive feature of this painting is the transparent veil, which, represented by a few strokes of white paint and the gestures of Mary, is visible to us. If you look carefully, you will see another transparent veil from Mary’s head to her shoulders. Painting transparency is not easy but Bergognone paid attention to the smallest details and conveyed to us a feeling intangible lightness.

The scene is supposed to be warm-hearted and undisturbed but somehow we can sense some kind of low spirits. This is probably because the iconography implies the Passion and Death of Christ, which can be seen from the apple which Jesus will see when he wakes up and the transparent veil, which will become the shroud to wrap his dead body. The comparison between young Mary with the sleeping Baby Jesus and old Mary with the dead Jesus makes us meditate on Christ’s sacrifice and redemption. The window opens onto a scene of everyday life on some islands, suggesting the presence of divinity in our daily lives.

“Portrait of a Young Man” by Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio

Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio was an Italian painter of the High Renaissance from Lombardy, who worked in the studio of Leonardo da Vinci. As I read from Wikipedia, Boltraffio and Bernardino Luini are the strongest artistic personalities to have emerged from Leonardo’s studio and here in Brera, we can see works of both of them. I first heard the name Boltraffio when I was visiting the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Strasbourg, and I mistook the “portraits” (which are shown in photographs) of the apostles by him for the ones in “The Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci. In this regard, you can imagine how much he has learnt from his master.

Leonardo joined Ludovico il Moro’s court in Milan in 1482 and Boltraffio was one of his pupils until 1490. This artist developed his mater’s new approach of capturing the sitter’s psychology and became known for his portraits. The painting shown above is among his first portraits. The sitter’s face is marked by grey shadow and light is handled with great skill. Just look at the depth of his eyes and the details of his golden hair. Isn’t he attractive?

“Portrait of a Young Man” by Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio

Boltraffio painted one of his most famous works, an altarpiece for poet Gerolamo Casio’s family chapel, in Bologna in 1500 and this portrait belongs to this period of time as well. It is influenced by the painting of Perugino, Raphael’s teacher, and of Venice, as we can see the sitter’s position just off center and the clear palette. By an analogy between this painting and the Bologna painting, the figure is identified as Casio himself and a laurel wreath and a scroll containing his poem were added.

“Madonna and Child (Madonna of the Rose-bush)” by Bernardino Luini

Bernardino Luini was a North Italian painter from Leonardo’s circle. As I mentioned above, both he and Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio were said to have worked with Leonardo directly. According to David Freedberg, Luini has takenas much from Leonardo as his native roots enabled him to comprehend”. Consequently, many of his works were attributed to Leonardo. He was known especially for his graceful female figures with elongated eyes, which can be seen from Madonna in his “Madonna of the Rose-bush”.

This youthful masterpiece by Luini was acquired for the Pinacoteca from the Giuseppe Bianchi collection in 1826. Neither its origin nor its earlier collecting history is known, although it is widely thought to have come from the Certosa di Pavia where Luini was working in or around the first decade of the 16th century. As I learnt from the official website of Brera, “the panel reveals the intensity of the links that this artist from Varese maintained with the Lombard Late Gothic tradition which is responsible, for example, for his meticulous depiction of plants and flowers in the background.” At the same time, we can see the influence of Leonardo da Vinci, not only on the Virgin’s facial features but also on the pose of the Christ Child, which several scholars have linked to Leonardo’s Study of the Madonna and Child with a Cat. Jesus is clutching a columbine whose colour (purplish blue) symbolizes both the blood of Christ and the grief of his mother.

“Stories from the Lives of St. Joachim, St. Anne and the Virgin” by Bernardino Luini

The convent of Santa Maria della Pace was a busy art center in the 16th-centruy Milan. This fresco cycle, which originally adorned the Chapel of St. Joseph, was detached at different periods in the 19th century and reassembled in this room designed by Pietro Portaluppi between 1924 and 1925. On the left, episodes from the Virgin’s early life are depicted, starting from “The Announcement of Mary’s Birth to Joachim (father) and Anne (mother)”. In the center, we can see “St. Joseph Chosen as the Virgin’s Husband”. Compared with the painting I showed you in the previous section, these frescoes were executed at a later time, in 1515, when Luini was chiefly influenced by Bramantino and his friend Zenale. It is said that he used assistants to help finish the work.

“The Three Archangels” by Marco d’Oggiono

Besides Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio and Bernardino Luini, Marco d’Oggiono is also a chief pupil of Leonardo da Vinci, many of whose works he copied. His two most notable pictures, one of which is “The Three Archangels” in the Pinacoteca di Brera, are signed with his name in Latin, Marcus. Clearly, the painting depicts Gabriel, Raphael and Michael, princes of the angelic hierarchy, defeating Satan. The faces, landscape and plants are influenced by Leonardo. Which of Leonardo’s paintings do these elements remind you of? “John the Baptist “, “The Virgin and Child with St. Anne”, or “Annunciation”?

“The Assumption of Mary Magdalene” by Marco d’Oggiono

This painting is among the last works of Marco d’Oggiono and is thought to have been left incomplete at the artist’s death. The saint flying over mountains and water reflect the style of Leonardo but the landscape was probably finished by an artist influenced by Flemish art. It had been taken by the Nazis and was recovered in 1954. In 1989, it was assigned to the Pinacoteca di Brera.

“Madonna and Child with a Lamp” by Fernando Yañez or Fernando Llanos

Leonardo da Vinci’s influence surely went beyond the border of Italy and reached many other foreign countries. It is said that he worked on the lost painting “The Battle of Anghiari“, at times referred to as “The Lost Leonardo”, with a “Ferrando spagnolo” (Spanish Ferrando), who is identified either as Yañez or Llanos. One of them finished this work in which Mary and the Christ Child are embracing a lamb, the symbol of sacrifice. It strongly echoes Leonardo’s “Study of the Madonna and Child with a Cat“. In fact, if you only look at the upper half of the animal, it certainly looks like a lamb, but if you only look at the lower half the it, doesn’t it remind you of a cat?

By now, I’ve finished the “Followers of Leonardo da Vinci” section, but remember, in Milan, you can see many many more works both by the master himself and his pupils. For example, how can you not visit “The Last Supper” in the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie? How can you miss the “Codex Atlanticus” and “Portrait of a Musician” in the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana? Why not taking a look at the frescoes in Sala delle Asse in the Sfroza Castle? I’ll introduce them to you in detail in my series of posts about the art and culture in Milan. Now, let’s keep moving and exploring the Brera.

“Heraclitus and Democritus” by Donato Bramante

I have known Donato Bramante (not in person) for quite some time, mostly as an architect who introduced Renaissance architecture to Milan and the High Renaissance style to Rome, where his plan for St. Peter’s Basilica formed the basis of design executed by Michelangelo. His Tempietto, which I mentioned while talking about Raphael’s “Marriage of the Virgin” in the previous post, marked the beginning of the High Renaissance in Rome when Pope Julius II appointed him to build a sanctuary over the spot where St. Peter is said to have been crucified.

Around 1474, Bramante moved to Milan and basically became the court architect of Duke Ludovico Sforza. In this city, his most famous architectural works include the trompe-l’oeil choir and the octagonal sacristy of the church of Santa Maria presso San Satiro, the Bramante Sacristy in the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, and the cloister of Sant’Ambrogio. I’ll talk more about them when I introduce to you the basilicas in Milan. Surprisingly, at least to me, he was not only an architect but also a painter, whose frescoes and oil painting can be seen in the Brera. I’ll talk about his frescoes here first and as for his oil painting, “Christ at the Column”, I’ll talk about it in the next post.

The eight mural paintings, which entered the Pinacoteca di Brera between 1901 and 1902, come from the house acquired in 1486 by the court poet and ducal counselor Gaspare Visconti. The finest of them is “Heraclitus and Democritus“, which originally stood above a door in the courtyard and depicts two ancient philosophers, one weeping while the other laughing over men’s fate. They are examples of the “Motions of the Mind“, a term used to indicate how a single portrait can reveal the character and the mind of a person. Another noteworthy feature in this painting is the state of the art globe of the 15th century, which shows not only the Mediterranean and the Scandinavia but also the snow-capped Alps. Such details remind us of the third role that Bramante played, of a cartographer. I guess you won’t object if we call him a polymath.

“Adoration of the Magi” by Correggio (Antonio Allegri)

I came to know this artist when I was visiting the art galleries in Parma and Modena and his works attracted my attention immediately. As the foremost painter of the Parma School of the Renaissance, he was responsible for some of the most vigorous and sensuous works of the 16th century. In his use of dynamic composition, illusionistic perspective and dramatic foreshortening, Correggio prefigured the Rococo art of the 18th century and is considered a master of chiaroscuro.

The painting we see above was assigned to Correggio by Bernard Berenson and is generally considered one of the his early works, influenced by Dosso and Mazzolino and painted between 1515 and 1518. As I learnt from the official website, “the complexity of the composition and the artificiality of the figures’ twisted poses reflect Correggio’s interest in the work of the so-called proto-Mannerists in Emilia, of which several examples can be seen in the Pinacoteca,” such as Dosso Dossi’s “St. Sebastian” that I’ll talk about later. The main scene is set on the left and the center is left empty, which leads our eyes towards the figures sitting at the far end of the steps, shown in perspective. Can you recognize which the three kings are in the painting? The old man with a beard shown kneeling in front of Baby Jesus is one of them and he is at the tip of a diagonal line, which is formed by the other two kings. Just a reminder, the Magi are closely connected to Milan and when I introduce to you the basilicas in the city, you will learn a lot more about them.

“Nativity of Jesus with St. Elisabeth and the Infant St. John” by Correggio (Antonio Allegri)

To be honest, this is not my favorite painting in the gallery but the influences that it shows is of much interest. Probably executed in Mantua between 1512 and 1513, this also belongs to the artist’s early works. As I read from the official website, it is a work dense in references to not only the great masters of the previous generation, such as Mantegna (the figures of St. Joseph and the aging St. Elizabeth) and Leonardo da Vinci (chiaroscuro) but also to contemporary painters like Dosso Dossi and his fellow countrymen Lorenzo Costa and Benvenuto Tisi (Garofalo), “from whom Correggio has taken the scheme of composition and the soft and sentimental tone of the figure of the Virgin.” The landscape implies influence from the Venetian School. In this regard, this painting testifies to the artist’s studying experiences and his ambition in combining the optimal elements to create a “perfect” artwork.

“St. Sebastian” by Dosso Dossi

Like Correggio, I first learnt about the name of this artist when I was visiting the galleries in Modena and Parma. Dosso Dossi was an Italian Renaissance painter who belonged to the School of Ferrara, painting in a style mainly influenced by the Venetian School, in particular Giorgione and early Titian. From 1514 to his death he was court artist to the Este Dukes of Ferrara and of Modena and he often worked with his younger brother Battista Dossi, who had worked under Raphael. He painted many mythological subjects and allegories with a rather dream-like atmosphere and his portraits often show rather unusual poses or expressions, compared with other portraits originating from a court.

If you have read my previous post, the episode depicted in this work shouldn’t be strange to you. As shown in the painting of the same name by Liberale da Verona, the martyrdom of the saint is also represented here in the traditional way, bound to a tree and pierced by arrows. Nevertheless, in Dosso Dossi’s work, we can feel the pain of St. Sebastian and his pose seems to be more dramatic and unnatural. What impresses you the most in this painting? The bright-green cloak? The leaves on the citrus tree? Or the landscape in the distance? Dosso began to draw close to the style of Raphael in the mid-1520s and as I read from the info board, “his experimental pittura di tocco, a style based on small dotting motions and spirited (energetic) brushstrokes adds a softness to the picture, matched by a briskness in the treatment of the green and brown foliage and in the gleam of the weapons lying on the ground.”

“Christ Deposed” by Garofalo (Benvenuto Tisi)

To be honest, when I first saw this painting, particularly the crowd of people in the lower part, I thought it’s a work by Raphael because it reminds me of his “Transfiguration”. Nevertheless, it’s actually by Benvenuto Tisi (or Il Garofalo), a Late-Renaissance-Mannerist Italian painter of the School of Ferrara. I guess my mistake could be justified because he is called “the Raphael of Ferrara” and, invited by a Ferrarese gentleman to Rome, he worked briefly under Raphael in the decoration of the Stanza della Segnatura. As commented on the info board, “Raphael’s influence can be seen in the tranquil rhythm and the monumental forms.” If we divide the entire painting into two parts, that is to say the upper half and the lower half, we can see a contrast of tranquility and commotion, reflected by the luminous landscape featuring a city and some mountains beyond and a group of people mourning over the death of Christ.

In the center of the mourning group are Virgin Mary and the dead Christ, and next to them we see St. John the Evangelist and Mary Magdalene. Do their tender facial features remind you of the style of Raphael? The main reason why I mistook this painting for Raphael’s work is the artist’s masterly and brilliant use of colors. Besides the colorful and radiant garments and cloaks, can you notice that the tiny figures who have just passed the bridge in the distance are also painted in various colors? Even the smallest details have been taken care of by the artist. Last but not least, this work depicts the Deposition of Christ, but where is the cross? Did Garofalo forget to paint it? We might not see the cross directly but there are objects symbolizing it. Can you find them? Yes, they are the tongs and nails at the lower left corner.

“Virgin and Child Enthroned with Sts. Anne, Elisabeth, Augustine and the Blessed Pietro degli Onesti” by Ercole de Roberti

The painting was executed between 1479 and 1481 for the church of Santa Maria in Porto Fuori in Ravenna, served by the Canons Regular of the Lateran. In the 16th century it was transferred to the San Francesco church in the same city, from where it entered the Pinacoteca after the Napoleonic abolitions.

In the center, we see an octagonal podium on which the Virgin’s throne stands. Flanking Virgin Mary with Baby Jesus are St. Anne, Mary’s mother and St. Elizabeth, St. John the Baptist’s mother. The podium’s base is decorated with panels simulating antique bronze reliefs, which represent the Slaughter of the Innocents, Adoration of the Magi and Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. On the sides, we see St. Augustine, patron saint of the Lateran Order, and Pietro degli Onesti, founder of the church (church of Santa Maria in Porto Fuori) for which the painting was executed originally. Through the columns of the podium, we see an extraordinary stormy seascape, which alludes to the foundation of the church. It is said that on the voyage back to Ravenna from the Holy Land, Pietro degli Onesti had survived a shipwreck and promised Virgin Mary he would construct a large church in exchange for his miraculous salvation.

By now I have finished introducing to you works of the Venetian School, Parma School and Ferrara School and followers of Leonardo da Vinci. In my next post, which is also the last post about Brera, let’s move forward in time and I’ll show you masterpieces by Caravaggio, who had a formative influence on Baroque painting, Peter Paul Rubens, the most influential artist of Flemish Baroque tradition, Giambattista Tiepolo, Giambattista Pittoni, Canaletto, Bernardo Bellotto, Pietro Longhi and so on. Do you remember the “Marriage of the Virgin” by Raphael which I mentioned in the first post? It’s actually exhibited in Room 24 and in the same room, we will see Pietro della Francesca‘s “The Virgin with Child, Angels and Saints (Pala Montefeltro)” and Donato Bramante‘s “Christ at the Column”. By the way, at the end of next post, I’ll also give you a brief introduction to the Braidense National Library and the botanical garden, in which many plants can be found echoing the ones on the paintings.


Milan – Pinacoteca di Brera (Brera Art Gallery) (2/3) was last modified: October 11th, 2019 by Dong

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