Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Renaissance Artists to Know: Andrea del Castagno

My favorite artistic period is the Renaissance, which covers a broad span of both time and geography and has given us many transcendent works of art, as well as well-known Masters such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Rafael, Hans Holbein, Jan van Eyck, and Titian. But there were many notable painters, sculptors, and architects who may not be household names to those outside the art world.

One of these is Andrea del Castagno, who was born some time around 1419-1421 and worked during the early Renaissance. Originally named Andrea di Bartolo di Bargila, he was born in Castagna, a small village near Florence, and in typical Italian fashion, ended up with a name that identified him as being from that area. Except for a brief period in Venice about 1442, where he painted frescoes in the San Tarasio Chapel of the church of San Zaccaria, del Castagno worked in Florence, producing work for the church and for private clients such as the Medici and other rich families. Particularly noteworthy are his fresco entitled The Last Supper, at the top of this page, and his series of frescoes on the Passion of the Christ dating from 1445-to 1450 that were painted for the convent of Ste. Apollonia.

Del Castagno employs architectural features to display his skill in the nascent science of perspective, as can be seen in The Last Supper, above, which has a similar composition to that of the well-known fresco of the same name and subject by Leonardo da Vinci. Del Castagno's broad, solid figures and the emotional quality expressed both in the body posture and in the faces of his subjects seems to show the influence of the Florentine painters Giotto and Masaccio, and his later work shows an increasing influence of the sculptural works by Donatello. 

Some of this later work includes Famous Men and Women, a series of nine pieces for the Villa Carducci at Legnaia (c 1450, Ste. Apollonia, portrait of Dante Alghieri from this series pictured) and the fresco entitled Niccolo da Tolentino (1456, Florence Cathedral), an equestrian portrait of the military leader. It is a painting of a “statue” that does not actually exist, other than in the fresco, but was inspired by an actual equestrian statue of Gattamelata by Donatello. Andrea del Castagno died August 19, 1457, of the plague.

Credits: top image, The Last Supper, from Wikimedia Commons
portrait of Dante Alghieri from the Famous Men and Women series, from Wikimedia Commons

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