Monday, 18 February 2013

An Overlooked and Maligned Artist: Andrea dal Castagno.

Andrea dal Castagno, Last Supper and Stories of Christ's Passion, 1447, Fresco, 453 x 975 cm (each fresco), Sant'Apollonia, Florence.

Andrea dal Castagno’s origins have always been shrouded in mystery. On the one hand he said to be  the son of a poor labourer in Castagno, just outside Florence; on the other he’s supposed to have held land in that district. Much worse than this, due to Vasari, Andrea’s character was besmirched for over four hundred years because his biographer alleged that Castagno had “murdered” another famous painter, Domenico Veneziano, a distortion that was retold by every Florentine commentator after Vasari.[1] The assassination theory has subsequently been disproved as it is known that Veneziano survived Andrea by four years. Andrea’s future became brighter when he came under the protection of the Florentine nobleman, Bernadetto de’ Medici, and eventually gained the nickname “Andrea degli Impiccati” (“Little Andrea of the Hanged Men”) because he painted the faces of the traitors in the Pazzi conspiracy on the walls of the Senate House. In 1442 he worked with Francesco di Faenza on frescoes in S. Zaccaria in Venice before returning to Florence in 1444. His first great work was a Last Supper and Scenes from the Life of Christ for the Convent of St Apollonia in Florence, which now serves as a museum for the painter. Other notable works include a Crucifixion (NG, London), a panel of the Young David (NG, Washington), and a Trinity with a foreshortened, airborne Christ. A sinopia drawing for the Trinity could hardly be more different from the fresco: the figures do not have their backs to the viewer; instead of a rugged, toothless old man, we have a more agile younger man. The spectacular trinity is barely indicated in the sinopia drawing; and as Millard Meiss points out, the foreshortening caused Andrea much trouble. After painting the lower part of Christ’s body in awkward foreshortening, he decided to conceal this with a group of angels. This addition was painted a secco, so the paint peeled, and so we can see Andrea’s heroic efforts to capture this effect.[2]

Andrea dal Castagno the Holy Trinity, St Jerome and Two Saints, c. 1453, Fresco, Santissima Annunziata, Florence.

Andrea dal Castagno, Sinopia drawing for Holy Trinity, Santissima Annunziata, Florence.

[1] Herbert P. Horne, “Andrea dal Castagno” His Early Life, Part One” ,Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, Vol. 7, No. 25 (Apr., 1905), pp. 66-69.
[2] Millard Meiss, Nos, 42,43, Frescoes from Florence

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