Andrea del Castagno (or Andrea di Bartolo di Bargilla) was born around 1419 in a small Tuscan village, Castagno near Monte Falterona, not far from Florence, and died young of the plague, at the age of 37 in 19 August 1457. His known pictorial production is not extensive and was influenced chiefly by
Masaccio and Giotto. Del Castagno moved to Florence in 1440 and little is known about his artistic apprenticeship, though it is believed he learned under Fra Filippo Lippi and Paolo Uccello. In 1440–1441 he worked on the fresco of the Crucifixion and Saints for the Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova (Florence), which shows the influence of the works by Masaccio in its treatment of perspective. In 1442 Del Castagno, when he was about 21 years old, was in Venice to work on the frescoes in the San Tarasio Chapel for the church of San Zaccaria; these are examples of his earlier style of painting. Later he also worked in St. Mark’s Basilica on a mosaic of the Dormition (Death) of the Virgin (1442–1443).
Crucifixion and Saints, fresco, by Andrea del Castagno, 1440-1441 (Ospedale Santa Maria Nuova, Florence).
Frescoes of the St. Tarasio Chapel depicting God the Father, Saints and Evangelists (church of San Zaccaria, Venice) by Andrea del Castagno, 1442. These frescoes show rather harsh, direct, and uncompromising figures that emphasize more realism. This is Andrea’s first signed and dated work. Both these frescoes and that of the “Crucifixion and Saints” (see picture before) show the strong influence Masaccio’s and Donatello’s works had on the young del Castagno. In these particular frescoes for the Tarasio Chapel, Andrea shows his interest in Donatello’s sculptural and linear dynamic style: clear-cut outlines define the Masaccio-style sculptural figures, so that their forms are strengthened and hardened.
Some of the frescoes of the Tarasio Chapel by Andrea del Castagno (from left to right): St. John the Baptist, God the Father holding a globe, St. John the Evangelist and St. Mark (each 176 cm height). Del Castagno painted these frescoes on the narrow, sharply curved compartments located between the ribs of the chapel’s vault and consequently are particularly hard to proportion. The style shown by the figures reflects a careful study of some of Donatello’s sculpture, especially the Zuccone and Jeremiah , this is particularly obvious in the broad treatment of sturdy figures with puffy draperies and their intensive expressions.
Dormition of the Virgin, mosaic, by Andrea del Castagno, 1442-1443, finished between 1448-1451 (Basilica di San Marco, Venice). This mosaic is located on the right side of the barrel vault of the Mascoli Chapel. It depicts the Visitation (to the left) and the Dormition (right) of the Virgin. Although Jacopo Bellini and Michele Giambono also worked on the cartoon* for the mosaic, its composition was by del Castagno, who probably produced the original cartoon for the mosaic before leaving Venice in 1442. The project was abandoned until the late 1440s, when Venice was more receptive to the Florentine style. Then, the artists Bellini and Giambono added their own figures.
But the best of Andrea del Castagno’s work is found entirely in Florence, where he designed a stained window depicting a
Deposition for the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. On May 30, 1445 he became a member of the Guild of the Medicians, and in the same year he executed a fresco of the Madonna with Child and Saints now housed in the Contini Bonacossi Collection at the Uffizi Gallery. Del Castagno’s most impressive works are now gathered in the (refectory) of the convent of the Benedictine nuns at Sant’Apollonia (Florence). There we can see his frescoes of the cenacolo* Piety (this one for a lunette in the convent’s cloister), Crucifixion, Entombment and Resurrection, and his masterpiece: The Last Supper. This combination of scenes is not known to have been represented before. In The Last Supper, the characters, though almost seem to be “sculpted” in color thanks to their strong realism and energy, don’t, however, reach the monumental humanity of the types created by Masaccio: but in them, Andrea del Castagno demonstrated a great sense of corporeity that allowed him to carry forward the investigations in space initiated by Masaccio. Some scholars believe that it is likely that Leonardo da Vinci was already familiar with this fresco before he painted his own Last Supper.
Deposition, stained glass, by Andrea del Castagno, ca. 1444 (Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence). For the cartoon for this Deposition (one of the stained-glass windows in the dome of Florence Cathedral), Andrea appears to be expressing an emotional intimacy and a formal harmony that are the result of the changing cultural reality of then contemporary Florence.
Madonna and Child enthroned with Saints Jerome and John the Baptist, two angels, and two children from the Pazzi family, fresco, by Andrea del Castagno, ca. 1449-1450, 290 x 212 cm (Uffizi Gallery, Florence). At the top, two angels are holding a cloth of honor behind Mary, who’s seated on the throne while holding her Son. Meanwhile, St. John the Baptist points to the Savior from the left as Jesus looks right at St. Jerome, Father of the Church, depicted here as a penitent hermit beating his chest with a rock. In his left hand he holds the circulum precatorium, a string of beads used for prayer. The identity of the two children offering Mary and Jesus a vase of flowers and a crown of roses is unknown. They could most probably be members of the Pazzi family who owned the Castle of Trebbio in Pontassieve (Florence), where the fresco was originally painted for its chapel. The ability of del Castagno to portray perspective is seen in the polychrome marble tiles on the floor, the carpet covering the steps, and the glimpse of the two angels in flight at the top, while the statuary-look of the figures reflects the artist’s attention to the sculptural work of Donatello.
View of the Cenacolo di Sant’Apollonia (Florence). The Cenacolo or former refectory (dining hall) of the convent of Sant’Apollonia is now part of the Museums of the Commune of Florence. The refectory houses the well-conserved fresco representing The Last Supper by Andrea del Castagno (see pictures below). The small museum also displays other fresco designs and works by del Castagno and others. The Benedictine monastery of Sant’Apollonia was the largest female monastery in Florence and was founded in 1339. Del Castagno frescoed The Last Supper occupying the entire lower part of a wall in 1447. Above the Last Supper fresco he painted the Resurrection, the Crucifixion and the Deposition in the sepulcher. The Cenacolo also includes other works by Andrea del Castagno painted around the mid-15th century: a frescoed lunette (and its sinopia* or preparatory drawings, to the right of the picture) with the Christ in piety among the angels (see picture below), a Crucifixion and the sinopia of the Vision of San Girolamo between the Saints Paola and Eustachian.
Christ in the Sepulcher with Two Angels (Christ in Piety), fresco, by Andrea del Castagno, 1447 ( Cenacolo di Sant’Apollonia, Florence). Like the Last Supper, this fresco was painted for the cloister of Sant’Apollonia. This composition is dominated by the perfect balance between the accurate geometrical construction of the sepulcher and the way the figures are portrayed as participants of the dramatic event. The synopia corresponding to this fresco was discovered when it was detached from the wall, and today is on exhibit alongside the fresco itself (see picture before).
Crucifixion, fresco, by Andrea del Castagno, ca. 1455, 270 x 347 cm ( Cenacolo di Sant’Apollonia, Florence). This fresco was originally painted for the convent of Santa Maria degli Angeli, but was relocated to Sant’Apollonia. The composition shows Lazarus together with Martha and Mary Magdalene. In this fresco, Andrea depicted Christ with harsh features, almost more like a suffering peasant.
Stories of Christ’s Passion, fresco, by Andrea del Castagno, 1447, 453 x 975 cm ( Cenacolo di Sant’Apollonia, Florence). The three scenes from the Passion (the Resurrection -left, Crucifixion -center, and Entombment -right) were painted right above the fresco of the Last Supper. The three scenes are connected to each other by a group of flying angels (top of the fresco) all converging towards the figure of Christ in the center, and by a common Tuscan landscape background. The scene most highly praised (and the best preserved of the three), is the Resurrection (see picture below).
Resurrection (detail from the Stories of Christ’s Passion fresco), fresco, by Andrea del Castagno, 1447 ( Cenacolo di Sant’Apollonia, Florence). In this scene, Christ rises up with the monumentality and the solidity of a statue, only slightly softened by his melancholic expression and the pale, soft daylight that surrounds him. Below him, a group of soldiers lie asleep, one of them has just woken up and observes the incredible event.
Last Supper, fresco, by Andrea del Castagno, 1445–1450, 453 cm × 975 cm ( Cenacolo di Sant’Apollonia, Florence). Many important Florentine families had daughters in the Benedictine convent at Sant’Apollonia for cloistered nuns, and Castagno’s fresco was not publicly known until the convent was suppressed in 1866. This fresco, del Castagno’s most famous work, occupies the entire lower part of a wall in the refectory. The treatment of the Last Supper was a serious challenge for Renaissance painters, who had to depict 13 figures while retaining diversity and interest. Del Castagno placed the scene in a richly decorated environment, where every architectural element was represented in the smallest detail, and his approach to perspective is rigorous and accentuated by the geometric effect of the lines of the floor and ceiling. In order to solve the problem posed by the height of the refectory walls in Sant’Apollonia, Andrea used the old method of arranging the scenes in two rows, one above the other, but giving them a visual unity: the Stories of Christ’s Passion (see picture before) were frescoed on the upper level, conceived as taking place in a space behind the room where the Last Supper on the lower level is happening. Del Castagno’s version of the Last Supper takes place inside a room with walls lined with different types of lavishly colored marble panels recalling the Roman “First Style” of wall painting, which function as a backdrop to the solemn scene of the banquet; in the same way the pillars and griffon statues towards the left and right reminisce Classical sculpture and a trompe l’oeil effect. Jesus and the Apostles sit alongside the same side of a long table, while Judas, unlike all the other apostles, sits separately on the near side of the table opposite the figures of Jesus and St. John. This fresco has been praised for its careful attention to naturalistic detail (see for example a sense of real space and light, and the lifelike figures), as well as for the beauty of its details, such as the translucent haloes depicted in perfect perspective, and the extraordinary and remarkable balance of gestures and expressions. Del Castagno painted life-sized figures that confronted the nuns when they sat at every meal, thus the fresco would have served as a didactic image, an inspiration to meditation on their relationship with Jesus and the significance of the Eucharistic meal in their own world. This fresco is in an excellent state of conservation, in part because it remained hidden behind a plaster wall for more than a century. The contemporary fresco by Castagno on the top register (see pictures before) was not protected, and hence shows more degradation.
Detail from the Last Supper fresco, by Andrea del Castagno (145-1450). For such a solemn scene, del Castagno managed to portray an extraordinary array of balanced gestures and expressions. See for example, the central group of the composition, with the innocent sleep figure of St. John to the left of Jesus which is contrasted against the tense, rigid figure of Judas sitting opposite whom also displays exaggeratedly pointed facial features. This central group (with Judas, Christ, Peter, and John), is visually highlighted by a dramatically red, black and white marble slab in the background. Except for Judas, Christ and his apostles all have a translucent halo above their heads.
Between 1449–1450 he painted the
Assumption with Saints Julian and Miniato for the main altar of the St. Julian Chapel of the church of San Miniato fra le Torri in Florence (now located in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin). Around the same time, he produced other set of elegant fresco paintings of supposed portraits of Illustrious men and heroines, which originally decorated the Villa Carducci-Pandolfini (a historic rural palace located on Via Guardavia, on the road between Legnaia and Soffiano, in Tuscany), that were later transferred to the Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence. These frescoes include Condottiere Pippo Spano, Farinata degli Uberti, Niccolò Acciaioli, Dante Alighieri, Petrarch, Giovanni Boccaccio, the Cumaean Sibyl, Esther and Queen Tomyris. These works by Andrea del Castagno confirm a strenuous effort in favor of a personal pictorial ideal expressed through a very coherent style, in which poetic and intellectual innovation, the intention of a rigorous compositional drawing and the artistic power of color, all merge with great originality. This concern for a spatial definition of the characters and for spatial perspective acquired an even more classic character in del Castagno’s fresco series of the Illustrious People, mentioned before: this is due to the use of baseboard moldings* and other feigned marble architectural elements that serve as frames for each of the individual compositions.
Assumption of the Virgin between St. Miniato and St. Julian, tempera and gold on panel, by Andrea del Castagno, 1449–1450, 150 cm × 158 cm (Gemäldegalerie, Berlin). On 20 November 1449 the Rector of the Florentine church of San Miniato alle Torri asked Andrea to paint an altarpiece depicting Our Lady of the Assumption with Saints Miniato and Julian. By April 1450 the altarpiece was finished. The central figure of the Virgin is portrayed wearing a wide dark blue cloak painted by Andrea using heavy chiaroscuro, as she is lifted up from a sepulcher up to heaven on a throne (or mandorla?) of reddish clouds supported by four flying angels. The sepulcher contains roses, a flower usually associated with the Virgin. The two monumental saints on either side of the Madonna also appear to be floating in a conventional and abstract space: in the left, carrying a sword, is St. Julian, and to the right St. Minias of Florence, with a stick and a crown. Both saints were portrayed wearing elegant contemporary costumes. The background was done in gold leaf.
Reconstruction of the original aspect of the Illustrious Men and Women fresco cycle (with pictures overlaid over the original picture), by Andrea del Castagno, ca. 1450 (Villa Carducci-Pandolfini, Legnaia, Tuscany, Italy). Andrea was probably commissioned to paint these frescoes in 1449, when Filippo Carducci, the owner of the villa died. This cycle includes nine portrayals (three Florentine military commanders, three famous women and three Tuscan poets), placed inside painted niches made to look like monumental marble recesses and separated from one another by (also painted) pilasters. On one of the room’s short walls, the figures of Adam and Eve were also painted. These frescoes were located in the loggia of the Villa. The width of the loggia is approximately 15,5 m. The figures (beginning from the left on the small wall) are: Eve, Madonna and Child (painted over the door, largely lost), Adam (largely lost), and in the long wall: Pippo Spano, Farinata degli Uberti, Niccolò Acciaioli, the Cumaean Sibyl, Queen Esther, Queen Tomyris, Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio, next to Petrarch, and not shown in the reconstruction. The nine frescoes from the long wall have been detached and are now exhibited in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, while the frescoes representing Adam and Eve and the Virgin and Child remain in poor state of conservation in situ (in the villa).
The Illustrious Men and Women fresco cycle by Andrea del Castagno (ca. 1450, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence). All the frescoes have been transferred to wood and measure 250 x 154 cm each. From left to right: Pippo Spano, a Florentine military commander ( condottiero), is one of the most celebrated portrayals of the cycle, represented here as the ideal hero; Farinata degli Uberti, another Florentine military commander and nobleman who became the leader of the Florentine Ghibellines, the pro-imperial party, according to Dante, Uberti alone dissuaded the members of the Ghibelline coalition from razing the city of Florence, which they had just captured; Niccolò Acciaiuoli, was a statesman, soldier, and grand seneschal of Naples who enjoyed a predominant position in the Neapolitan court, he led the conquest of almost all of Sicily between 1356-1357; The Cumean Sibyl, one of the three famous women represented in the cycle, is shown wrapped in a wide red cloak with metallic highlights on the folds, and representing the same heroic ideals as the commanders, the severity of her face together with her raised right hand, is the sign of the gravity of her prophecies.
Queen Esther (fresco from the cycle of Illustrious Men and Women, by Andrea del Castagno, ca. 1450, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence). The fresco shows Esther, the beautiful Jewish wife of the Persian king Ahasuerus (Xerxes I), who persuaded the king to retract an order for the general annihilation of Jews throughout the empire.
The Illustrious Men and Women fresco cycle by Andrea del Castagno (ca. 1450, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence). All the frescoes have been transferred to wood and measure 250 x 154 cm each. From left to right: Queen Tomyris, the queen of nomadic peoples of central Asia in ancient times who, according to Herodotus (1: 214), killed Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Persian empire, in battle against her, medieval typology made Tomyris a prefiguration of the Virgin triumphing over Satan; Dante Allighieri, Italy’s greatest poet and also one of the towering figures in western European literature, best known for his monumental epic poem, La commedia, later named La divina commedia (The Divine Comedy); Francesco Petrarca, (Petrarch) an Italian scholar, poet, and Humanist whose poems addressed to Laura, an idealized beloved, contributed to the Renaissance flowering of lyric poetry; Giovanni Boccaccio, an Italian poet and scholar, best remembered as the author of the earthy tales in the Decameron, along with Petrarch he laid the foundations for the humanism of the Renaissance and raised vernacular literature to the level and status of the classics of antiquity.
From around 1450 is a
Crucifixion (London), as well as the David with Goliath’s Head and the Portrait of a Man , both in the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. In October of 1453, del Castagno was commissioned by Filippo Carducci to paint some additional frescoes for his villa at Soffiano, of which today survive Eve and a heavily destroyed Madonna with Child. In 1455 he painted two other interesting frescoes in the Florentine Basilica della Santissima Annunziata: St. Julian and the Redeemer and a Holy Trinity, St. Jerome and two Saints. The following year he executed for the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, the fresco of the Equestrian Monument of Niccolò da Tolentino (1456). This is a painting intended to make a pendant* (one of two paintings) with another fresco that Paolo Uccello had made in 1436, the Funerary Monument to Sir John Hawkwood. The intention of both works was to simulate bronze reliefs and statues.
Crucifixion, panel, by Andrea del Castagno, ca. 1450, 29 x 35 cm (National Gallery, London). It is believed that this small panel was part of a predella. Again, del Castagno seems to be concentrated in representing the monumentality of the figures and the brightness of the colors, whose brilliance replaces natural light. Some scholars challenge the authorship of this painting.
David with the Head of Goliath, tempera on leather on wood, by Andrea del Castagno, 1450-1455, 115.5 cm × 76.5 cm (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.). This object was originally used as a parade shield. Its painted scene is exceedingly rare since most parade shields were decorated with simple coats of arms. Images of young David, who overcame seemingly insurmountable odds to kill the giant, were popular in fifteenth-century Florence, the smallest major power in Italy. The city saw itself threatened by such Goliaths as the pope, the duke of Milan, the king of Naples, and the doge of Venice. Similarly to other early Renaissance depictions on the theme, del Castagno represented the action and its outcome simultaneously: David holds the loaded sling, but already the head of the slain Goliath lies at his feet. David’s energetic pose was based perhaps on an ancient statue, and his youthful body is well modeled, rounded with light and shadow to give a convincing likeness of a body in action.
Portrait of a Gentleman, tempera on panel, by Andrea del Castagno, 1450-1457, 56 x 41 cm (National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.). The young man, portrayed in three-quarter profile and not in full profile as was the custom, is a typical del Castagno figure, with his unmistakable strong sculptural looks. This picture is one of the landmarks of Italian portraiture: the earliest surviving painted portrait in three-quarter view, with the figure, splendidly dressed in the most costly red, seen against the sky, shown to the waist, with his right hand clutching the long end of a hood worn over the right shoulder.
Some frescoes from the Illustrious Men and Women cycle (ca. 1450) still in situ in the Villa Carducci-Pandolfini (Legnaia, Tuscany, Italy), by Andrea del Castagno. The figure of Eve (left) and the Madonna and Child (right) were painted on one of the room’s short walls (see pictures before).
St. Julian and the Redeemer, fresco, by Andrea del Castagno, ca. 1455 ( Basilica della Santissima Annunziata, Florence). Around 1453, Andrea painted for the church of Santissima Annunziata, two frescoes (St. Julian and the Redeemer -above; The Holy Trinity, St. Jerome and Two Saints -below). These two works display characteristics typical of his late painting style. No longer interested in the heroic and monumental characteristics illustrated in the Illustrious Men and Women cycle, Andrea here imbues his figures with crude truth and inner spirituality. The figure of St. Julian is no longer the sophisticated gentleman he portrayed in the Berlin Madonna (see picture before): here he is simply a young man who is sincerely contrite for the harm he has caused. Above his hair, rendered with golden highlights, the metallic halo realistically reflects the saint’s head. Above Julian, partly concealed by pinkish clouds, Christ imparts his blessing. On either side of the saint, in the midst of a Tuscan landscape, Andrea has illustrated some episodes from the Saint’s life.
The Holy Trinity, St. Jerome and two Saints, fresco, by Andrea del Castagno, ca. 1455 ( Basilica della Santissima Annunziata, Florence). A deeply realistic mood dominates the figure of St. Jerome, who is portrayed as a fully convinced Renaissance ascetic, possessing both humanity and mysticism. This painting offers a few details that are so realistic they are almost too crude, like for example, the old saint’s body with blood gushing out of his many wounds. Hovering above, the Holy Trinity, with a Crucifix masterfully executed in foreshortening.
Equestrian Monument of Niccolò da Tolentino (pictured above and below), fresco, by Andrea del Castagno, 1456, 833 cm × 512 cm (Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence). Located on the left internal wall of the basilica, it pairs the adjacent fresco of the Equestrian Statue of John Hawkwood by Paolo Uccello (1436). This is the last work by Castagno that still survives; in 1457 he frescoed a Last Supper for the convent of Santa Maria degli Angeli, but it hasn’t survived. Even though a later work, Andrea had to revert to the monumental and heroic style he had used in the fresco cycle of the Illustrious Men and Women (see pictures before). A comparison of Uccello’s Sir John Hawkwood, painted in the same cathedral several years earlier in 1436, with the similar del Castagno’s Tolentino, is almost inevitable. While Uccello froze both horse and rider into a static composition of rigid geometric precision, Andrea expressed through the tension and movement of his characters all the restlessness and vitality of the condottiero‘s spirit. Del Castagno painted the fresco in monochrome to emulate a marble statue. The condottiero, the Italian Niccolò da Tolentino, is depicted riding his horse, standing on a classical pedestal painted in geometrical perspective, and flanked by two nude men holding coat of arms. The Latin inscription on the pedestal reads: HIC QVEM SVBLIMEM IN EQVO/ PICTVM CERNIS NICOLAVS TOLENTINAS/ EST INCLITVS DVX FLORENTINI EXERCITVS (“Here you can see painted high above on horseback/ Niccolo da Tolentino/ Honored Leader of the Florentine Army”).
In his portrayal of horse and rider, Andrea del Castagno depicted the tense muscles of the horse and the general’s furrowed face reflecting very precise observations from natural forms which, at the end, break the rigidity of the monumental model. The horse and the rider are painted in a different perspective than the pedestal. There’s a deviation though from the natural forms: the horse, contrary to the species’ walking pattern, raises both left legs. The horse is a large and massive animal, and was inspired by both the ancient Greek bronze head known as the “Riccardi Horse” (pictured below, National Archaeological Museum, Florence) and by Donatello’s Equestrian statue of Gattamelata, a prototype of Renaissance equestrian statues. Andrea del Castagno had studied this earlier statue through drawings, since he never visited the city of Padua. As in Donatello’s Gattamelata, Andrea’s condottiero stares down the onlooker, to emphasize his power, command and determination in battle.
The Medici-Riccardi horse head, a surviving part of a Hellenistic life-size equestrian sculptural group, dated ca. the second half of the 4th century BC ( Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Florence).
In architecture, it refers to a usually wooden or vinyl board covering the lowest part of an interior wall. Its purpose is to cover the joint between the wall surface and the floor. Baseboard molding:
(from Italina “ Cartoon: cartone“, meaning “large sheet of paper or card”). In an art historical context, the term refers to a full-scale preparatory drawing for a fresco, oil painting or a tapestry.
In Italian, it refers to the dining room or refectory on a Convent or Monastery. Cenacolo:
In art, it refers to one of two paintings, statues, reliefs or other type of works of art intended as a pair. Typically, pendants are related thematically to each other and are displayed in close proximity. Pendants may be the creation of one artist alone or be the product of two artists and have, in that case, sometimes a competitive edge. Pendant:
(named after the now Turkish city Sinop). A dark reddish-brown natural earth pigment, whose reddish color comes from hematite, a dehydrated form of iron oxide. Sinopia was often used in the Renaissance to make the preparatory drawing for frescoes directly onto the wall or on the levelling coat. These drawings became known simply as Sinopia: sinopie, the plural word in Italian for the pigment. Thus, the word Sinopia came to be used both for the pigment and for the preparatory drawing itself.