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Andrea del Castagno

Florentine, before 1419 - 1457

Simone, Andrea di Bartolo di

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The exact birth date of Andrea di Bartolo di Simone, called Andrea del Castagno, is not known; formerly estimated around 1390 on the basis of Vasari's indications, it has been established as shortly before 1419 by recent research. Andrea was born in a village in the Mugello area near Florence now called Castagno d'Andrea, and was probably trained in Florence. He was well enough known there in 1440 to receive the commission to paint, on the facade of the Bargello, the members of the Albizzi family and their friends hanging from their heels because they were declared rebels after the battle of Anghiari. For this work, destroyed in 1494, Andrea was given the nickname "Andreino degli Impiccati" (Andy of the Hanged Men).

In 1442 he was in Venice, where with Francesco da Faenza he painted the signed and dated frescoes on the vault of the San Tarasio chapel in the church of San Zaccaria. The stylistically uniform decoration of the chapel, however, leads one to conclude that Francesco's intervention must have been marginal. The Venice murals, the earliest surviving dated work by Andrea, demonstrate his interest in using perspective foreshortening to impart monumentality and physical density to his athletic figures. The murals also show the influence of Paolo Uccello, Filippo Lippi, and above all, Donatello on the young artist.

The following year Andrea was back in Florence, and at the beginning of 1444 he received payment for a cartoon of the Deposition for a window in the drum of the cathedral's dome. In these same years he also painted the Crucifixion with Camaldolese Saints for the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli (now in the hospital of Santa Maria Nuova). On 30 May 1444 he joined the Arte dei Medici e Speziali, and over the next two years received various official commissions for works that have not survived.

The presence in Florence of Domenico Veneziano--who, assisted by Piero della Francesca, worked in the church of Sant'Egidio (1439-1445)--was probably decisive for Andrea. Even without giving credence to Vasari's story about Andrea's envy of Domenico, he was certainly influenced by the latter's clear, luminous palette and rigorous perspective constructions, with solutions often very near to or foreshadowing those of Piero della Francesca. The c. 1444 fresco decoration of the Pazzi chapel in the Villa del Trebbio (some fragments of which are still in situ, whereas the Madonna and Child with Two Saints is now detached and forms part of the Contini-Bonacossi bequest to the Uffizi) brings him another step closer to Domenico Veneziano. An intense, almost Flemish interest in reflected light informed his luminous vision and realistic rendering of detail, reaching its highest point on the west wall of the refectory of the former monastery (now museum) of Sant'Apollonia, where in 1447 Andrea frescoed the Last Supper and episodes from the Passion and Resurrection of Christ. From this period also are the lunette of the Lamentation over the Dead Christ, originally painted above a door of the same monastery, and a Crucifixion with Saints Benedict and Romuald, formerly in the cloister of Santa Maria degli Angeli (both are now detached and in the museum of Sant'Apollonia).

The Assumption of the Virgin between Saints Julian and Minias (Gemäldegalerie, Berlin), painted between 1449 and 1450 for the church of San Miniato fra le Torri in Florence, was followed immediately by the fresco decoration of the large hall of Villa Carducci at Legnaia, with its Famous Men series, datable to 1449-1451. Some fragments of the cycle are still in situ, while the principal figures have been detached and are exhibited in the Uffizi. Between 1451 and 1453 Andrea frescoed three stories from the life of the Virgin in the church of Sant'Egidio, continuing the work begun by Domenico Veneziano; the cycle, completed by Baldovinetti, has since been destroyed. Similarly lost is the fresco of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary Magdalene, commissioned from Andrea in 1455 for the tomb of Orlando de' Medici in the church of Santissima Annunziata, presumably executed shortly after the surviving frescoes in the second and third chapels of the church, with Saint Julian and a Blessing Christ in one, and in the other Saint Jerome between Saints Paula and Eustochium beneath an image of the Holy Trinity.

In 1456 Andrea painted the fresco in Santa Maria del Fiore of the equestrian monument to Niccolò da Tolentino, and in 1457 the Last Supper (lost in 2002) in the refectory of Santa Maria Nuova. Andrea's very intense activity was interrupted by his sudden death, probably from the plague, in 1457. [This is the artist's biography published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]

Artist Bibliography

Salmi, Mario. Paolo Uccello, Andrea del Castago, Domenico Veneziano. Rome, 1936. 2nd ed. Milan, 1938.
Richter, George M. Andrea del Castago. Chicago, 1943.
Fortuna, Alberto. Andrea del Castagno. Florence, 1957.
Hartt, Frederick. "Andrea del Castagno: Three Disputed Dates." The Art Bulletin 48 (1966): 228-234.
Bellosi, Luciano. "Intorno ad Andrea del Castagno." Paragone 18, no. 211 (September 1967): 3-18.
Horster, Maria. Andrea del Castago. Oxford, 1980.
Bellosi, Luciano. In Allgemeines Künstlerlexikon: die bildenden Künstler aller Zeiten und Völker Edited by Günther Meissner. 83+ vols, Munich and Leipzig, 1983+: 2:983-988.
Boskovits, Miklós, and David Alan Brown, et al. Italian Paintings of the Fifteenth Century. The Systematic Catalogue of the National Gallery of Art. Washington, D.C., 2003: 2.

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