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Domenico Veneziano

Florentine, c. 1410 - 1461

Venezia, Domenico di Bartolo da; Bartolo da Venezia, Domenico di

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The earliest certain document concerning Domenico is a letter written by the painter from Perugia on 1 April 1438, addressed to the twenty-two-year-old Piero de' Medici. Its contents, in which the artist, at the time busy painting frescoes in the Umbrian city, offers his services to the son of Cosimo the Elder, indicate clearly that he was on familiar terms not only with that illustrious family (whom he could have met during the Medici s exile in Venice between 1433 and 1434), but also with the Florentine art world. This circumstance, as well as the confidence in the use of Brunelleschian perspective and the reflections of Donatello's art evident in Domenico's earliest known works, suggest that he probably arrived in Florence a few years before 1438 and completed his artistic training there. There seems to be no real justification in trying to find elements derived from Gentile da Fabriano in his painting, as has been supposed in the past. Instead of following this great master of late Gothic painting to Florence (where Gentile was active between 1420 and 1425), Domenico could instead have come to Tuscany with Filippo Lippi when the latter returned to Florence around 1435 after a stay in Venice. Domenico's early training in Venice or perhaps in Padua, close to artists like Giovanni d'Alemagna, left its mark in his attentive observations from nature, readily seen in his earliest works. Of these the first seems to be according to Vasari's account[1] but also on the basis of its style the decoration of the Carnesecchi tabernacle in Florence, which bears his signature (the frescoes, now detached, are in the National Gallery in London). Shortly after this work, characterized by the bold but not totally successful foreshortening of the throne, is the tondo of the Adoration of the Magi (Gemäldegalerie, Berlin), probably executed for the Medici after the artist's return to Florence, in which solid handling of the perspective is enlivened by minute description of nature in the landscape, recalling probable Flemish prototypes and perhaps also memories of the artist's early training in the Veneto. From the same period is a vigorous portrait of a young man in the museum in Chambéry (no. 364), usually attributed to Paolo Uccello.

In a subsequent phase the painter reveals his interest not only in the artistic language of Filippo Lippi but also in the sculptures of Donatello and Luca della Robbia. The sculptural qualities of the figures, as well as an increasing attention to ideals of classical beauty, characterize the Madonna of the Rose Bower in the Muzeul de Arta in Bucharest, sometimes assigned to the artist's earliest activity in Florence, but more likely executed during his second stay in Florence. The frescoes painted between 1439 and 1445 in the Florentine church of Sant Egidio are now lost; praised by Vasari as the most splendid undertaking in painting in Florence after the Brancacci chapel, the cycle was begun by Domenico and the young Piero della Francesca, who was then his workshop assistant, continued by Andrea del Castagno, and completed by Alesso Baldovinetti in 1461. Probably in the second half of the 1440s Domenico painted his masterpiece, the altarpiece for the church of Santa Lucia dei Magnoli, which represents, within a complex architectural setting, the Madonna and Child with four saints (now in the Galleria degli Uffizi) and related stories in the predella, dispersed among various museums. Probably very soon after this piece, a seminal work in the development of Florentine painting after mid-century and particularly important for artists such as Giovanni di Francesco, Alesso Baldovinetti, and the Master of Pratovecchio, Domenico painted the Madonna and Child in the National Gallery of Art in Washington and some other works which are documented but do not survive: two marriage chests done in Florence between 1447 and 1448 for Marco Parenti, and a standard, painted for the Compagnia di Sant Antonio Abate in Arezzo in 1450.

To the painter's last phase belong the Madonna and Child in the Biblioteca Berenson near Florence, in which the forcefully defined figures stand out sharply against the precious damask of the background, a Saint Jerome in the Musée Tessé in Le Mans, recently attributed to the artist by Bellosi,[2] and a fresco with Saints John the Baptist and Francesco, originally on the rood screen in the church of Santa Croce and today in the adjacent museum, in which the tense line and tormented characterization of the figures already prefigure the innovations of Pollaiuolo and Verrocchio. [This is the artist's biography published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]

[1] Although his narrative contains some episodes based on pure fantasy, Vasari's dual biography of Domenico Veneziano and Andrea del Castagno (Vasari, ed. Milanesi, 2 [1878]: 667-682) remains fundamental for the reconstruction of both artists' activity.

[2] Luciano Bellosi, "Sulla formazione fiorentina di Piero della Francesca," in Una scuola per Piero: luce, colore e prospettiva nella formazione fiorentina di Piero della Francesca, Luciano Bellosi, ed.; exh. cat. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence; Venice, 1992: 17-54.

Artist Bibliography

Testi, Laudedeo. La storia della pittura veneziana. 1. Le origini. Bergamo, 1909: 185-208, 534-535.
Salmi, Mario. Paolo Uccello, Andrea del Castagno, Domenico Veneziano. Rome, 1936. 2nd ed. Milan, 1938.
Longhi, Roberto. "Il maestro di Pratovecchio." Paragone 25, no. 35 (1952): 10-37.
Berti, Luciano. "Notizia di Domenico Veneziano." In Mostra di quattro maestri del primo rinascimento. Exh. cat. Palazzo Strozzi. 2nd ed. Florence, 1954: 79-83.
Wohl, Hellmut. The Paintings of Domenico Veneziano. Oxford, 1980.
De Marchi, Andrea. "Domenico Veneziano, Madonna con Bambino." In Una scuola per Piero: Luce, colore e prospettiva nella formazione fiorentina di Piero della Francesca. Edited by Luciano Bellosi. Exh. cat. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence. Venice, 1992: 68-72.
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: 240.
Guarnieri, Cristina. “Il passaggio tra due generazioni: dal Maestro dell’Incoronazione a Paolo Veneziano.” In Il secolo di Giotto nel Veneto. Edited by Giovanna Valenzano and Federica Toniolo. Venice, 2007: 153-177.

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