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Vincenzo Foppa

Lombard, c. 1430 - 1515/1516

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Foppa's career began and ended in Brescia, but it unfolded in a number of centers with quite different artistic orientation--Pavia, Genoa, and Milan--where he absorbed all the most up-to-date developments in local painting. His first signed and dated work that has come down to us, a Crucifixion of 1456 (Accademia Carrara, Bergamo), is already a fully mature masterpiece, where the daring perspective construction with a lowered viewpoint confers a sense of majesty on the extraordinary microcosm he portrayed, investigated with intense emotional involvement and rapt attention to the effects of light. Foppa was led to achieve these results after an artistic formation that probably took place in Padua around 1450 (Vasari says he was a student of Squarcione),[1] following the examples of Donatello and the young Mantegna, who spurred him toward a modern, rigorously constructed pictorial space. A decisive influence on his painting, though, was the art of Donato de' Bardi, a painter from Pavia active in Liguria, who shares with Foppa his use of soft shading and a direct knowledge of Flemish painting.

From 1458 on, Foppa is documented in Pavia, working at the Certosa and on a polyptych for the church of the Carmine (all lost). Here he resided and ran a workshop, although he made brief journeys to other cities as well. He was in Genoa in 1461, where he frescoed the chapel of Saint John the Baptist (now lost) in the duomo and received the commission for a polyptych for the abbey of Morimondo near Milan, a work dispersed in the early nineteenth century and partially reconstructed in recent times (the central Virgin and Child with Angels and Donor is in the Princeton University Art Museum and two pairs of Saints in the State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, and a private collection, Bergamo).

From 1462 to about 1470 Foppa was engaged in works in Milan, where besides executing ducal commissions, he frescoed the loggia of the Medici Bank (the only surviving fragment, The Child Cicero Reading, is in the Wallace Collection, London) and the Portinari chapel (Sant'Eustorgio, Milan), finished in 1468, with stories from the lives of the Virgin and Saint Peter Martyr. These scenes set in a complex perspective system with elaborate foreshortenings contain a number of extraordinary naturalistic observations and details described with Flemish precision and clarity. Probably painted in the mid- and late 1470s were the Bottigella altarpiece (in the Pinacoteca in Pavia; completed by adding the two locally venerated figures of Blessed [?] in the foreground), and the polyptych for Santa Maria delle Grazie in Bergamo (now Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan).

The late phase of the artist's career, from the 1480s on, was enriched by contact with younger masters such as Bramante and with the workshop of Butinone and Zenale from Treviglio. This decade saw the realization of a number of celebrated works alongside others more provincial in tone, but always animated by a skillful and highly refined sense of structure manipulating passages of chiaroscuro and light: the Virgin and Child with Two Saints (1485) and the Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian (Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan); the altarpiece of the same subject in the Castello Sforzesco in Milan; the polyptych commissioned by Manfredo Fornari in 1489 (Pinacoteca Civica, Savona); and the polyptych for Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere (1490), painted in collaboration with Ludovico Brea for the Savona cathedral, now in the oratory of Santa Maria di Castello.

On his return to Brescia, the now-famous Foppa received the official position of teacher to the young painters of the city (1489-1495), but he also continued to work in Milan, where among other works he painted a Lamentation over the Dead Christ (destroyed in 1945 in the storerooms of the Berlin Gemäldegalerie), and the Adoration of the Magi in the National Gallery in London. His last work, the Orzinuovi Standard of 1514 (Pinacoteca Tosio Martinengo, Brescia) reveals his capacity to express strong feeling, even if his meticulous vision and sedate compositions were already out of step with contemporary artistic developments. [This is the artist's biography published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]

[1] Vasari's text (Vasari, ed. Milanesi, 3 [1878]: 639) is, to be sure, somewhat equivocal: "Fu tenuto in pregio, ne' medesimi tempi, Vincenzio pittore bresciano, secondo che racconta il Filarete e Girolamo Campagnuola, anch'egli pittore padoano e discepolo dello Squarcione" (In this same period Vincenzo, a painter from Brescia, was held in high consideration, according to Filarete and Girolamo Campagnuola, he too a Paduan painter and disciple of Squarcione).

Artist Bibliography

Ffoulkes, Constance J., and Rodolfo Maiocchi. Vincenzo Foppa of Brescia, Founder of the Lombard School. His Life and Work. London, 1909.
Wittgens, Fernanda. Vincenzo Foppa. Milan, 1948.
Arslan, Edoardo. "Vincenzo Foppa." In Storia di Brescia. 5 vols. Brescia, 1963: 2:929-948.
Cipriani, Renata, Gian Alberto Dell'Acqua, and Franco Russoli. La cappella Portinari in Sant'Eustorgio a Milano. Milan, 1963.
Matalon, Stelle. "Vincenzo Foppa." I maestri del colore, no. 58. Milan, 1965.
Balzarini, Maria Grazia. "Foppa, Vincenzo." In La pittura in Lombardia. Il Quattrocento. Milan, 1993: 455-458.
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: 271.

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