Bartolomeo Cincani, later known as Bartolomeo Montagna, achieved the age of majority between 1467 and 1469, according to documents relating to the disposition of his father's property. Consequently, his year of birth is generally given as c. 1450, although Gilbert, suggesting that the age of majority for real estate transactions was probably fourteen, argues for 1453-1454. Bartolomeo's family, originally from Orzinuovi, near Brescia, was established in Biron, near Vicenza, by 1450, and in Vicenza itself by 1460.
Nothing is known of Bartolomeo's early training. In 1469 he went to Venice, returning in 1474 to Vicenza, where he made his career and soon dominated the local artistic scene. In the late 1470s and 1480s he received a number of commissions for altarpieces in Vicenza, the most important of which was the monumental work for the main altar of the church of San Bartolomeo (now Museo Civico, Vicenza). He also earned at least one significant commission in Venice, for two paintings for the Scuola Grande di San Marco.
The influence of Giovanni Bellini, Antonello da Messina, and Antonello's Venetian follower Alvise Vivarini is clearly apparent in Bartolomeo's early works, not only in figural and compositional borrowings but in general stylistic qualities as well. Antonello's and Alvise's influence is manifested in strongly modeled, hard-surfaced figures based on simplified geometric forms; Bellini's, in more linear and softly modeled figures and in luminous, often atmospheric landscapes. The two disparate models are not distinctly separated in Bartolomeo's oeuvre: Bellinesque figural types may be executed in an Antonellesque manner, and vice-versa. Scholars have disagreed about the order in which Bartolomeo absorbed the influence of these masters, and consequently about the chronology of his early works: some, including Puppi and Barbieri, consider him a student of Bellini who encountered Antonello's Venetian works of 1474-1476, mediated in part through Alvise, when Bartolomeo visited Venice in 1482. Others, such as Gilbert, see him as a disciple of Antonello in the 1470s who subsequently became more Bellinesque.
Bartolomeo's early works, while derivative, are of high quality; they are distinguished by a feeling for monumentality, for the integration of figures and setting, and for the sweep and luminosity of the landscape. Toward 1500 his art became more dramatic, his colors hotter and more forceful. Although he remained the leading artist in Vicenza and executed fresco cycles at important sites in Verona and Padua as well, Bartolomeo's works of his last two decades failed to meet his earlier standards. His essentially quattrocento style became increasingly provincial, despite tentative efforts toward the tonalism and the fleshier figures of the early cinquecento Venetian masters. Among Bartolomeo's numerous followers in Vicenza was his son Benedetto, a weak imitator of his father, who is also known as a printmaker. [This is the artist's biography published, or to be published, in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]
Borenius, Tancred. The Painters of Vicenza. 1480-1550. London, 1909.