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Florentine, c. 1422 - 1457

Pesellino, Francesco; Francesco di Stefano

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By 1427 the father of the young Francesco di Stefano had died, and the boy, declared to be five years old, was living with his maternal grandfather, Giuliano d'Arrigo called Pesello, also a painter. The boy's name appears in Pesello's tax declaration again in 1433, but not in that of 1442. At this time Pesellino was probably living on his own, although he presumably continued to work in his grandfather's shop where very likely he received his early training. He was registered in the painters' confraternity (Compagnia di San Luca) in 1448, but probably remained, together with Pesello's associates in the elder man's successful shop; in fact, Pesellino is recorded as working there even in 1447, a year after his grandfather's death.[1] In 1453 Pesellino formed a company of his own with Piero di Lorenzo di Pratese and Zanobi di Migliore, the latter of whom soon left the association. In 1455 the company received a commission for the altarpiece for the church of the Compagnia dei Preti in Pistoia, dedicated to the Holy Trinity. At Pesellino's death in 1457 the altarpiece was almost finished; documentary evidence proves it to have been painted by him alone. Domenico Veneziano and Filippo Lippi were asked to evaluate the work done to that point, and the latter artist eventually completed the altarpiece with a predella.[2] The main panel of the Pistoia altarpiece, dismantled and cut in several pieces, and now reunited in the National Gallery of London, is the only documented work by the artist, but for the reconstruction of his oeuvre an important point of reference is given by Vasari, who informs that "Francesco Peselli... [dipinse] nella cappella del noviziato di Santa Croce, sotto la tavola di Fra Filippo, una maravigliosa predella di figure piccole, le quali paiono di mano di Fra Filippo" ("Francesco Peselli... [painted] in the novices' chapel in Santa Croce, under the panel by Fra Filippo, a marvelous predella of small figures, which seem to be by the hand of Fra Filippo").[3] The predella of this latter altarpiece, now divided between the Galleria degli Uffizi and the Musée du Louvre, was in all probability painted around 1445 and reveals that by this date the young artist was looking mainly towards Fra Angelico, attempting to evoke the crystalline atmosphere and forms defined by dense, sharp shadows of the Dominican master s most recent works. To this phase belong also the panels with stories from the life of David, dispersed among the museums of Cambridge, Massachusetts (no. 1916.495), Kansas City (no. 32.82), and Le Mans (nos. 14 and 15), the Triumphs in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston (nos. P 15e5-s and P 15e18-s), and other paintings including the Coronation of the Virgin in the British Royal Collection (no. B.P. 447) and the Crucifixion in the Keresztény Museum in Esztergom (no. 55.184). The artist, despite his association with the workshop formerly belonging to Pesello, collaborated with other masters; we find him toward the end of the 1440s working alongside Zanobi Strozzi, painting miniatures in a manuscript destined probably for Pope Nicholas V, today conserved in a partially mutilated state in the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice.

In the 1450s Pesellino moved stylistically in the direction of Domenico Veneziano and especially Filippo Lippi. This orientation is seen already in the four cherubim which, according to documents, a painter from Pesello's former workshop (probably his grandson himself) painted in 1451 on the frame of Giotto's polyptych in the Badia, and in similar works generally recognized as Pesellino's. These are a Madonna in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston (no. P16w11) and another Madonna in the museum in Toledo, Ohio (no. 44.34), panels with stories from the life of Griselda in the Accademia Carrara in Bergamo (nos. 511, 512), and others with stories from the life of Saint Sylvester divided between the Galleria Doria Pamphilj in Rome and the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts (no. 16.12), all of which probably date to the early years of the sixth decade. An increasingly monumental air and formal solutions pervaded with ideals of Lippesque elegance seem to be combined with a more acutely naturalistic vision and more complex compositional layout in the painters' last works. In the Annunciation in the Courtauld Institute Art Gallery (Gambier Parry Collection), in the Sacre Conversazioni in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (no. 50.145.30) and the Louvre (no. 1661), in the cassone panels with stories from the life of David, from the Loyd collection (now in the National Gallery in London), and above all in the Trinity altarpiece also in the National Gallery, Pesellino can be seen to be moving beyond the stylistic tendencies of Lippi, in search of a more dynamic and expressive language that would be developed in the painting of the Pollaiuolo brothers and Verrocchio. [This is the artist's biography published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]

[1] For biographical information see Milanesi in Vasari, ed. Milanesi, 3 (1878): 41-43, and Ugo Procacci, "Di Jacopo di Antonio e delle compagnie di pittori del corso degli Adimari," in RdA 34 (1960): 3-70, which corrects some errors made by preceding authors.

[2] For the relevant documentation see Peleo Bacci, Documenti e commenti per la storia dell'arte, Florence, 1944: 113-151; for the predella, Ruda 1993, 449-450.

[3] See Vasari, ed. Milanesi, 3 (1878): 38-39.

Artist Bibliography

Weisbach, Werner. Francesco Pesellino und die Romantik der Frührenaissance. Berlin, 1901.
Gronau, Georg. In Thieme-Becker, 26(1932): 463-464.
Toesca, Pietro. "Francesco Pesellino miniatore." Dedalo 12 (1932): 85-90.
Scharf, Alfred. "Zur Kunst des Francesco Pesellino." Pantheon 14 (1934): 211-221.
Degenhart, Bernhard, and Annegritt Schmitt. Corpus der italienischen Zeichungen, 1300-1450. 2 vols. in 14+ parts. Berlin, 1968: part 1, 2:527-540.
Angelini, Alessandro. "Francesco Pesellino." In Pittura di luce. Giovanni di Francesco e l'arte fiorentina di metà Quattrocento. Ed. Luciano Bellosi. Exh. cat., Casa Buonarroti, Florence. Milan, 1990: 125-133.
Uguccioni, Alessandra. Salomone e la regina di Saba: La pittura di cassone a Ferrara presenze nei musei americani. Ferrara, 1988.
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: 568-569.

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