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Jacopo del Sellaio

Florentine, 1441/1442 - 1493

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Jacopo del Sellaio, a pupil of Filippo Lippi, fell under the influence of his contemporary and fellow apprentice Sandro Botticelli, imitating the latter's mannered elegance and lively colorism in narrative cassone panels and small devotional works. Jacopo was born around 1441, the son of Arcangelo, a saddler (sellaio). He is first documented as a member of the Compagnia di San Luca in 1460 and by 1473 was sharing a workshop with another painter, Filippo di Giuliano,[1] whose collaboration may account for the uneven quality of the large extant output of Jacopo's workshop. At his death in 1493 Jacopo was buried in the church of San Frediano in Florence, with which he had a lifelong association.

Jacopo del Sellaio's three documented works are large religious pictures. In 1477 he received a commission to paint a pair of panels of the Annunciation for the church of Santa Lucia dei Magnoli in Florence, which are still extant in their original location. Berenson characterized Sellaio's altarpieces as "solemn and sulky,"[2] qualities clearly present in his two altarpieces for San Frediano: the now-lost Pietà (formerly in the Kaiser Friedrich Museum, Berlin) is first mentioned in documents of 1483 and completed posthumously; it remained unfinished at the artist's death and was completed by the painter's son, Arcangelo; and the The Crucifixion with Saint Lawrence, now in the seventeenth-century church of San Frediano in Cestello, Florence, is probably one of the artist's last major commissions, dating to c. 1490.[3]

Jacopo specialized in small devotional panels of individual religious figures, most often such hermit saints as Jerome and John the Baptist. These, together with his narrative depictions, constitute his most successful and abundant output, but all are undocumented. Their strong dependence on the work of Botticelli, as may be seen in the Story of Psyche (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) and in the NGA's Saint John the Baptist, raise questions about the relationship of the two artists which remain unresolved. The frieze-like compositions of his cassone panels may be indebted to antique sarcophagi; they are punctuated by ancient architecture and graceful figures, all set in charming and complex landscapes. Sellaio's achievement as a painter of landscapes, and especially of cityscapes, is singular if largely overlooked. [This is the artist's biography published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]

[1] Eliot Rowlands, "Jacopo del Sellaio," in The Dictionary of Art 1996: 16:846-847.

[2] Berenson 1969, 189.

[3] Cristelle Baskins, "Jacopo del Sellaio's Pietà in S. Frediano," The Burlington Magazine 131, no. 1036 (July 1989): 474-479.

Artist Bibliography

Rowlands, Eliot. "Jacopo del Sellaio." In The Dictionary of Art. Edited by Jane Turner. 34 vols. New York and London, 1996: 16:846-847.
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: 631.

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