Born to impoverished parents in Genoa, Bernardo Strozzi trained under the Sienese painter Pietro Sorri (1556-1622), who was in Genoa around 1595-1597. Strozzi entered the Capuchin order in 1599 as a novice and became a brother in 1600, an obligation that, though brief, was to haunt him throughout his entire career. By 1609, Strozzi was granted a dispensation to leave the Monastery when his mother fell ill and his unmarried sister was without support. He immediately devoted himself full-time to painting and to various projects as an engineer for the port of Genoa. Among his most important commissions were the Madonna della Giustizia, c. 1620, for the Palazzo Ducale (now Louvre, Paris), the celebrated fresco cycle for Luigi Centurione's Villa at Sampierdarena (1623-1625), and the ill-fated and incomplete decorative cycle planned for Centurione's palace on the Strada Nuova in Genoa (also 1623-1625). At the same time, he produced highly esteemed portraits, altarpieces, and genre scenes.
Strozzi, who was also called "Cappuccino," continued as an independent artist through the 1620s, until, after his mother died in 1630, the brothers of San Barnaba demanded that Strozzi complete his obligation to the Capuchin order. In 1630, Strozzi was brought before the procurator of the order who denied his requests to become a Canon Regular of the Lateran (the Augustinians of San Teodoro) and ordered him to return to the Franciscan Minorites. Despite safe conducts and extensions of Strozzi's dispensation, which came through the intervention of the Roman Curia and the Genoese Senate, he appears to have had to choose between imprisonment and flight. The date and circumstances of his departure for Venice are hotly contested. Beginning with contemporary biographer Raffaele Soprani's account (1674), Strozzi was believed to have escaped incarceration by a clever ruse and an even cleverer disguise. Alternate versions of his controversial departure center on either a bitter struggle between lay and ecclesiastical powers in Genoa or upon the jealousy and enmity that existed between Strozzi and his imitators. Whatever the case, recent (1993) discoveries of family documents place the artist in Genoa as late as 1632. These records also confirm Strozzi's close connections with his sister (in whose will he is mentioned) and with his pupils/collaborators, Giuseppe Catto and Giovanni Francesco Cassana. The former married Strozzi's sister and the latter eventually accompanied Strozzi to Venice, where the artist hoped to avoid the strict censure of the church. In 1633, Strozzi requested and was granted a safe conduct by the Savio della Serenissima on the basis of his being "persecuted" by the papal court in Rome.
Within two years, Strozzi rose to a position of celebrity and esteem, as he was granted the title of "Monsignor" (and known more popularly as "Prete genovese"). His Venetian patrons included the Doge Francesco Erizzo--whose portrait Strozzi must have painted soon after his arrival--the patriarch Federico Corner, and at least two members of the Grimani family, as well as musicians and poets such as Giulio Monteverdi, and Giulio and Barbara Strozzi. Bernardo Strozzi also received important public commissions for allegorical figures in the Biblioteca Marciana and altarpieces in San Niccolò da Tolentino and the Chiesa degli Incurabili. He finished his career as he began it, working both as painter and engineer. He died in Venice in 1644. [This is an edited version of the artist's biography published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]
Soprani, Raffaele. Le vite de' pittori, scoltori, et architetti genovesi, che in Genova operarono con alcuni ritratti de gli stessi. Genova, 1674: 155-161.
Carpaneto da Langasco, Cassiano. Bernardo Castello. Postille in margine al IV centenario della nascita. Genoa, 1983.
Pesenti, Franco Renzo. La pittura in Liguria: artisti del primo seicento. Genoa, 1986.
Galassi, Maria Clelia. In Genova nell'Età barocca. Edited by Ezia Gavazza and Giovanni Rotondi Terminiello. Exh. cat. Galleria Nazionale di Palazzo Spinola and Galleria di Palazzo Reale, Genova. Bologna, 1992: 258-269.
De Grazia, Diane, and Eric Garberson, with Edgar Peters Bowron, Peter M. Lukehart, and Mitchell Merling. Italian Paintings of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1996: 248-249.