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Alvise Vivarini

Venetian, 1442/1453 - 1503/1505

Vivarini, Luigi

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Alvise Vivarini, the son of Antonio and the nephew of Bartolomeo Vivarini, was born sometime between 1442 and 1453, according to documentary evidence, and was trained in the family workshop. His earliest signed work, a polyptych for the remote convent of Montefiorentino (now in the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, Urbino), dated 1476, shows a style that is firmly rooted in the family tradition, taking as its starting point Bartolomeo's Paduan linearism. Familiar Vivarini studio types, compositional formulas, and iconographic elements recur often in Alvise's work. From the beginning, however, Alvise was also responsive to the innovations of Mantegna, Giovanni Bellini, and Antonello da Messina. The latter's influence was particularly strong, and Alvise is consequently considered to be the leading Venetian exponent of Antonellism, manifested primarily in an insistence on simplified, very plastic forms set in clearly defined spaces. Despite his absorption of these various influences, Alvise's work demonstrates his own distinct personality. The plasticity of his figures is sometimes carried to extremes, with knife-sharp edges and surfaces that seem to reflect the light like polished metal. In addition, his oeuvre is characterized by a dramatic energy, conveyed in figures that move and gesture assertively or interact directly with one another or with the viewer. The resulting style can be strikingly individual and communicative but also hard, austere, or even gauche.

Apparently Alvise's early work was not to contemporary taste, and for well over a decade, as far as is known, he did not receive any major commissions in Venice itself. His most significant projects during this period were all in provincial centers. Chief among them--and probably his masterpiece--was the altarpiece for Santa Maria dei Battuti, Belluno (formerly Kaiser-Friedrich Museum, Berlin, destroyed in 1945). In 1488, at Alvise's own request, he succeeded in obtaining permission to work on the same terms as the Bellini on the decoration of the Sala del Gran (Maggior) Consiglio in the Palazzo Ducale, where he executed three narrative scenes from Venetian history. Vasari praised them especially for their architectural perspectives and their many lifelike figures of Venetian noblemen. (The entire decor was destroyed by fire in 1577.) This prominent commission seems to have furthered Alvise's career, and in the 1490s and early 1500s he was chosen to paint a number of other works for important Venetian sites. He died sometime between 1503 and 1505--according to Vasari, from fatigue and ill health, and without completing his paintings in the doge's palace.

Alvise's critical reputation has risen and fallen dramatically during the past century. Berenson, in Lorenzo Lotto, identified him as Lotto's master and a leading force in the Venetian Renaissance, independent of Giovanni Bellini.[1] But he later recanted, suggesting instead that the quality of Alvise's work declined through most of his career and that all his late works were studio projects. This dismissive treatment of Alvise largely persisted until studies by Pallucchini and Steer restored a more balanced view of his achievement. [This is the artist's biography published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]

[1] Berenson, Lotto 1895, 85-120.

Artist Bibliography

Pallucchini, Rodolfo. I Vivarini (Antonio, Bartolomeo, Alvise). Venice, 1961.
Steer, John. Alvise Vivarini: His Art and Influence. Cambridge, 1982.
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: 675.

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