An innovator with a very personal style, Marco Ruggieri, called "Lo Zoppo" (the Lame), was in contact with the most progressive artists in northern Italy during the third quarter of the fifteenth century. He was born in 1433 in Cento, midway between Ferrara and Bologna, where his family had ties, and signed several of his paintings "Marco Zoppo da Bolognia." The earliest notice on Zoppo is a payment in 1452 for gilding and restoring a fourteenth-century wooden statue of the Madonna and Child in Pieve di Cento; the document refers to him as an accomplished painter and indicates an interest in sculpture.
In 1453/1454 Zoppo went to Padua, probably to modernize his style, and entered the workshop of Francesco Squarcione about April 1454. In May 1455 Squarcione formally adopted Zoppo, who assigned all his earnings to the master in return for becoming his heir; in October, having fled to Venice, Zoppo annulled this contract and sought payment for works sold by Squarcione. Zoppo's early Squarcionesque paintings and drawings show the influence of Donatello's sculptures in Padua and current works by Mantegna, Squarcione's earlier adopted pupil and collaborator. Zoppo probably also executed gesso sculptures for Squarcione. Nothing is known about Zoppo's activity in Venice; later works show knowledge of Jacopo Bellini's sketchbooks, Andrea del Castagno, and the Vivarini that could date from his first stay.
In 1461/1462, Zoppo is documented in Bologna; he had probably first visited Ferrara. In his native Emilia, Zoppo began to evolve a sophisticated blend of Paduan plastic form and ornament, light and color inspired by the paintings of Piero della Francesca, and expressive line similar to that of Cosmè Tura. He also drew inspiration from expressive forms in sculptures in Ferrara and Bologna. Between about 1462/1463 and 1465, Zoppo executed illuminations for luxury manuscripts prepared by eminent humanist scribes in Padua and Bologna.
About 1466/1467, Zoppo moved to Venice, where he continued to work for patrons who favored Paduan style. Zoppo drew fresh inspiration from Mantegna, Castagno, and Bartolomeo Vivarini, and from about 1468 to 1471 Zoppo and Giovanni Bellini influenced one another. Zoppo's last known paintings show knowledge of works by Antonello da Messina, who visited Venice in 1474-1476. Evidently inspired by Jacopo Bellini, Zoppo became the only other northern Italian artist of his time to produce large numbers of finished drawings, some of which may have been privately commissioned. More diverse in subject matter than his paintings, Zoppo's drawings further demonstrate his rich artistic culture and inventiveness. Zoppo became a resident of Venice in 1471 and died there on 19 February 1478. Though changes in prevailing taste soon diminished his reputation, Zoppo's contributions to Venetian painting and book illumination have now been recognized. [This is the artist's biography published, or to be published, in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]
Vasari, Giorgio. Le vite de' più eccellenti pittori, scultori ed architetti. Edited by Gaetano Milanesi. 9 vols. Florence, 1878: 3:386, 405-407.
Ruhmer, Eberhard. Marco Zoppo. Vicenza, 1966.
Armstrong, Lilian. The Paintings and Drawings of Marco Zoppo. New York, 1976.
Marco Zoppo e il suo tempo. Ed. by Berenice Giovannucci Vigi. Bologna, 1993.
Tolley, Thomas. "Marco Zoppo." In The Dictionary of Art. Edited by Jane Turner. 34 vols. New York and London, 1996: 33:700-703.
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: 686.