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Francesco Benaglio

Veronese, c. 1432 - 1492

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The son of Pietro della Biada (or "a Blado," that is, "of the oats"), presumably a grain merchant from Bergamo, Francesco settled with his family in Verona, where he is documented from 1456 until his death. His works, when signed, bear the name "Benalius," that of a noble family who may have been his patrons. His first certain work is a triptych in the church of San Bernardino in Verona (1462-1463), a prestigious commission that suggests he was already quite famous. Although the painting repeats the composition of Mantegna's famous San Zeno altarpiece (installed in the church of San Zeno in 1459), Benaglio's is a work of notable originality in which the artist's attention is concentrated not on figural characterization or on spatial illusion, but on decorative effects. The San Bernardino triptych also reveals evidence of training in the Paduan workshop of Francesco Squarcione, whose manner is echoed in the exaggerated expressiveness of the faces and in the insistent use of naturalistic motifs, as well as in a showy but somewhat irregular perspectival construction. Squarcionesque characteristics are particularly evident in the so-called Madonna of the Fan (Museo del Castelvecchio, Verona), probably painted in the 1450s, and simultaneously with analogous compositions by Giorgio Schiavone, another pupil of Squarcione.

Beginning in the 1460s, as he searched for a pictorial vision based on stricter rules, Benaglio's art approaches that of the Canozi brothers from Lendinara, Modenese painters and intarsiasts active in Padua during that period. He was particularly fascinated by innovations from Central Italy, especially those of Piero della Francesca, which the Canozi brothers introduced into the Veneto; evidence of this is a series of five much-debated Madonnas that in recent scholarship are generally recognized as his. One of the series, now belonging to the Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, is signed, while the others can be ascribed to him on the basis of stylistic similarities (NGA, Washington; Accademia Tadini, Lovere; Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris; and Museo Correr, Venice). The five paintings share the ostentatious use of perspective foreshortening and an almost geometric rigor in the drawing of the figures, whose monumentality is emphasized by the highly stylized landscapes in the background. The signed Saint Jerome, also in the NGA, probably belongs to this same phase of his development, which lasted at least through the 1470s.

Only documents testify to some defamatory frescoes, since destroyed, that Benaglio and an artist named Martino painted one night on the facade of the Sagramorso family palace in 1475 at the behest of enemies of the family.[1] Also documented, but not surviving, are the images of four saints (probably frescoes) in Santa Maria della Scala in Verona, painted the following year. In 1492 a document concerning Benaglio's son, Girolamo, also a painter, refers to Francesco as deceased. [This is the artist's biography published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]

[1] Simeoni 1903, 252-258.

Artist Bibliography

Novelli. "Francesco Benaglio." In Dizionario biografico degli italiani. Edited by Alberto Maria Ghisalberti. 79+ vols. Rome, 1960+: 8(1966):1159-1161.
Brenzoni, Raffaello. Dizionario d'artisti veneti. Florence, 1972: 37-38.
Cuppini, Maria Teresa. "L'arte a Verona tra XV e XVI secolo." In Verona e il suo territorio. 6 vols. in 12 parts. Verona, 1960-: 4,part1(1981):381-401.
Marinelli, Sergio. "Verona." In La Pittura nel Veneto: Il Quattrocento. Edited by Mauro Lucco. 2 vols. Milan, 1989-1990: 2(1990):631-632.
Bellosi, Luciano. "Un indagine su Domenico Morone (e su Francesco Benaglio)." In Hommage à Michel Laclotte. Études sur la peinture du Moyen Age et de la Renaissance. Ed. P. Rosenberg, C. Scailliérz, and D. Thiébault. Milan and Paris, 1994: 291-303.
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: 95.

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