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Lombard, c. 1453 - 1523

Ambrogio da Fossano; Borgognone, Ambrogio di Stefano; Bergognone, Ambrogio da Fossano, called; Borgognone, Ambrogio da Fossano, called; Bergognone, Ambrogio

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The painter, son of a "Magister Stephanus" and brother of Bernardino, also a painter, was probably born in Fossano, near Cuneo in the Piedmont region. The origin of his nickname "Bergognone," with which he is documented for the first time in 1495, is uncertain. His date of birth can be deduced from the Necrologio ufficiale milanese: according to the relevant entry, he died at the age of seventy in 1523. Bergognone was living in Milan at least from 1472, when he is cited in a document drawn up in the house of the painter Melchiorre Lampugnano. In 1481, Ambrogio is mentioned as a member of the Scuola di San Luca, the corporation of Milanese painters. Nothing is known of his training, which may have taken place with Melchiorre Lampugnano, an artist by whom no works are known today but who was at least a generation older. Works usually assigned to Bergognone's early phase, the 1470s and 1480s, include a Pietà (Cagnola collection, Gazzada), Virgin and Child (Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milan), and a Deposition (Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest), where some reminiscences of the painting of Donato de' Bardi can be discerned, along with a pronounced Flemish influence, explained by the strengthening relations between the Sforza court and Flanders.

Two altarpieces painted for Gerolamo Calagrani around the mid-1480s, one now at the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana in Milan, the other (somewhat later) in the church of Santi Gratiniano e Felino in Arona, testify to Ambrogio's fruitful encounter with the art of Vincenzo Foppa. Beginning in 1488 he was called to work in the charterhouse of Pavia, where he was given a long series of commissions for polyptychs and frescoes, lasting until 1494. These include the Saint Ambrose altarpiece and the Crucifixion, signed and dated 1490 (both still in the charterhouse, Pavia); a Virgin and Child with Saint Catherine of Alexandria and Saint Catherine of Siena, also of 1490 (National Gallery, London); the Saint Benedict altarpiece (Museo della Certosa, Pavia); the Saint Siro altarpiece of 1491 (charterhouse, Pavia); and a panel with Christ carrying the Cross and Carthusian monks (Pinacoteca Malaspina, Pavia). Among his frescoes at the Certosa one should mention at least those decorating the ends of the transept that glorify the Visconti-Sforza dynasty, who were the patrons of the cycle (Coronation of the Virgin with Francesco Sforza and Ludovico il Moro, Virgin and Child between Filippo Maria and Gian Galeazzo Visconti), as well as the lunettes above the two doors in the transept (Madonna of the Carpet and Ecce Homo). In these works, Ambrogio's pictorial language evolves within a rigorous and spectacular perspectival structure that envelopes every detail and is in harmony with the tendencies of the most advanced examples of Milanese painting, from Bramante to Zenale.

In 1495 Bergognone returned to Milan, where he spent the rest of his life. He was very active, along with his brother Bernardino and an efficient workshop, in numerous churches in the city and beyond its walls. Among works from this period are detached frescoes from the church of Santa Maria presso San Satiro (Pinacoteca di Brera), a Dead Christ and Christ among the Doctors in the Temple (Museo di Sant'Ambrogio), and The Torment of Christ(Santa Maria Incoronata). A series of remarkable panels and a lost fresco for the church of the Incoronata in Lodi were painted between 1498 and 1500. The first decade of the sixteenth century saw the production of the large fresco Coronation of the Virgin in San Simpliciano in Milan, the Baptism of Christ (1506) in the parish church of Melegnano, and a Pentecost (1509) for the church of Santo Spirito in Bergamo. From the next decade we have several paintings for the church of Santa Maria della Passione, executed about 1515. In this phase, which shows evidence of the influence of Leonardo and his followers in Milan, the artist strives for a serene naturalism, tempering his earlier manner by emphasizing calm narratives imbued with a delicate melancholy. His last known work is the Assumption of the Virgin, painted in 1522 for the church of Santa Maria dell'Incoronata in Nerviano, now in the Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan.

[This is the artist's biography published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]

Artist Bibliography

Aprà, Nietta. Ambrogio da Fossano, detto Il Bergognone. Milan, 1945.
Mazzini, Franco. Ambrogio da Fossano detto il Bergogne. Monza, 1948.
Coppa, Simonetta. "Ambrogio da Fossano." In Allgemeines Künstlerlexikon: die bildenden Künstler aller Zeiten und Völker. Edited by Günther Meissner. 83+ vols. Munich and Leipzig, 1983+: 2:600-602.
Ambrogio da Fossano detto il Bergognone. Un pittore per la Certosa. Ed. Gianni Carlo Sciolla. Exh. cat., Museo Civico del Castello Visconteo, Pavia. Milan, 1998.
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: 125.

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