Tanzio da Varallo (Antonio d'Enrico) was born c. 1575 in the small German-speaking town of Alagna in the Alpine valley of the Sesia. Orphaned in 1586, he moved to Varallo where his older brothers were at work on the Sacro Monte. He appears to have received his earliest artistic training from his brother Melchiorre (1570/1575-after 1641), a painter working in the local mannerist style established by the Lombard Gaudenzio Ferrari (1475/1480-1546).
In 1600 Tanzio and Melchiorre obtained a passport from the local authorities to practice their art as itinerant painters and to travel to Rome for the Jubilee Year. It is unknown how long Tanzio stayed in Rome, but the development of his style shows an awareness of works created there in the first decade of the seventeenth century by Caravaggio (1571-1610) and his followers, particularly Orazio Gentileschi (1563-1639), Giovanni Baglione (1566-1616), and Orazio Borgianni (1578-1588). On the basis of an old account and securely attributed works, Tanzio is known to have travelled to Naples (fragments in Santa Restituta) and thence to Venice via the Abruzzo, where he executed the Madonna dell'incendio sedato, an ex-voto in the Collegiata of Pescocostanzo, and the Circumcision in the parish church of Fara San Martino. Tanzio's highly personal style also characterizes his first documented work, the Saint Charles Borromeo Giving Holy Communion to Plague Victims, installed by August 1616 in the Collegiata in Domodossola.
The date of the Domodossola altar indicates that Tanzio had returned to Piedmont by early 1616 or even 1615. He is not known to have left Lombardy and Piedmont thereafter, aside from a possible, but undocumented, trip to Vienna in 1626-1627. In 1617 he is documented at work in a chapel of the Sacro Monte in Varallo ("Christ Conducted to Pilate"). Along with his brother, the sculptor Giovanni, he decorated two more such chapels, in 1618-1620 ("Washing of the Hands") and in 1628 ("Christ Presented to Herod"). He also executed frescoes and altarpieces in the Alpine valleys and in Milan, where he came into contact with the works of the Procaccini, Cerano (Giovanni Battista Crespi, c. 1575-1633), and Morazzone (Pier Francesco Mazucchi, 1573-1626). The works of these last years reflect his contact with the post-mannerist Lombard school as well as his experiences in Venice, particularly of Veronese's (1528-1588) frescoes at Maser, which find echoes in the fictive statues of the Sacro Monte chapels. Even with the firm dates of the Sacro Monte chapels and two other documented commissions, the Chapel of the Guardian Angel of 1627-1629 in San Gaudenzio, Novara, and the San Rocco of 1631 for the parish church of Comasco, it is nearly impossible to establish a chronology for the works of Tanzio's brief but productive maturity.
Tanzio has enjoyed a lasting reputation as one of the most intriguing painters of the Seicento, and has been claimed for both the Piedmontese and Lombard schools. He is not known, however, to have had many students or to have established an artistic following. He died in Varallo Sesia in 1633. [This is an edited version of the artist's biography published, or to be published, in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]
Tioli, Laura. "Antonio d'Enrico (Tanzio)." Bollettino della Real Deputazione Supalpina di Storia Patria, Sezione di Novara n.s. 5 (1939): 233-248, 351-367; n.s. 6 (1940): 70-103, 172-186.
Valsecchi, Marco. "Tanzio da Varallo." In Il Seicento Lombardo. 3 vols. Exh. cat. Palazzo Reale, Milan, 1973: 2:60-66.
Debiaggi, Casimiro. "Precisazioni sulla data dell'ultimo ciclo pittorico e sull'anno di morte del Tanzio da Varallo." Bollettino della società piemontese di archeologia e belle arti. n.s. 30-31 (1976-1977): 88-92.
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: 254.