Of Heaven and Earth: Biographies

Sandro Botticelli (Florentine, 1444/45–1510)

One of the most celebrated painters of the Italian Renaissance, Sandro Botticelli was known for his elegant style, eminent patrons, and often lyrical approach to his subject matter. He was trained in the workshop of Fra Filippo Lippi (ca. 1406–1469) and spent much of his career working in his native Florence, with the exception of 1481–82 when he was in Rome painting three frescoes for the Sistine Chapel. Botticelli had numerous wealthy patrons, the most illustrious being the powerful Medici family, who dominated Florentine life and culture.

The dancing figures, swirling draperies, and poetic character of his paintings became most pronounced during the 1470s and 1480s, when he was at the height of his career. This is when Botticelli painted his celebrated allegories, such as the Birth of Venus (1484), which now resides in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence. Most of his paintings from this period feature religious subject matter, such as the Annunciation, which includes the same lively figures, animated draperies, and poeticism of Botticelli’s mature style. An inscription on the back indicates that it was originally painted for the Church of San Barnaba in Florence.

Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) (Venetian, ca. 1490–1576)

The city of Venice was home to many talented painters, but none were more revered or successful than the great sixteenth-century painter Titian. His early training was in the workshop of Giovanni Bellini (ca. 1438–1516), but the paintings of another important Venetian painter, Giorgione (1477–1510), had the most profound impact on Titian’s art. His painting style is expressive and self-assured, and embodies the fundamental shift that occurred between fifteenth-century painting, which is characterized by fineness of finish and bright local color, and sixteenth-century painting, which is marked by a looser technique coupled with a more harmonious color palette.

Throughout his lifetime, Titian painted all genres, including portraits, religious paintings, and mythological subjects. Although he had many patrons within Venice, he also had a prominent international reputation, with many beyond his native country collecting his work, including King Philip II of Spain. As a result, Titian’s workshop was large and his influence was broad, ultimately touching the work of Peter Paul Rubens, Diego Velázquez, Rembrandt van Rijn, and other Baroque masters.

Salvator Rosa (Neapolitan and Roman, 1615–1673)

Although his early training was in Naples, Salvator Rosa lived in Rome for the majority of his tumultuous career. He was a painter of various genres including battle scenes, history paintings, and portraits, but his fame rested on his landscape paintings. Rosa was, in many ways, the ideal counterpoint to his famous contemporary Claude Lorrain (1604–1682), a French landscape painter who spent most of his career working in Italy. Where Claude’s landscapes are serene and pastoral, Rosa’s are dramatic, wild, and storm-tossed.

Rosa’s relationships with his patrons were equally stormy, as his famously hot temper frequently got him into trouble. Once, in writing to Antonio Ruffo, a prominent patron and collector, he stated, “I do not paint to enrich myself but purely for my own satisfaction.” His independence of spirit was also reflected in his work as a leading satirical poet, in which he often wrote bitingly of the very individuals who were his primary patrons and the corrupt society that supported their wealth.

Francesco Guardi (Venetian, 1712–1793)

Francesco Guardi was one of the most renowned veduta (view) painters in eighteenth-century Venice. He originally trained with his older brother, Giovanni Antonio, who produced large-scale religious altarpieces; from him Guardi learned his distinctive style of painting with fractured, broken brushwork. He later worked with the great veduta painter Canaletto (1697–1768); this association, which began just before the mid-eighteenth century, led Guardi to begin creating the evocative views of the city of Venice for which he is most famous today.

The practice of view painting emerged in Venice in the late seventeenth century and continued through the early nineteenth century—to some degree in response to the increasing popularity of the Grand Tour. Wealthy tourists were eager for souvenirs of their cultural journeys, and view paintings, which reached the height of their popularity during the mid-eighteenth century, were ideal for this purpose. Guardi was one of the prime creators of such views, and his expressive images of his native Venice beautifully evoke the watery, light-filled atmosphere of the city.

Antonio Mancini (Roman, 1852–1930)

One of the leaders of the Italian Verismo(realism or naturalism) movement, Antonio Mancini studied in Naples at the Istituto di Belle Arte before returning to Rome, the city of his birth, for the remainder of his career. However, two trips that he took to Paris in 1875 and 1877, at the encouragement of his patron, Albert, Count Cahen of Antwerp, shaped the work of the young artist. There he met avant-garde artists Édouard Manet (1832–1883) and Edgar Degas (1834–1917), and became immersed in the deep coloration and rich, expressive brushwork of the Baroque masters Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669) and Diego Velázquez (1599–1660).

Back in Rome, Mancini continued his work as a genre painter, but also became a noted society portraitist. In fact, American artist John Singer Sargent (1856–1925) championed his work. Mancini’s paintings are marked by a dark tonality and an expressive use of pigment. Later in his career, his application of paint became increasingly experimental, and the thick, highly varied surfaces of his paintings result in images that shift and respond to the viewer in unique ways.