Painters Of Florence – Francesco Pesellino

CLOSELY associated with Fra Filippo at one period of his career was Francesco di Pesello, generally known as Pesellino, to distinguish him from his grandfather Giuliano. This interesting and attractive painter, who was born in 1422, and early left an orphan, grew up in the workshop of his grandfather, an architect and artist of some note, who painted banners and cassoni, designed stained glass, and was one of the competitors for the model of the Cathedral cupola. Like all the best contemporary artists, he enjoyed the friendship of the Medici, and on one occasion Cosimo lent him a sum of money for his daughter’s dowry. Both the Peselli were distinguished animal painters, and a wonderful group of caged lions, as well as a hunting scene by Francesco’s hand, adorned a hall in the Medici palace. Here, too, the young master was employed to paint predellas for altar-pieces by Fra Angelico and Fra Filippo, which are mentioned in Lorenzo de’ Medici’s inventory. All of these have disappeared, and the earliest of Pesellino’s works now in existence, is a predella on the legend of St. Nicholas, which originally adorned an altar in Santa Croce, and has been in the Casa Buonarroti since the days of Michelangelo. Here the artist’s skill in telling a story and his remarkable power of delineating character are already evident, while the life-like action and admirable modelling of the heads reveal a close study of Masaccio’s works. A little panel representing the trial of a noble Florentine youth, falsely charged of a crime by base-born accusers, is in the Morelli collection at Bergamo, and belongs to the same early period.

After his grandfather’s death, in 1446, Pesellino became more closely connected with Fra Filippo, and painted one of his finest predellas for that friar’s altar-piece in the Medici Chapel of Santa Croce. These truly wonderful little panels, as Vasari justly calls them, are now divided between the Louvre and the Accademia of Florence. One of the best is the Miracle of St. Anthony of Padua, who is seen pointing from his place in the pulpit to the dead body of an usurer, whose heart has been removed and is discovered in a casket of gold pieces. Both in conception and grouping, these clever and animated scenes show the influence of Fra Lippo’s style on his young assistant, but his types are slender and more refined, and the blue and grey tones of his colouring produce a quieter and more harmonious effect. Two other small panels on the legend of St. Sylvester belong to this period, and are now in the Doria Gallery in Rome. But the finest works we have from Pesellino’s hand are his version of Boccaccio’s story, the Marriage of Griselda, in the Morelli Gallery at Bergamo, and the two famous cassoni with the story of David, which, were formerly in the Palazzo Torrigiani, and are now the property of Lord Wantage. In refinement and beauty of type, in poetic conception and delicate colouring, these panels surpass all Pesellino’s earlier works, while the variety of animals introduced in David’s triumphal procession are characteristic of the master’s style. Unfortunately, these charming paintings were Pesellino’s last works, and on the 29th July 1457, he died, at the early age of thirty-five, leaving a young widow, Mona Tarsia, and several children, in great poverty. After Fra Filippo settled at Prato, in 1452, Pesellino had taken another artist, Piero di Lorenzo, a man of fifty or sixty, to share his bottega, and work as his assistant ; and shortly before his death the two painters agreed to execute a large and important altar-piece for the Church of the Trinità, at Pistoia, for which they were to receive 200 florins. This work, which is now in the National Gallery, was finished by the following October, and became the object of a law-suit between Francesco’s widow and Piero, who claimed the whole of the sum at which the picture had been valued by Piero de’ Medici. But it is difficult to find any trace of Pesellino’s hand in this altar-piece, which is executed in a totally different style, and was probably entirely the work of his assistant.

CHIEF WORKS-

Florence.—Accademia: 72. Predella, St. Anthony,

SS. Cosimo and Damiano, Nativity.

” Casa Buonarroti : St. Nicholas of Bari.

Bergamo.—Morelli Gallery: Trial of a Florentine.

Milan.—Poldi-Pezzoli Museum : Io. Pieta ; II, Story of Griselda.

Rome. —Doria Gallery : Predella—Pope Sylvester.

Boston.—U.S.A. Mrs. Gardner: Triumphs of Petrarch.

Chantilly.—Madonna and Saints.

London.—Lord Wantage: Story of David. Captain Holford: Madonna and Saints.

Oxford.—University Galleries: 12. Meeting of Joachim and Anna.

Paris.—Louvre: 1424. Miracle of SS. Cosimo and Dami no, and St. Francis receiving the Stigmata.