“He who would understand Buonarroti must first appreciate Signorelli.” Symonds.
Luca Signorelli was born and spent his life in Cortona, serving frequently as municipal councillor and prior. While still a boy he was apprenticed to Piero della Francesca. His early studies of the human form suggest some very direct influence from the Florentine masters Donatello and Pollajuolo. Vasari, who was a kinsman, tells of work done for countless towns in Umbria. His more extended series of frescos are Apostles and Church Fathers in Loreto (about 1480), eight scenes from the life of St. Benedict at Monte Oliveto (1487), and his great work in the cathedral of Orvieto (1499-1504). He retained his intellectual and physical vigor to the end of his long life, painting in 1523 a Coronation, still in Foiano near Arezzo.
The human form was his great interest and medium of expression. It was his study which made possible the beauty of Michelangelo’s forms.
NOTES ON THE PICTURES.
No. 246. School of Pan.
Kaiser Friedrich Museum, Berlin.
Oil on canvas, 8 1/2 feet by 6 1/2 feet; believed to be the picture described by Vasari as painted for Lorenzo de’ Medici; discovered in 1865 in a storeroom of the Corsi palace, Florence, overpainted with eighteenth century draperies. The colors are hard, a hot red with green shadows; the seated Pan is bronze in color, the horns of the crescent moon upon his head. Olympus stands before him playing the pipe; the nymph is Echo or Syrinx, on whose rod is Signorelli’s name.
Study the imagery, the form of expression, the composition of the picture and its setting. Compare with classic myths painted by Botticelli.
No. 247. Holy Family.
Tondo, 41 feet in diameter, one of the best examples of a form frequently used by Signorelli. The attitude of Joseph in devotion and of the Madonna bending over her book render the composition a natural one. Signorelli’s Madonna type is of unusual strength and beauty.
No. 248. Adoration of the Magi.
Yale School of Fine Arts, New Haven, Conn. Tempera on wood, 1 foot 5 inches by 1 foot 2 inches. Painted about 1508. Part of a predella from the Archbishop’s palace in Cortona. It is well preserved, never having been cleaned or restored. The high lights and brocaded patterns are touched with gold.
No. 249. Group of Patriarchs (ceiling).
No. 250. Preaching of Anti-Christ: detail.
No. 251. Resurrection.
No. 252. Calling of the Elect.
No. 253. The Condemned.
No. 254. Lucan and Episodes from his poems.
Chapel S. Brizio, Cathedral, Orvieto.
Frescos painted 1499-1504. In 1447 Fra Angelico had painted two sections of the vaulted ceiling of the chapel. (See 125.) Half a century later Signorelli was called to complete the work. He has followed the earlier design in the six remaining sections of the ceiling, 249, and carrying on the thought of Fra Angelico’s Christ the Judge, has filled the walls with the Destruction of the World and the scenes of the after life. Over the en-trance the Death of the Wicked; on each side wall two large paintings, Preaching of Anti-Christ and Calling of the Elect, the Resurrection and the Condemned; on the altar wall Heaven and Hell. The backgrounds are all of gold. Below, in an ornamental arabesque, are poets of the future life, with scenes from their poems in medallions painted in monochrome. In a niche is a fine Entombment by Signorelli.
Compare 249 with 125, noting the technical advance but decorative loss. Read, with the pictures in hand, Symonds’ interpretation.
With all his absorption in the nude there is not a single morbid or impure suggestion; to Signorelli it was the ” human form divine ” the noblest form of expression.
No. 255. Portrait of a Man.
Kaiser Friedrich Museum, Berlin.
Life size portrait, formerly in Florence. The cap and robe are red. At one time considered a portrait of the artist himself. Signorelli often introduced classic buildings and nude forms into his backgrounds.
Compare with the Old Man, by Masaccio, 145, and with the Cardinal by Mantegna, 297.