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Pietro da Cortona


Battle of Alexander versus Darius Print by Pietro da Cortona

Battle of Alexander versus Darius

Saint Constantia's Vision before the Tomb of Saints Agnes and Emerentiana Print by Pietro da Cortona

Saint Constantia's Vision before the Tomb of Saints Agnes and Emerentiana

Rape of the Sabines Print by Pietro da Cortona

Rape of the Sabines

Madonna with the Child and angels Print by Pietro da Cortona

Madonna with the Child and angels

St Martina Print by Pietro da Cortona

St Martina

Saint Domitilla receiving the Veil from Pope Clement I Print by Pietro da Cortona

Saint Domitilla receiving the Veil from Pope Clement I

Christ and the Woman taken in Adultery Print by Pietro da Cortona

Christ and the Woman taken in Adultery

Hellenica World, Paintings, Drawings

Hagar’s Return


Study for the Head of St. Michael Print by Pietro da Cortona

Study for the Head of St. Michael

Battle of Arbella Print by Pietro Aquila

Battle of Arbella

Hellenica World, Paintings, Drawings

Coriolanus at Rome

Hellenica World, Paintings, Drawings

Title page of the "Hesperides" of Giovanni Battista FerrariPietro da Cortona

Pietro da Cortona (1 November 1596/7[1] – 16 May 1669) was born Pietro Berrettini, but is primarily known by the name of his native town of Cortona in Tuscany.[2] He was the leading Italian Baroque painter of his time and, along with his contemporaries and rivals Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Francesco Borromini, was one of the key figures in the emergence of Roman Baroque architecture. He was also an important designer of interior decorations.

Cortona worked mainly in Rome and Florence. He is best known for his frescoed ceilings such as the vault of the salone or main salon of the Palazzo Barberini in Rome and carried out extensive painting and decorative schemes for the Medici family in Florence and for the Oratorian fathers at the church of Santa Maria in Vallicella in Rome. He also painted numerous canvases. Only a limited number of his architectural projects were built but nonetheless they are as distinctive and as inventive as those of his rivals.

Despite the high regard he was held in during his lifetime, his present fame does not match the esteem bestowed on Caravaggio, Bernini, and Borromini.

Early career

Berrettini was born into a family of artisans and masons,[3] in Cortona, then a town in the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. He trained in painting in Florence under Andrea Commodi, but soon he departed for Rome at around 1612/3, where he joined the studio of Baccio Ciarpi. He was involved in fresco decorations at the Palazzo Mattei in 1622-3 under the direction of Agostino Ciampelli and Cardinal Orsini had commissioned from him an Adoration of the Shepherds (c. 1626) for San Salvatore in Lauro.

In Rome, he had encouragement from many prominent patrons. According to Cortona's biographers[4] his gifted copy of Raphael's Galatea fresco[5] brought him to the attention of Marcello Sacchetti (sv), papal treasurer during the Barberini papacy. Such contacts helped him gain an early major commission in Rome (1624–1626), a fresco decoration in the church of Santa Bibiana that was being renovated under the direction of Bernini. In 1626, the Sacchetti family engaged Cortona to paint three large canvases of The Sacrifice of Polyxena, The Triumph of Bacchus, and The Rape of the Sabines (the latter, c. 1629),[6] and to paint a series of frescoes in the Villa Sacchetti at Castelfusano, near Ostia, using a team that included the young Andrea Sacchi. In the Sacchetti orbit, he met Pope Urban VIII and Cardinal Francesco Barberini, the papal nephew, and their patronage of Cortona provided him with ample scope to demonstrate his abilities as a painter of frescoes and canvases.

Grand Salon of Palazzo Barberini
Triumph of Divine Providence

Fresco cycles were numerous in Cortona's Rome; many represented "quadri riportati" or painted framed episodes imitating canvases as found in the Sistine Chapel ceiling or in Carracci's The Loves of the Gods in the Farnese gallery (completed 1601). In 1633, Pope Urban VIII (Maffeo Barberini) commissioned from Cortona a large fresco painting for the main salon ceiling of the Barberini family palace; the Palazzo Barberini.[7] It was completed six years later, following Cortona's influential visit to northern Italy where he would have seen at first hand perspectival works by Paolo Veronese and the colour palette of Titian.

Cortona's huge Allegory of Divine Providence and Barberini Power marks a watershed in Baroque painting. Following the architecture of the room, he created the painted illusion of an open airy architectural framework against which figures are situated, usually seen 'al di sotto in su' apparently coming into the room itself or floating far above it. The ornamented architectural framework essentially forms five compartments. The central and most significant part celebrates the glorification of the reign of Urban VIII in a light filled scene populated with allegorical figures and Barberini family emblems.

The illusion of spatial extension through paint, the grandiose theme and the skill of execution could only astonish and impress the visitor. However, Cortona's panegyric trompe-l'œil extravaganzas may be less popular in a world familiar with minimalism and such like, yet they are precursors of the sunny figures and cherubim infested with rococo excesses. They contrast markedly with the darker naturalism prominent in Caravaggisti works and with the classicising compositions by painters such as Domenichino and Andrea Sacchi, and remind us that Baroque painting could be grand in an epic manner and exuberant in spirit.

The Golden Age by Pietro da Cortona.
Frescoes in Palazzo Pitti

Cortona had been patronized by the Tuscan community in Rome, hence it was not surprising when he was passing through Florence in 1637, that he should be asked by Grand Duke Ferdinando II de' Medici to paint a series of frescoes intended to represent the four ages of man in a small room, the Sala della Stufa, in the Palazzo Pitti. The first two represented the "ages" of silver and gold.[8] In 1641, he was recalled to paint the 'Bronze Age' and 'Iron Age' frescoes. He began work on the decoration of the grand-ducal reception rooms on the first floor of the Palazzo Pitti, now part of the Palatine Gallery. In these five Planetary Rooms, the hierarchical sequence of the deities is based on Ptolomeic cosmology; Venus, Apollo, Mars, Jupiter (the Medici Throne room) and Saturn, but minus Mercury and the Moon which should have come before Venus.[9] These highly ornate ceilings with frescoes and elaborate stucco work essentially celebrate the Medici lineage and the bestowal of virtuous leadership.[10] Pietro left Florence in 1647, and his pupil and collaborator, Ciro Ferri, completed the cycle by the 1660s.[11]

Late works

For a number of years, Cortona was involved for decades in the decoration of the ceiling frescoes in the Oratorian Chiesa Nuova (Santa Maria in Vallicella) in Rome, a work not finished until 1665.[12] Other frescoes are in Palazzo Pamphilj in Piazza Navona (1651–4).

In 1660, he executed The Stoning of Saint Stephen for the church of San Ambrogio della Massima in Rome. The work currently hangs in the Hermitage.[13]

Towards the end of his life he devoted much of his time to architecture, but he published a treatise on painting in 1652 under a pseudonym and in collaboration. He refused invitations to both France and Spain.
Debate with Andrea Sacchi

He was elected as director of the Academy of St Luke the painter's guild in Rome, in 1634. It was at the Academy in 1636 that Cortona and Andrea Sacchi were involved in theoretical controversies regarding the number of figures that were appropriate in a painted work.[14]

Sacchi argued for few figures, since he felt it was not possible to grant meaningful individuality, a distinct role, to more than a few figures per scene. Cortona, on the other hand, lobbied for an art that could accommodate many subplots to a central concept. In addition, he also likely viewed the possibility of using many human figures in decorative detail or to represent a general concept. Sacchi's position would be reinforced in future years by Nicolas Poussin. Others have seen in this dichotomy, the long-standing debate whether visual art is about theoretical principles and meant to narrate a full story, or a painterly decorative endeavor, meant to delight the senses. Cortona was a director of the Accademia from 1634–1638.

Cortona also contributed to a treatise in Florence along with the theologian and Jesuit Giandomenico Ottonelli titled: Trattato della pittura e scultura, uso et abuso loro: composto da un theologo ed da un pittore[15] (Stamperia, Giovanni Antonio Bonardi, Florence, 1652). Authorship in subsequent editions is attributed to Cortona.

Cortona employed or trained many prominent artists, who then disseminated his grand manner style. Apart from Ciro Ferri, others that worked in his studio included:

Painter Dates Birthplace Source
Carlo Ascenzi 17th century Rome, Gennazano Other
Lazzaro Baldi 1623–1703 Pistoia, moved to Rome (H)(W)
Francesco Bonifazio (H)(W)
Lorenzo Berrettini (Cortona's nephew) Florence (W)
Giovanni Ventura Borghesi 1640–1708 Rome (H)(W)
Giovanni Maria Bottala 1613- Naples (H)
Andrea Camassei 1602–1649 Bevagna, moved to Rome (W)
Salvi Castellucci 1608–1672 Florence (H)(W)
Carlo Cesio 1626–1686 (H)(W)
Giovanni Coli ?-1681 (H)(W)
Guglielmo Cortese (Il Borgognone) (H)(W)
Vincenzo Dandini 1607- Florence (W)(W)
Nicholas Duval 1644- The Hague (H)
Onofrio Gabrielli 1616–1706 Messina (H)
Camillo Gabrielli (W)
Giacinto Gimignani 1611–1681 Pistoia, moved to Rome (H)(W)
Filippo Gherardi 1643–1701 (H)(W)
Paolo Gismondi 1612–1685 Perugia (H)(W)
Luca Giordano 1632 Naples (H)
Giovanni Battista Langetti 1635–1676 Genoa (H)
Pietro Lucatelli (W)
Giovanni Marracci 1637–1704 Lucca (H)(W)
Livio Mehus (Lieven Mehus) 1630–1691 (Active Florence) (H)(W)
Giovanni Battista Natali 1630–1700 (H)
Adriano Palladino 1610–1680 Cortona (MB)
Bartolomeo Palommo 1612- Rome (H)
Pio Paolino ? -1681 Udine (H)
Giovanni Quagliata 1603–1673 Messina [16][17]
Giovanni Francesco Romanelli 1617–1662 (H)(W)
Pietro Paolo Baldini (13) (H)(W)
Raffaello Vanni (W)
Adriano Zabarelli (W)

Romanelli and Camassei also trained under Domenichino. Giovanni Maria Bottala was one of his assistants on the Barberini Ceiling. Sources for (W);[18] while sources for (H).[19][20] Source for MB is Dictionary of Painters and Engravers, Biographical and Critical (Volume II L-Z).[21]

Architectural projects
Church of Santi Luca e Martina, Rome

Among Cortona's more important architectural projects are the church of Santi Luca e Martina (completed in 1664, the church of the Accademia di San Luca, located in the Roman Forum. While Cortona was principe or director of the Accademia from 1634–38, he obtained permission to dig in the crypt of the church, which led the likely mistaken finding of remains attributed to the first century Roman martyr and Saint Martina. This discovery led to further patronage for construction of the church. The layout is almost a Greek cross, with four nearly identical wings extending from the striking central dome. Much of the ground structure is undecorated, above intricately decorated. The overwhelmingly vertical decoration of the facade is granted liveliness by horizontal convexity. In his will, this bachelor called this church his beloved daughter.

He also renovated the exterior renewal of the ancient Santa Maria della Pace (1656–1667), and the façade (with an unusual loggia) of Santa Maria in Via Lata (appr. 1660).

Another influential work for its day was the design and decoration of the Villa Pigneto commissioned by the Marchese Sacchetti.[22] This garden palace or casino gathered a variety of features in a novel fashion, including a garden facade with convex arms, and highly decorated niches, and elaborate tiered staircases surrounding a fountain.

Anatomical plates

Prior to becoming famous as an architect, Pietro drew anatomical plates that would not be engraved and published until a hundred years after his death. The plates in Tabulae anatomicae are now thought to have been started around 1618. The dramatic and highly studied poses effected by the figures are in keeping with the style of other Renaissance Baroque anatomical artists, although nowhere does such an approach find any fuller expression than in these plates.


His traditional year of birth is 1596 but as he was baptised on 27 November 1597, some more recent books on Cortona give his year of birth as 1597 as for example Pietro da Cortona 1597–1669, Lo Bianco A. (ed), Electa, 1997
Connors 1982, p. 455.
The latter group included his uncle Filippo Berrettini
For example, Giovanni Baglione Vite de' Pittore Scultori ed Architetti deall'anno 1641 sino all'anno 1673, Hess J. Leipzig and Vienna 1934
The fresco of Galatea by Raphael is in the Villa Farnesina, Rome
These three canvases are now in the Capitoline Museum
Palazzo Barberini is now the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome.
[1][dead link]
Campbell, Malcolm, Pietro da Cortona at the Pitti Palace. A Study of the Planetary Rooms and Related Projects, Princeton University Press, 1977, p. 78
Campbell, M. 1972, p. 146-154
Pietro Berrettini -Catholic Encyclopedia article
seen here [2],_art
Wittkower, R. Art & Architecture in Italy 1600–1750, Pelican, 263-5
"Trattato della pittura e scultura, uso et abuso loro – Giulio Ottonelli, Pietro da Cortona – Google Books". Retrieved 2014-07-17.
Susinno, Francesco (1960). Felice Le Monnier. ed. Le vite dei pittori messinesi; text, introduction and bibliographic notes by Valentino Martinelli. Italy (originally published 1724 in Italy): Firenze.
Quagliata, Iana (2006). Giambattista Quagliata, Pittore E Architetto Del '600. Monza, Italy: Stampato da Quick Printing.
Wittkower R. p 543 and p 550.
J. R. Hobbes, p. 58.
*Hobbes, James R. (1849). Picture collector's manual; Dictionary of Painters. T. & W. Boone, 29 Bond Street, London; Digitized by Googlebooks (2006) from Oxford library. pp. 63–65.
Bryan, Michael (1889). Walter Armstrong & Robert Edmund Graves, ed. Dictionary of Painters and Engravers, Biographical and Critical (Volume II L-Z). York St. #4, Covent Garden, London; Original from Fogg Library, Digitized May 18, 2007: George Bell and Sons.

Roberto. "Casino al Pigneto del Marchese Sacchetti". Retrieved 2014-07-17.


Connors, Joseph (1982). "Cortona, Pietro Berrettini da" in Placzek 1982, vol. 1, pp. 455–466.
Connors, Joseph (1998). "Pietro da Cortona 1597–1669". The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians: 318–321.
Haskell, Francis (1980). Patrons and Painters; Art and Society in Baroque Italy. Yale University Press. pp. 38–40, 60–62. ISBN 9780064300094.
Loire, Stéphane (1998). "Pietro da Cortona". The Burlington Magazine: 219–222.
Merz, Jörg Martin (2008). Pietro da Cortona and Roman Baroque Architecture. New Haven; London: Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300111231.
Placzek, Adolf K., editor (1982). Macmillan Encyclopedia of Architects. London: Macmillan. ISBN 9780029250006.
Rendina, Claudio (2000). Enciclopedia di Roma. Rome: Newton Compton.


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