Andrea del Castagno

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Andrea del Castagno

The Italian painter Andrea del Castagno (1421-1457) was a leading artist in the early Florentine Renaissance.

Andrea del Castagno was born in a village in the hills east of Florence. He is first recorded in Florence in 1440, when he was commissioned to paint frescoes (now destroyed) showing condemned traitors hanged, a traditional job given to little-regarded artists. Like nearly all the major Florentine artists of the age, he visited Venice (1442), where in collaboration with the otherwise unknown Francesco da Faenza he executed a modest set of saints with God the Father on the vault of a chapel in S. Zaccaria. Back in Florence, Andrea designed a window and executed minor works for the Cathedral (1444-1445). His frescoes for the lawyers' guild in Florence (1444-1445, 1447) are no longer extant, nor are his frescoes completing the life of the Virgin (1450-1452) begun by Domenico Veneziano in S. Egidio, Florence.

No records exist for the great frescoes Andrea painted for the Carducci country house and for the convent of S. Apollonia in Florence (these are now assembled in the Castagno Museum, S. Apollonia). For the hall of the Carducci house he painted a Virgin and Child, Adam and Eve, and nine famous persons—a local version of the "Nine Worthies" common on medieval tapestries. In Andrea's version three Florentine poets, three Florentine soldiers, and three famous women are depicted standing in simulated marble niches, both niche and figure hard and bright. From earlier Renaissance artists like Donatello and Masaccio, Andrea learned to paint massive three-dimensional figures, but unlike his predecessors he was not interested in integrating these figures harmoniously with the environment. Rather, he used his knowledge of perspective to make the figures dominate the space.

Andrea began the frescoes for the refectory of S. Apollonia about 1447. On the upper part of the end wall are the Crucifixion, Entombment, and Resurrection; the muscular men in twisting robes are presented on a single plane. On the lower part of the wall is Andrea's famous Last Supper. Thirteen stony figures sit around a long table in front of a paneled marble wall. There is no emphasis on the figure of Christ but some on Judas, isolated on the other side of the table. The room is actually drawn in rather deep perspective, the side walls half as long as the back one, but a shallow space suggested by the table and figures is what spectators register in this single case of elaborate perspective in Andrea's work. The frescoed monument to the general Niccolò da Tolentino (1456) in the Cathedral of Florence, like Paolo Uccello's earlier one to Sir John Hawkwood next to it, is a simulated sculpture; typically, Andrea eliminates Uccello's perspective brackets and flanks the base with muscular shield bearers. Andrea's other late frescoes, a Trinity and a St. Julian in SS. Annunziata, are more relaxed, letting light and air tone down the hard ascetic figures.

Andrea del Castagno died of the plague in Florence on Aug. 19, 1457.

Further Reading

The standard work on Andrea del Castagno is in Italian: Mario Salmi, Paolo Uccello, Andrea del Castagno, Domenico Veneziano (1936; rev. ed. 1938). There is no satisfactory monograph in English. □

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