Pollaiuolo

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Antonio Pollaiuolo

Antonio Pollaiuolo (ca. 1432-1498), Italian painter, sculptor, goldsmith, and engraver, was a master of anatomical rendering and excelled in action subjects, notably mythologies. This "most Florentine of artists" appealed especially to the circle of Lorenzo de' Medici.

Antonio Pollaiuolo was born in Florence. Most of the dated documents refer to his activity as a goldsmith, in which trade he began. The varied nature of his work may be observed in the following commissions: a silver cross for S. Giovanni (1457), a reliquary for the prior of S. Pancrazio (1461), a silver belt and chain for Filippo Rinuccini (1461-1462), two candelabra for S. Giovanni (1465), and the embroidery designs for two tunics, a chasuble, and a cope (1465).

In 1468 Pollaiuolo bought property near Pistoia, and his success as both artist and businessman is attested by the purchase of additional property in and near Florence in the 1480s. In 1472 he was called upon to decorate the helmet of the Duke of Urbino, and that year his name first appeared in the register of the guild of Florentine painters.

Pollaiuolo's monumental Martyrdom of St. Sebastian (completed 1475), his most ambitious painting, is a milestone in Renaissance art in showing muscular figures in action. Other paintings are the tiny Apollo and Daphne, the Rape of Deianira, and the elegant Profile Portrait of a Lady. The famous studies of concentrated muscular energy shown in the panels of Hercules and the Hydra and Hercules and Antaeus are tiny replicas of lost canvases of the Labors of Hercules painted about 1460 for the Medici palace. Pollaiuolo again used the subject of Hercules and Antaeus for a bronze statuette, which, like the damaged fresco painting of the frenetic Dancing Nudes in the Villa la Gallina near Florence, reveals his fanatical interest in the nude in action.

Pollaiuolo also executed one engraving, the famous Battle of the Nudes (ca. 1465). It is a masterful synthesis of his main artistic ideal: the decorative beauty, in violent posturings, of the male nude.

Pollaiuolo's most important commissions for sculpture were executed not in Florence but Rome. He was called, with his artist brother Piero, to the Vatican in 1484 to do the tombs of Sixtus IV and Innocent VIII, masterpieces of bronze casting. Though the former tomb was not finished until 1493, the artist evidently returned to Florence in 1491 to take part in a competition for the facade of the Cathedral. In 1494 he was commissioned to make a bronze bust of Condottiere Gentile Orsini. Pollaiuolo died in Rome.

Further Reading

Although old, the monograph by Maud Cruttwell, Antonio Pollaiuolo (1907), is still useful. Pollaiuolo's sculpture is discussed in John Pope-Hennessy, Italian Renaissance Sculpture (1958), and Charles Seymour, Sculpture in Italy, 1400-1500 (1966). □