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Sassetta

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Gothic and Early Renaissance
 
 
 
Sassetta
 
 
Stefano di Giovanni di Consolo (b Siena or Cortona, c. 1392; d Siena, 1 April 1450).

Italian painter and illuminator, sienese school. He was the most original painter in Siena in the 15th century. Working within the Sienese tradition, he introduced elements derived from the decorative Gothic style and the realism of such contemporary Florentine innovators as Masaccio. Most of his surviving works are panel pictures, notably those from the altarpiece painted for S Francesco, Borgo San Sepolcro.
 
 
Life and Works
The date and birthplace of Sassetta are not known. Some say he was born in Siena although there is also an hypothesis that he was born in Cortona. His father, Giovanni, is called da Cartona which possibly means that Cortona was the artist's birthplace. The meaning of his nickname Sassetta is obscure and is not cited in documents of his time but appears in sources from the eighteenth century.

Sassetta was probably trained alongside artists like Benedetto di Bindo and Gregorio di Cecco but he had a style all of his own. He achieved a high level of technical refinement and was aware of artistic innovations of talented painters in Florence such as Gentile da Fabriano and Masolino. His work differs from the late Gothic style of many of his Sienese contemporaries.

His first certain work, which originally had his signature is the Arte della Lana altarpiece, (1423–1426) fragments of which are now divided among various private and public collections.

The Madonna of the Snow altarpiece for the Siena cathedral was a prestigious commission for Sassetta, and considered his second major work. Not only does he excel at infusing his figures with a natural light that convincingly molds their shape, he also has an amazing handle on spatial relationships, creating cohesive and impressive work. From this point on, under Gothic influence, Sassetta’s style increases its decorative nature. The polyptych done by Sassetta in San Domenico at Cortona (around 1437) shows scenes from the legend of St. Anthony the Abbot. He shows great skill in narration through his painting as well as combining a sophisticated color palette and rhythmic compositions.

Francesco di Giorgio e di Lorenzo, better known as Vecchietta, is said to have been his apprentice.

He died by pneumonia contracted while decorating the Assumption fresco in the Porta Romana of Siena. The work was finished by his pupil Sano di Pietro.

Many consider Sassetta's fusing of traditional and contemporary elements as integral to the move from the Gothic to the Renaissance style of painting in Siena.

 
 
 
A Miracle of the Eucharist
Miracle of the EucharistSassetta was a fiercely pious man. It has been said by Andrew Graham-Dixon that Sassetta's early fifteenth century painting of A Miracle of the Eucharist was not a work of art in the museum sense, but rather a threat: "Believe, or burn in hell forever. The painting is about the "marriage of righteousness and violence" and the "consequences of sinfulness, the perils of feigning faith and the power of God."

The figure in black in the painting is an unbeliever, who has been found out in the process of receiving Communion. The officiating priest offers him the host on a plate, which is pictured miraculously spurting blood. The unbeliever has been struck dead instantly, and the creature above his face is a tiny black devil which has swooped down to snatch away his soul to the depths of Hell. The other men pictured are Carmelite monks, caught in expressions of shock, amazement and disgust. They have become acquainted with their vengeful and savage God and it was Sassetta's intention that all who entered the church shook in the presence of their lord. His aim was to equally inspire fear and faith. The painting is a "carefully staged, meticulously created illusion" which commemorates the Miracle of Bolsena which is said to have taken place in 1263.

Sassetta's Altarpiece of the Eucharist was later divided between three museums (British, Hungarian and Italian), the Vatican, and a private collection.

 
 
 
The Borgo San Sepolcro Altarpiece
In October 1900 the Berenson family purchased three panels created by Stefano di Giovanni. The Berensons' collection consisted of St. Francis in Glory, flanked by the standing Blessed Ranieri and St. John the Baptist, which scholars determined are only a part of a complex altar which had now become scattered among twelve collections throughout Europe and North America. It is generally accepted by the art historical community that Sassetta’s San Francesco altarpiece was one of the largest and most expensive of the Quattrocento. The fact that it was produced by a Sienese artist in Siena, and shipped to the Tiber valley town in late spring 1444 also speaks to Sassetta's fame in his time period.

Bernard Benson bequeathed many of Sassetta's painting from his Florence Villa to Harvard University, in what became the Center for Italian Renaissance Studies in Florence. A 3D computer-assisted reconstruction of the altarpiece's surviving parts is featured in Sassetta: The Borgo San Sepolcro Altarpiece, edited by Machtelt Israels and released in 2009.

 
 
 
 

St Jerome
1423
Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena




The Meeting of St. Anthony and St. Paul
about 1440
National Gallery of Art, Washington


Death of the Heretic on the Bonfire
1423
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne



The Last Supper
1423
Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena



Miracle of the Eucharisty
1423
Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle



St Thomas Inspired by the Dove of the Holy Ghost
1423
Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest



St Thomas Before the Cross
1423
Pinacoteca, Vatican

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Maria mit dem Kind, von zwei Engeln gekront

 



The Ecstasy of St Francis
1437-44
Villa i Tatti, Settignano


St Anthony the Hermit Tortured by the Devils
1423
Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena

 
 
 

 
 
 
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