at Cortona in November 1596, Pietro Berrettini came from a family of
stonecutters and masons. He did his first apprenticeship with Andrea
Commodi who worked at Cortona from 1609 to 1612, and he probably
accompanied his teacher to Rome where he stayed from 1612 to 1614.
Cortona received his first important commission in 1616, to do the
frescoes at the Villa Arrigoni-Muti at Frascati. While in Rome, the
young artist met the most influential families such as the Barberini
and Sacchetti. In 1624 he began working on the frescoes in the church
of Santa Bibiana on a commission from Pope Urban VIII. After he painted
the Portrait of Cardinal Giulio Sacchetti in 1626 the prelate commissioned him to decorate the country house at Castel Fussano. Between 1628 and 1631 he painted the Rape of the Sabine Women for Marcello Sacchetti and the Trinity
for the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament in St. Peter’s Basilica and
became one of the upcoming figures on the Roman artistic scene. During
the fourth decade of the century Pietro did considerable work for the
Barberini family in the chapel of their family palazzo and for their
tapestry works. Between 1632 and 1639, albeit with interruptions the
artist painted the frescoes in the Barberini salon. Then, in 1637 he
accompanied Giulio Sacchetti to Bologna. He stopped in Florence where
Ferdinando II de’ Medici commissioned him to fresco the Sala della
Stufa in the Palazzo Pitti. After a short trip to Venice he returned to
Rome and resumed working for the Barberini family. In the spring of
1641 the painter was back in Florence where he remained until 1647
completing the Sala della Stufa and the rooms of the planets. During
his Florentine sojourn he frescoed the Venus, Jupiter and Mars rooms
and part of the Apollo room which was later completed by Ciro Ferri.
While he was working for Ferdinando II painting the frescoes in the
Palazzo Pitti, he also undertook a series of other projects that
included the Nativity for the Chiesa Nuova in Perugia (1643) and the Martyrdom of St. Lawrence
for the church of San Lorenzo in Miranda (1647). When he returned to
Rome definitively in 1647 he worked on major painting cycles and
architectural projects that included the frescoes in the dome of Santa
Maria in Vallicella (1648-1660), the gallery in the Palazzo Pamphili in
Piazza Navona (1651-1654), the piazza and façade of Santa Maria della
Pace (1656-1657) and the façade of Santa Maria in Via Lata (1658-1662).
In 1652, together with the Jesuit, Father Ottonelli he published the Trattato della Pittura e Scultura.
The artist continued his work painting mainly altar pieces for churches
in Rome, Venice and Pistoia. Pietro da Cortona, ill with gout died on
16 May 1669.
Triumph of Bacchus
anteriore al 1624
This painting is mentioned in the two editions of Pietro da Cortona’s biography by Giulio Mancini and Passeri considers it the first painting he ever did for the Sacchetti family, his first Roman patrons. The Sacchetti inventories list two canvases of the same subject, this one and another that went to France when Mazzarin was in power. Recent diagnostic tests that did not reveal any touch-ups and showed the clean lines of the composition lead experts to believe that the Capitoline painting is an autograph copy of the one that went to France. From the compositional standpoint, there is an obvious influence Titian’s Bacchanals – dating from the previous century – in the Aldobrandini collection in Rome. This influence is most evident in the choice of subject and the lively chromatics. Pietro da Cortona also studied the frescoes in the Galleria Farnese and those by Guido Reni in San Gregorio al Celio. The figure of the child eating grapes would reappear in his fresco of the Age of Silver in the Palazzo Pitti in Florence.Iconography
Portrait of Marcello Sacchetti
This painting is probably one of seven portraits of members of the Sachetti family that Pietro painted that are listed in the family’s inventory of 1639. The subject is Marcello Sacchetti, businessman and banker, the first surviving male member of the Roman branch of the important Florentine family. Thanks to his partnership with Maffeo Barberini, in 1623 he obtained the position of general trustee and secret treasurer of the Apostolic Camera. He was Pietro’s first Roman patron and ordered the portrait himself. The painting was listed in the Barberini collection only in 1833.
Detail of the ceiling, Salone Barberini (The Triumph of Divine Providence)
With a solid reputation in Rome, Pietro da Cortona was commissioned to fresco the ceiling in the salon of the Palazzo Barberini, that was initially supposed to have been done by Andrea Camassei. The Tuscan artist began the work between the end of 1632 and the beginning of 1633. The project that was long, filled with problems, and interrupted by the artist’s travels, was only completed at the end of 1639. The complicated subject was conceived by the erudite Francesco Bracciolini, a member of the Barberini circle; it portrays The Triumph of Divine Providence and the achievement of its ends through the spiritual and temporal power of the papacy under the pontificate of Urban VIII. Surrounded by heavenly allegories and mythological episodes the center of the composition is the apotheosis of Providence, in concomitance with that of the pope and his family. The vast painting (600 square meters) is divided into five different areas that correspond to the five parts of the heavens by a faux architectural frame beyond which we see open sky. Pietro commemorated the Barberini papacy by painting the family emblem: bees crowned with laurel.
The Triumph of Divine Providence
Pietro da Cortona frescoed the ceiling in the Palazzo Barberini salon between 1632 and 1639 according to the iconographic program developed by the erudite Francesco Bracciolini. A faux architectural frame divides the ceiling into five areas that correspond to the five parts of the heavens, and in the four windows that are created between the four corner trabeations and the upper cornices are allegorical and mythological scenes. Dominating the large central section we see the personification of Divine Providence surrounded by Justice, Mercy, Wisdom, Power, Truth, Beauty and Modesty. Beneath them we see Time biting a putto, accompanied by the three Misers while in the upper left Immortality holds out a crown of stars. In the upper portion are the three theological Virtues, Faith, Hope and Charity holding a large laurel wreath within which are the big, gilded Barberini bees. Above the personification of the city of Rome holds the papal tiara while Glory holds the keys just below.
Wisdom and Mercy
This detail of the ceiling in the Palazzo Barberini salon, that Pietro da Cortona painted between 1632 and 1639 according to the iconographic program developed by the erudite Francesco Bracciolini shows Wisdom and Mercy. A faux architectural frame divides the ceiling into five areas that correspond to the five parts of the heavens and in the four windows that are formed between the four corner trabeations and the upper cornice are allegories and mythological scenes. In this scene, Wisdom, a young woman with a book and lamp, alluding to the pontificate of Urban VIII offers her attributes to heaven, she is accompanied by Mercy without whom all erudition is in vain.
Hercules Defeats the Harpies
Pietro da Cortona painted the ceiling in the Palazzo Barberini salon, between 1632 and 1639 according to the iconographic program developed by the erudite Francesco Bracciolini. A faux architectural frame divides the ceiling into five areas that correspond to the five parts of the heavens and in the four windows that are formed between the four corner trabeations and the upper cornice are allegories and mythological scenes. In one of the smaller sections, we see Hercules, who had just killed one of the Harpies, beating her companions with his club. The scene alludes to Taddeo Barberini, prefect of Rome whose duty it was to keep vices out of the city.
Minerva Defeats the Giants
Pietro da Cortona frescoed the ceiling in the Palazzo Barberini salon between 1632 and 1639 according to the iconographic program developed by the erudite Francesco Bracciolini. A faux architectural frame divides the ceiling into five areas that correspond to the five parts of the heavens and in the four windows that are created between the four corner trabeations and the upper cornice are allegorical and mythological scenes. In the last section we see Minerva aloft with the twisting, confused giants below. The scene alludes to the triumph of intelligence over brute force.
The Age of Gold
Pietro da Cortona arrived in Florence in 1637 as part of Cardinal Giulio Sacchetti’s retinue; the cardinal had been appointed pontifical legate to Bologna. The Grand Duke of Florence, Ferdinando, asked him to stay in the city to decorate the Sala della Stufa in Palazzo Pitti. The subject, The Four Ages of Man, based on Ovid’s Metamorphoses, was suggested by Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger. Cortona painted the frescoes in two stages: The Age of Gold and The Age of Silver were completed in the summer of 1637, while the other two scenes were done in 1641 when he returned to Florence. The Ages are arranged on three walls of the small room and each one is “enclosed” in a painted, festooned frame. The first two scenes are on the north wall and comprise an almost continuous composition. The Age of Gold is a serene scene with youths and children adorned with flowers, living in harmony with various animals.
Return of Hagar
This painting, that has been dated 1637 or 1641, the artist’s first and second Florentine sojourns, respectively, portrays the moment in which the young Hagar – on the advice of the Angel – returns to Abraham. The story is from the Old Testament (Genesis 16): Abraham, who could not have children with his aged wife Sarah, turned to his Egyptian servant, Hagar, who was later banished along with her young son. In the desert, she was visited by an angel who told her to go back. In a personal and innovative composition Pietro da Cortona combines the two moments – the angel’s appearance to Hagar and the actual return to Abraham in a harmonious blend of story and nature. The painting, that is still close in style to his younger period has led credence to the earlier dating.
Trinity in Glory and Prophets
Pietro da Cortona’s work in the church of Santa Maria in Vallicella in Rome lasted for nearly thirty years, from 1633 to 1655; it reveals the development of his art and testifies to the close relationship he maintained with the Oratorians from the time he arrived in the city. The commission to paint the cupola came in 1646 while he was in Florence working for Ferdinando II. He only began the work in 1648 and completed it in 1651 when the cupola was unveiled on the feast of St. Philip Neri. The Prophets in the pendentives, however, were completed between 1659 and 1660. The painting of the Trinity in Glory was inspired by Lanfranco’s frescoes in the nearby church of Sant’Andrea della Valle. On the edges of the dome we see God the Father and Jesus Christ, surrounded by choirs of angels and Old Testament figures; above, in the lantern is the dove of the Holy Spirit. Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah and Daniel are in the pendentives. The young Ciro Ferri, the master’s most loyal pupil also worked on these paintings.
The Vision of St. Philip Neri
Pietro da Cortona’s work in the church of Santa Maria in Vallicella in Rome lasted for nearly thirty years, from 1633 to 1655; it reveals the development of his art and testifies to the close relationship he maintained with the Oratorians from the time he arrived in the city. The fresco on the vault of the nave, glorifying the founder of the Oratorian order, was painted between 1664 and 1664. It portrays St. Philip Neri and the Miracle of the Falling Beam. The episode, recounted by Giacomo Bacci refers to the vision the saint had one night while rebuilding the church. The Virgin Mary miraculously intervened to hold up a rotting beam in the old chapel and thus saved both the image of the Madonna Vallicelliana and the Blessed Sacrament. Celebrating the works of St. Philip, Pietro gave his composition a very realistic and narrative tone, without the illusionistic effects he used in the cupola and apse.Iconography
St. Charles Borromeo Carrying the Holy Nail
Félibien writes of a “competition” between Pietro da Cortona and Pierre Mignard to decorate the main altar in the Barnabite church of San Carlo ai Catinari. The French painter lost. This painting portrays The Procession of St. Charles Borromeo Carrying the Holy Nail during the plague epidemic in Milan in 1576. The event became popular in Rome after the plague struck there in 1656. Beneath a huge canopy we see St. Charles Borromeo in pontifical robes carrying the precious relic that Theodosius had given to Milan. Recent studies would suggest an earlier dating for the painting. about ten years prior to the traditional 1667 relating it to the work Pietro did in the tribune of Santa Maria in Vallicella.Iconography