Amico revisited. Drawings by Amico Aspertini and other Bolognese artists 

Uffizi Gallery

Florence, Uffizi Galleries, Department of Prints and Drawings

Amico Aspertini's drawings
This selection of works follows an exhibition held in the Edoardo Detti Room of the Department of Prints and Drawings from 12th December 2014 to 8th February 2015. This exhibition was the result of an investigation into the group of drawings by Amico Aspertini (Bologna, 1473/75-1552) stored at the museum in Florence. This study led to significant changes in the total number of sheets that we can certainly refer to the artist, allowing for a fresh interpretation of the painter which highlights the underlying motives behind his research. Drawings by other contemporary artists from Bologna (both native and adopted) offer a special insight into the context in which Aspertini operated, enabling an all-round understanding of his work.
The artistic context
At the beginning of the sixteenth century, various cultural catalysts were at play in Bologna. The city was a thriving hub for humanities, thanks in part to its university (the "Studium"), and this was reflected in artists' fascination with the antique, interpreted innovatively using an iconography taken from erudite literary sources. Alongside the importance of works from Venice and Ferrara, the early works of Lorenzo Costa (Ferrara, circa 1460 - Mantua, 1535), Filippino Lippi (Prato, circa 1457 - Florence, 1504) and Perugino (Città della Pieve, circa 1450 - Fontignano, 1524) played a part, as did original reinterpretations of various models (ranging from Tuscany all the way through to Flemish art) by Francesco Francia (Bologna, circa 1450 - 1517). In addition, the year 1500 saw the arrival of the Casio Altarpiece (Paris, Musée du Louvre) by Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio (Milan, 1467-1516), provoking further searches for artists of Leonardo Da Vinci's ilk.

During the early years of his training in Bologna, draughtsman and engraver Marcantonio Raimondi adopted and experimented with influences from the thriving art scene in northern Italy (Ferrara and Padova) in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. This drawing can be ascribed to the earliest period of Marcantonio's career, as it bears a striking resemblance to Mantegna's method of hatching with a pen, adapted in rather a similar way to the niello prints that Francesco Francia favoured.

The artist creates an extremely refined and rather bright image through with narrow pen strokes and dense hatching in various directions.

In this work, probably related to Amico Aspertini's trip to Rome around 1496, we can identify signs of the artist's gradual shift away from the artistic style of Ferrara, Bologna and Padua so characteristic of his earlier experiments. Here we note the highly personal influence of Filippino Lippi's drawing. The subject is not drawn from a specific classical model; it represents an antique design.

This drawing, like other artistic experiments from Lorenzo Costa's Bolognese period, is clear evidence of the links between Bologna and Central Italy at the turn of the 16th century. Here, we see evidence of the artist's new take on Perugino's compositional models, as well as the incisive pen strokes of Florentine Filippino Lippi.

This work, a preparatory study for "The Coronation of the Virgin and Saints" which dates back to 1501 (Bologna, church of San Giovanni in Monte), establishes the essential elements of the composition. It is a quick sketch, but contains many hints of lighting effects, and has the softness of a painting due to the use of diluted ink.

This drawing is associated with the "Madonna and Child in Glory with Saints" altarpiece painted by Francesco Francia in 1502 for the church of Santa Cecilia dei Minori Osservanti just outside Modena. The painting was destroyed in 1945 by a fire at the Kaiser-Friedrich Museum in Berlin, where it was on display at the time. Francia, who also worked as a goldsmith in Bologna, demonstrates his ability to blend different styles and currents used in Italian art in the late 15th century; the influence of Perugino above all, but also Venetian painting such as the work of Bellini.

The unusual iconography in this drawing is taken from "De Aquaeductu Urbis Romae", a work on the problems of Rome's water supply written by Julius Sextus Frontinus, a Roman writer and politician who lived in the 1st century AD. Interpreting the work of Frontinus, Jacopo depicts both the goddess Collatina, who represents the small hill where the water source for the Aqua Virgo aqueduct rises, and the virgin who points out the source of the Aniene River (depicted allegorically at the bottom) to Agrippa's soldiers.

The drawing is a significant example of the open-minded approach to iconography linked to the predilection for mythological allegoresis found not only in the art of Jacopo Francia, but also in the work of his father Francesco. The backdrop for this was the cultured city of Bologna, where the "Studium" constantly produced new editions and commentaries on ancient texts.

The inscription on this work, which is ancient but nonetheless not genuine, led to erroneously identify the figure portrayed as Alessandro Achillini (Bologna, 1461 or 1463-1512). The person depicted is actually Alessandro's brother Giovanni, known as Filoteo (Bologna, 1466-1538), a well-read scholar of classics and literature who studied the Etruscan language and was familiar with Greek and Latin. Like Alessandro, there are documented contacts between him and Amico Aspertini.

Towards the end of the first decade of the 16th century and during the second decade, Aspertini's independence from accepted standards of beauty and his interest in psychological introspection gave rise to a small number of portraits that were nonetheless incisive. The execution of this drawing dates it to the start of his mature period, probably the end of the 1500s. The subtly naturalistic style is combined with a certain idealisation of the subject, while the muted expressive tension is intended to depict the poet's moral gravitas and inner refinement.

In this work, Francia abandons the pen method - his preferred technique - and instead uses black and white chalk. These materials allowed him to obtain much softer and deeper contrasts between light and shade, drastically altering the piece's visual effect. The artist blends the black chalk with gentle gradation, while the reflections of light, particularly on the cheekbones, are rendered with white chalk which is also skilfully blended. This technical experimentation must have been driven by the latest examples of work influenced by Leonardo Da Vinci. Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio was the flag-bearer, having produced a painting for the church of Santa Maria della Misericordia in Bologna in 1500.

AN INDEPENDENT ARTIST, SEEMINGLY WITHOUT RULES. I. Pen drawings
The multi-faceted nature of Amico Aspertini's art is clearly demonstrated by his many pen and ink drawings. He uses this technique constantly, adjusting the strokes according to his different expressive needs and stylistic purposes. In his studies from the antique he favours clean lines, even in his earliest forays. Amico uses vigorous, large pen strokes to investigate plastic and three-dimensional values. He alternates these with short, swift strokes and parallel hatching, which he uses to set down iconographic ideas. In other cases, his works bear certain similarities to woodcuts, particularly the early work of Domenico Campagnola (Venice?, 1500 - Padua, 1564). He also uses a narrow pen to create delicate lighting effects. For Aspertini, constant experimentation with the medium was accompanied by reflections on many artistic influences, such as Michelangelo (Caprese, 1475 - Rome, 1564), Raphael (Urbino, 1483 - Rome, 1520) and various Venetian artists (such as Titian and Domenico Campagnola). This led the artist to challenge himself in his own way with the systematic cross-hatching technique perfected by Marcantonio Raimondi during his mature period in Rome.

This drawing is constructed with outlines drawn with quick strokes of the pen that do not fully complete the forms, and shading created with a rather thinned-out parallel hatching technique. The general arrangement and the speed with which the work was completed indicate that it was intended as a sketch of the overall composition, selectively focusing on proportion and the effects of lights.

The open spaces of the scene in question are portrayed using striking contrasts in light, with deep, dark shadows that obscure the faces of the figures and thicken in the folds of their clothes, while an intense light seems to eat away at their silhouettes.

This work, which can be dated to around the end of the 1510s, reveals the experimentalism and the layers of culture which helped to drive Aspertini's drawing work. The accentuated musculature of the figures and their tendency towards gigantism derive from the work of Michelangelo, while the pen strokes themselves show the influence of Venetian art, particularly the early drawings of Domenico Campagnola, which were in turn associated with the pen drawings of Titian.

The forceful parallel and cross hatching and the pronounced outlines which help the figures to stand out from the background give them a plastic quality, while at the same time creating strong contrasts between light and dark.

II. A comparison with the antique, a dialogue with the contemporary
Reflecting on antiquity was a key aspect of the stratified culture of Bologna's artistic scene: classical models were updated and reinterpreted using examples by contemporary artists with whom the Bolognese School came into contact. Together with an updated and original interpretation of Michelangelo, we can identify an awareness of the work of Giulio Romano in Mantua (Rome, circa 1499 - Mantua, 1546) in some of Aspertini's drawings modelled on classical works, with the sprawling bodies surrounded by solid and compact lines. During the 1530s, Amico increasingly used diluted ink and white lead to create the effects of pictorial corrosion, with the aim of causing the forms to flake away.

This drawing, which depicts a frieze with fantastical and anthropomorphised creatures, most likely dates from Amico's mature period, and specifically from a period of activity in the latter half of the 1530s. It is clear that Aspertini had come into contact with the work of Giulio Romano in Mantua: the massive bodies which were a legacy of Michangelo are reworked here in the grotesque gigantism of forms that Giulio himself used.

The arrangement of the scene in this work, which can be dated to the end of the 1510s, derive from an Italian iconography first used in a fresco by Gherardo Starnina in the Castellani Chapel of the Basilica di Santa Croce (Florence). On the other hand, the poses of the saint's demonic assailants and their displacement throughout the space invite specific comparisons with German art, particularly the engravings of Martin Schongauer. Starting from these points, Amico manages to produce a quite original creation, looking to Michelangelo and ancient art for inspiration with regard to the anatomy of musculature.

This work immortalises the death of Eurydice, who was bitten by a viper as she fled from the shepard Aristaeus. He eagerly and incessantly pursed the beautiful nymph, who was betrothed to Orpheus, and thereby unwittingly caused the tragedy.
From the end of the 1530s onwards, Aspertini began striving to emphasise the effects of colour and light in his works (both drawings and paintings), going as far as to flake and almost corrode the figures.

Besides the dramatic nature of the subject being depicted and the striking dynamism of the composition, additional emotional intensity is provided by a powerful light source positioned above the scene. The artist employs a line in black chalk applied in a rapid, flowing manner, and a vast background in diluted ink. The contrast with the light surface of the paper gives the work a vibrant luminosity.

Aspertini's stylistic decision to magnify the bodies, although he breaks them up using light and colour, represents an original variation on the theme of "gigantism" which featured in many of the artist's experiments from the beginning of the 1530s onwards.

The subjects are taken from a sarcophagus depicting the "Battle of the Centaurs" which must have been in Rome at the turn of the 16th century. The sarcophagus is now lost, but drawings of it remain, along with a cast kept at Palazzo Peruzzi in Florence.
The drawing represents only the central section of the front panel of the sarcophagus, and the original design is interpreted rather freely.

For example, the centaur bending forwards is a variation added by Aspertini. The Bolognese artist established a profound dialogue with classical art. As time went on this increasingly gave him room to reinterpret the originals (within certain limits), as this deviation from the source demonstrates.
Amico frequently returned to the same motif taken from ancient art, reworking it in various studies depending on his needs and the style he wished to use.

It is plausible to conclude that this composition featuring marine deities is linked to a larger mural based on ancient art, given its unusual iconography and striking painting-like qualities.
With its violent and dramatic tone, the work represents the personal interpretation of an iconographic theme derived from antiquity. The artist subjects the model to an original reworking which takes it beyond a simple classical reproduction.

AMICO'S "PEERS" IN BOLOGNA
Amico Aspertini's forceful personality and innovative approach had an impact on other artists working in Bologna in the early 16th century, including Biagio Pupini (known to be active from 1511 to 1551) and Bartolomeo Ramenghi, also known as Bagnacavallo (Bagnacavallo, circa 1484- Bologna, circa 1542). For Pupini, drawing was a fitting means of combining his study of the antique with ideas taken from contemporary art, especially innovations by Aspertini and Roman artists: the importance of Polidoro da Caravaggio (Caravaggio, 1499/1500 - Palermo, 1546), for example, can be seen in the painting-like qualities of the Bolognese artist's work. The relationship between Biagio and Bagnacavallo, established by 1511 at the latest, resulted in major stylistic similarities. Both were capable of reinventing themselves by taking inspiration from other artistic cultures. We soon note the influence of Raphael on their changing styles as his work became known in Bologna, but also as a result of their frequent trips to Rome. Other influences and suggestions were gradually added to these prototypes; Girolamo da Carpi (Ferrara, circa 1501-1556) for example, who moved to Bologna in the mid-1520s, acts as an intermediary between the art of Ferrara and Mantua.

The subject of this drawing derives from the front of a sarcophagus depicting "The Indian Triumph of Bacchus" which is now mounted in a facade in the gardens of Villa Medici in Rome. This may have been studied by Biagio Pupini during his trip to Rome at the beginning of the 1520s. Pupini tackles the classical world through direct contact with ancient artworks, or through copies by contemporary artists, notably Amico Aspertini. Not constrained by any philological intention, he reworks the models in a very personal way.

The painting-like qualities of the scene are derived from facades painted by Polidoro da Caravaggio, closely linked to an evocative interpretation of ancient art. The contrast between the dark background of the paper and the figures, highlighted by striking white brush strokes, is combined with a dense and dynamic depiction of the procession.

This drawing, which dates from the first half of the 1520s, bears the hallmarks of Raphael. In particular, it returns to the iconographic motif from "The Adoration of the Shepherds" created by Raphael in the latter half of the 1510s, which was used in several versions created by his pupils. The scene here is more symmetrical and simpler than the prototype; Bagnacavallo adapts Raphael's model in a softer, more faithful style.

The artist's awareness in attempting to recreate the qualities of a painting using white lead and two shades of ink on a tinted background testify to his close relationship with Biagio Pupini. Stylistically speaking, however, Bagnacavallo is more robust.

This study, which dates from around 1530, is a preparatory sketch for the painting "Virgin with Child in Glory Crowned by Two Angels with Saints Monica and Francis and Two Clients", painted by Bagnacavallo for the church of Santa Maria della Misericordia in Bologna.
The brush strokes in white lead create effects of light and shade, mainly apparent in the figure of the Virgin and the depiction of the countryside. This technique shows the influence of Girolamo Da Carpi's style on Bagnacavallo, and more generally the artist's use of expressive methods taken from the art of Ferrara.

Credits: Story

Exhibition curated by Marzia Faietti with Roberta Aliventi, Laura Da Rin Bettina, Michele Grasso, Giorgio Marini, Raimondo Sassi.

Editing:
Roberta Aliventi
Laura Da Rin Bettina

Revisions:
Marzia Faietti
Raimondo Sassi

An introduction to the exhibition and profiles of each individual work are available on the Euploos website

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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