By Anthony Miller 11:13 am PST
Title: Portrait of a Knight of Rhodes. Description: An Unknown Man by Franciabigio, 1514. (National Gallery, London) Portrait of a Knight of Rhodes. Date:1514. Dimensions: height: 60.3 cm (23.7 in), width: 45.7 cm (17.9 in). (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Franciabigio (1482 – January 24, 1525) was an Italian painter during the time of the Florentine Renaissance. It has been discovered that his real name may have been Francesco di Cristofano, however he also is referred to as either Marcantonio Franciabigio or Francia Bigio.

Born in Florence, he initially worked under Albertinelli until around 1506. In 1505 he became friends with Andrea del Sarto; and the two painters set up a shop together in the Piazza del Grano. A proficient fresco artist, Vasari claimed that Franciabigio surpassed all his contemporaries in this method. However, his painting truly gathers naturalistic power in his portraits, and not religious paintings and frescoes.

Title: Betrothal of the Virgin. Description: marriage of the Virgin. Depicted people: Virgin Mary. Date: 1513. Medium: fresco. Dimensions: height: 395 cm (12.9 ft); width: 321 cm (10.5 ft). (Photo: Wikimedia Commons )

In 1513, he frescoed the Marriage of the Virgin in the cloister of the Annunziata as part of a larger series primarily directed by Andrea del Sarto, and was largely overshadowed by the latter’s masterpiece of Birth of the Virgin. According to Vasari, the friars had uncovered this work before it was finished, and Franciabigio became so incensed that he seized a mason’s hammer and struck at the head of the Virgin, and some other heads. The fresco, which would otherwise be his masterpiece, remains thus mutilated.

Title Madonna of the Well. Franciabigio . Description: Deutsch:: Madonna mit Kind und hl. Johannes als Kind. Depicted people: Virgin Mary, Christ Child, John the Baptist. Date: circa 1510: Medium: tempera on panel. Dimensions: height: 106 cm (41.7 in) , width: 81 cm (31.8 in. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

A plethora of other artists worked under Sarto at the cloister, including Rosso Fiorentino, Pontormo, Francesco Indaco, and Baccio Bandinelli.

A year later, he frescoed a Mategnesque Last Supper for the Convento della Calza in Florence. In 1518-19, at the Convento della Salzo, in another series of frescoes on which Andrea del Sarto was employed at the same time, he created the Departure of John the Baptist for the Desert, and the Meeting of the Baptist with Jesus.

In 1520-21, he frescoed Triumph of Cicero on the walls of the salon at the villa Medici at Poggio a Caiano, but once again found himself overshadowed by Potormo’s naturalistic lunette of Vertumnus and Pomona. The depicted figures appear to look distraught rather than celebratory, and the antique details are a melange of quotations.

There have been a variety of famous works which have been ascribed to Raphael but are in reality said to be by Franciabigio. One of these works is the Madonna del Pozzo, with its awkwardly muscular John the Baptist; and also include some of his portraits, including the half figure of a Young Man. These two works share similarities to another in the Pitti gallery in terms of style, again supposedly by Franciabigio, a Youth at a Window, and to some others — which bear his recognized monogram.

As a series of portraits, considered as a collection, display the eminent and idiosyncratic genius of the master in full effect. Two more of his works, of some renown, are the Calumny of Apelles, in the Pitti Palace, and the Bath of Bathsheba (painted in 1523), in the Dresden gallery.

Franciabigio appears more sculptural and less forward-looking when compared to his younger and more contemporary colleague, del Sarto. The Quattrocento monumentality (or stiffness) of the poses is evident in figures. Franciabigio tends to focus more on linearity and balance in fresco, recalling Massacio, while the complexity in Sarto’s paintings reflect a clear understanding of the dissipating velvety colorful fabric of molding that characterizes Venetian work.

Franciabigio, The Triumph of Cicero, c. 1520, fresco at Villa Medicea di Poggio a Caiano. Dimensions 580 × 530 cm (19 × 17.3 ft), Date circa 1520 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons )

The Medici maintained close ties with Franciabigio. In around 1520, Giulio de’ Medici commissioned him for the entire cycle of frescoes at Poggio a Caiano, which he was expected to split between Andrea del Sarto and Pontormo. Like Sarto, he frescoed one of the larger and more prominent lower fields in the room. His Triumph of Cicero is based on Plutarch in which the ‘Pater Patriae’, following a period of exile, is carried by a vigorous frieze of figures to the Capitoline reconstructed above in the background – alluding to Cosimo il Vecchio’s return from an exile of his own. The fresco sits comfortably alongside the more recognized and renowned images by Andrea del Sarto and Pontormo, which together exert the force of a Medici Golden Age in an impressive private setting on the outskirts of Florence. In a similar way to Sarto’s, this fresco has lateral additions by Alessandro Allori in the right half.


Title: Annunciation. Franciabigio. Depicted people: Virgin Mary. Date:1510s. Medium: oil on panel: Dimensions: 51.5 cm (20.2 in). (Photo: Wikimedia Commons )

Title: Mary from the Annunciation pair (detail).Franciabigio. DescriptionAnnunciation. Date: 1510s. Medium: oil on panel. Dimensions height: 51.5 cm (20.2 in). (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)









Head of the Madonna. Franciabigio (Francesco di Cristofano) Italian. ca. 1509. (Photo: The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Public Domain)

Says The Met regarding this work: The young Florentine artist Franciabigio shared a workshop near the Palazzo della Signoria with Andrea del Sarto from around 1506. This delicate, fragmentary head of the Madonna relies closely on a painting by del Sarto of the Madonna and Child with the Young Saint John the Baptist that was probably painted around 1508 and hung in the Giustiniani collection in Rome in the seventeenth century. It is a demonstration of the close working relationship between one of the greatest Florentine artists of the sixteenth century and this talented painter.
The frame is seventeenth century, probably Bolognese.

Original publication: Art in Tucascany