The three scenes from the Passion (the Resurrection, Crucifixion and Entombment) are connected to each other by a group of flying angels all converging towards the figure of Christ in the centre, and by a common landscape background, which has been correctly judged “the most powerful interpretation, of the Tuscan landscape in the entire history of painting” (Berti).
The scene that has been most highly praised, and which is probably the best preserved, is the Resurrection, originally the first to the left.
The splendid synopia which was discovered when the fresco was detached from the wall is today on exhibit alongside the fresco itself.
Andrea del Castagno (originally Andrea di Bartolodi Bargilla), one of the most influential 15th-century Italian Renaissance painters, best known for the emotional power and naturalistic treatment of figures in his work.
Little is known of Castagno’s early life, and it is also difficult to ascertain the stages of his artistic development owing to the loss of many of his paintings. As a youth, he was precocious. He executed a mural of Cosimo de’ Medici’s adversaries (rebels hanging by their heels) at the Palazzo del Podestà in Florence, earning him the byname Andreino degli Impiccati (“Little Andrea of the Hanged Men”).
In Vasari’s The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, Castagno was discovered drawing in the countryside of the Mugello, by the Florentine nobleman, Bernardetto de’Medici, who brought Castagno to Florence to become a painter.
In 1442 he was in Venice, where with Francesco da Faenza he painted the signed and dated frescoes on the vault of the San Tarasio chapel in the church of San Zaccaria. The stylistically uniform decoration of the chapel, however, leads one to conclude that Francesco’s intervention must have been marginal. The Venice murals, the earliest surviving dated work by Andrea, demonstrate his interest in using perspective foreshortening to impart monumentality and physical density to his athletic figures. The murals also show the influence of Paolo Uccello, Filippo Lippi, and above all, Donatello on the young artist.
His first notable works were a Last Supper and three scenes from the Passion of Christ, all for the former Convent of Sant’Apollonia in Florence, now known as the Cenacolo di Sant’Apollonia and also as the Castagno Museum.
These monumental frescoes, revealing the influence of Masaccio’s pictorial illusionism and Castagno’s own use of scientific perspective, received wide acclaim. In his altarpiece painting of the Assumption of the Virgin for San Miniato fra le Torri in Florence, Castagno’s style more closely resembled International Gothic.
In 1451 Castagno continued the frescoes at San Egidio begun earlier by Domenico Veneziano. The light tones that Castagno adopted for his outstanding St Julian (1454-55) show Veneziano’s influence.
In a work for a loggia of the Villa Carducci Pandalfini at Legnaia, Castagno broke with earlier styles and painted a larger-than-life-size series of Famous Men and Women, within a painted frame (now in the Castagno Museum, Florence). In this work, Castagno displayed more than mere craftsmanship; he portrayed movement of body and facial expression, creating dramatic tension. Castagno set the figures in painted architectural niches, thus giving the impression that they are actual sculptural forms. He achieved similar force in his Youthful David (National Gallery, Washington, D.C.), painted on a shield.
In 1456 Andrea painted the fresco in Santa Maria del Fiore of the equestrian monument to Niccolò da Tolentino, and in 1457 the Last Supper (lost in 2002) in the refectory of Santa Maria Nuova. Andrea’s very intense activity was interrupted by his sudden death, probably from the plague, in 1457.
Castagno’s emotionally expressive realism was strongly influenced by Donatello, and Castagno’s work in turn influenced succeeding generations of Florentine and Paduan painters.
The scene that has been most highly praised, and which is probably the best preserved, is the Resurrection, originally the first to the left. Here, Christ rises up with the monumentality and the solidity of a statue, only slightly mellowed by his melancholy expression and the pale, soft daylight surrounding him. Below him, a group of soldiers lie sound asleep; only one of them has just woken up and observes the incredible event with his mouth open. His features are almost deformed by a blackish shading which makes the modelling hard and sharpedged.
One of Andrea del Castagno’s most famous works is his painting of the Last Supper under the story of the Passion of Christ. Until recently, the colors of “The Last Supper” seemed to be much darker than the scene directly above it. This fact has caused many heated debates among scholars about the age of the murals. But after the most recent cleaning (1977-79), the color and tone contrast between the two levels has disappeared, and the color of the Last Supper has been restored to its original beauty.
André painted from June to October 1447. Two rows of scenes, one on the other, but he gave them a visual unity: the story of the crucifixion of the upper fresco is actually believed to take place in the space behind the room, and the last supper on the lower floor is taking place.