Fra Bartolommeo della Porta was apprenticed to Cosimo Rosselli in Florence in 1484. According to Vasari he was heavily influenced by Leonardo da Vinci even though Leonardo had possibly left for Milan in 1481/2 and left only a handful of works.
In 1498, Bartolommeo was in the convent of San Marco. Savonarola was Prior at the time and when the convent was stormed and Savonarola was dragged off to prison (later executed), Bartolommeo vowed to become a monk. Two years later he did.
By this time he was active as a painter, but when he became a monk he did no painting for four years. In 1504, he became head of the monastery workshop, a position once held by Fra Angelico. Four years later, he visited Venice, and saw the great sacre conversazioni by Giovanni Bellini.
On his return from Venice, he took Mariotto Albertinelli into partnership. In 1514, he was in Rome and painted a St Peter and a St Paul which are both now in the Vatican. St Peter was left incomplete and was finished by Raphael. Though Vasari suggests the fame of Raphael hastened Fra Bartolommeo's return to Florence, it is not backed up with any documentary evidence.
He developed his ideals of simplicity and balance in composition, decorum of presentation, the use of telling gestures and rapt expressions, the exclusion of picturesque detail, and the adoption of the sober and rather generalized settings. He introduced figures in strong contrapposto for its own sake, and was among the first to replace contemporary costume with nondescript drapery in his religious figures, in order to stress the gulf between the divine and earthly. All these ideas mark the change from the style of the 15th century to that of the 16th - the High Renaissance, of which he was one of the first representatives in Florence. His God the Father with Saints (1509, Lucca) is contemporary with the beginning of Raphael's Stanze and is comparable in many ways. His influence was spread by his huge output of drawings, including some very fine landscapes, forty of which were rediscovered in the 1950s.
He is also said to have invented the lay figure, a jointed wooden figure, often life-size, which can be used either to arrange drapery on or as a guide to a complicated pose.
- His earliest extant work, the Last Judgement, now in S.Marco, was begun in 1499 and was partly finished by Albertinelli
- After his death the S. Marco workshop petered out
- Besancon (Cath.)
- Cambridge Mass. (Fogg)
- Florence (Accad., Pitti, Uffizi, Mus. di S. Marco)
- London (NG)
- Los Angeles
- Lucca (Mus., Cath.)
- Paris (Louvre)
- Philadelphia (Johnson)
- Rome (Gall. Naz.)
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