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Saturday, May 14, 2016

Federico Zuccari

Cupid and Pan, ca. 1600,  Federico Zuccari,
with detail images above and below.
Sometimes I find it hard to believe that a relatively important artist, with excellent credentials and outstanding ability has also remained quite relatively unknown today. Usually, if an artist fails to rise above his contemporaries, there's a pretty good reason for his or her failure to do so. However, for the life of me, I can't account for any good reason in a surprising number of instances. The Italian Mannerist painter, Federico Zuccari is a good case in point. Though he lacked formal, academic training, having likely been taught to paint by his older brother (by eleven years), Taddeo Zuccari, who likewise lacked formal academic training, both were quite successful journeymen painters of portraits, religious, as well as mythological frescoes. Taddeo began painting in Rome when he was just fourteen, and sent for his brother, Federico, to help him in 1550 when the boy was a mere lad of ten.

Federico Zuccari self-portraits,
the bottom one including his wife, Francesco.

Zuccari was born at Sant'Angelo in Vado, near Urbino (Marche). Having been born in 1540, almost unbelievably, young Federico was yet a prepubescent child of ten when he began his painting career as his older brother's assistant. His career as a painter began in 1550, when he moved to Rome at the behest of his older brother. In the years to follow, Federico went on to complete decorations for Pope Pius IV, and help complete the fresco decorations at the Villa Farnese at Caprarola. The list of decorating projects in which he and his brother were involved could only be considered impressive--the Casina Pio IV, the Grimani Chapel, the Pucci Chapel in the church of Trinità dei Monti and the San Marcello al Corso, all in Rome, as well as the San Francesco della Vigna, in Venice. By the 1570s, still in his thirties, Federico was to be found decorating the Cathedral of Orvieto and the Oratorio del Gonfalone in Rome. He then moved to Florence in 1573 to complete the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore (the Florence Cathedral, often referred to as simply the Duomo), begun by an aging Giorgio Vasari, who died in 1574.

Dome of the Basilica of Santa Maria del-Fiore, 1568-79
Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari
Having achieved a degree of fame in Florence, Zuccari was called back to Rome by Pope Gregory XIII to continue work started earlier in the Pauline chapel of the Vatican. Shortly thereafter, Zuccari visited Brussels, and from there, in 1574, went on to England. There he received a commission from Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester to portray himself and Queen Elizabeth. He also painted her rival, Mary, Queen of Scots, Sir Nicholas Bacon, Sir Francis Walsingham, and the Lord High Admiral Howard. Taking his cue from his idol, Giorgio Vasari of a generation before, Zuccari worked at being an art critic and historian. His only major work, L'idea de' Pittori, Scultori, ed Architetti (The Ideas of Painters, Sculptors, and Architects), was far less popular than Vasari's groundbreaking tomes. Zuccari was raised to the rank of cavaliere not long before his death at Ancona in 1609.

Margaret of Savoy, 1605, Federico Zuccari
So, why is Federico Zuccari now considered, at best, only a footnote in the history of Italian painters. It's hard to say for sure. Part of the problem may be the era in which he worked. Mannerist painters, taken as a whole, have fared less well in the "fame game" than their Renaissance idols or their Baroque followers. Then too, much of Zuccari's career was spent playing "second fiddle" to his older brother, and then later in the shadow of the justifiably famous Vasari. Be that as it may, Zuccari was quite financially well off, his home in Rome, the Palazzo Zuccari (below,) would rate well above that of most painters of his time. As I said in the beginning, I can't really account for Zuccari's loss of prestige following his death. Suffice to say it happens fairly often, while the reverse, as demonstrated in the case of Vincent van Gogh's posthumous rise to fame, seems to be quite rare.

Palazzo Zuccari,1590, Rome

Porta di Palazzo Zuccari,
late 16th-century, Federico Zuccari


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