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Thursday, June 16, 2016

Alessandro Allori

Pearl fishers, 1572, Alessandro Allori--with Michelangelo's
Last Judgment lingering in the back of his mind.
Allegory of Human Life,
Alessandro Allori
Today, in the political realm, when a new idea comes along aiming to change the economic, social, or legal landscape, nothing happens suddenly. There's a very good reason for that "hard wired" into human nature. As much as many might like to hasten some much-needed change, we as human beings do not adapt easily to sudden changes. It takes a society a certain amount of time to wrap their minds around a new idea, whether it has to do with human interactions or those which we have with technology and nature. When it comes to nature we usually have little choice but to adapt or die. Though that's not the case with technology, it may often seem that way (man-datory auto seatbelts for example). Regardless of the nature of change, evolution we can handle. Revolution is painful. Moreover, evol-ution, delayed by a refusal to accept and adapt, leads to the most painful kind of Revolution--warfare (as with the American Civil War).
Sculpted "paintings"
To a somewhat lesser degree those rules also apply to art (though people seldom go to war over art). When new art movements and eras come along, never are they fully embraced immediately. Sometimes full acceptance has taken as long as a century. Following the Renaissance there came nearly a century-long period of turmoil (known as Mannerism) during which time the Classicism of Michelangelo gained full acceptance, then became passé with the advent of 17th-century Baroque (mostly in Rome). Meanwhile, in Florence a few hundred miles north, the legendary birthplace of the Renaissance, change took longer. Legends like Leonardo, Botticelli, Donatello, and others die hard. Change did not come easily for Florentine artists such as Alessandro Allori.
Laocoon, ca. 1570, Alessandro Allori--painted sculpture.
Long after sculptors such as Bernini and Benvenuto Cellini in Rome were carving three-dimensional "paintings" in marble, "old school" artists like Allori in Florence were still painting images of what amounted to two-dimensional statues on canvas, such as his Laocoon (above). Painting and sculpture in Rome was starting to come alive with the advent of the Baroque while Florentine artists were still rendering old-fashioned looking Renaissance works (above). The Florentines did not readily adapt, and thus the city became an art "backwater" while Rome, Naples, Venice, and Milan became flourishing hotbeds of Baroque art and architecture. Those familiar with the architecture these cities can still see and compare the differences even today.

Alessandro Allori was a de' Medici painter at a time when the family
was at the zenith of its power in Florence.
Alessandro Allori
Self-portrait, 1555
In all fairness to Allori, he was more of a portrait painter (above) than the "painter of sculpture" mentioned earlier, though that's not to say the label doesn't fit. Alessandro Allori was born in Florence around 1535. After the death of his father in 1540, the boy was brought up and trained as an artist by his "uncle," Agnolo Bronzino. Allori was the last of the long line of prominent Florentine painters, having an undiluted Tuscan artistic heritage. Andrea del Sarto worked with Fra Bartolomeo (as well as Leonardo da Vinci), Pontormo briefly worked under Andrea, and trained Bronzino, who trained Allori. Among Allori's collaborators were Giovanni Maria Butteri and his main pupil, Giovanni Bizzelli. Cristoforo del Altissimo, Cesare Dandini, Aurelio Lomi, John Mosnier, Alessandro Pieroni, Giovanni Battista Vanni, and Monanni were also his pupils. Allori was one of the artists, working under Vasari, included in the decoration of the Studio of Francesco I. He was also the father of the painter, Cristofano Allori. The fact that you've probably never heard of any of those is an indicator of just how far Florentine painting had sunk by the middle of the 17th-century.

Maria de Medici, Alessandro Allori
Susanna and the Elders,
Alessandro Allori
Art critics have often derided Allori as derivative, claiming he illustrated "the ideal by which art (and style) are generated out of pre-existing art." The polish of his figures has an unnatural marble-like form as if he aimed for cold statuary. It can be said of late-phase Mannerist painting in Florence, that the city which had early on breathed life into statuary with the works of masters like Donatello and Michelangelo, was still so awed by them that it petrified the poses of figures in painting. While by 1600 the Baroque elsewhere was begin-ning to give new life to painted figures, Florence was painting two-dimensional statues. Further-more, in general, it dared not stray far from the high themes or into high emotion. That's a recipe for stagnation.

Venus and cupid, Alessandro Allori

Christ with Mary and Martha,
Alessandro Allori


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