A multi-talented artist, Rosso Fiorentino was also famous for his red hair, fiery, restless yet charming personality. He was also revolutionary in his techniques in painting as he became adept at oil, tempera and drawing combined with the high level of training and education he received in Rome, Florence and the School of Fontainebleau, France. In fact, he was one of the pioneers of Fontainebleau school of Arts that flourished during the late Renaissance.
For his contemporaries like Giorgio Vasari, Rosso albeit restless was gentle and gracious when speaking and he was also an excellent musician. Art histories would agree that Rosso was an important figure of Mannerism movement because of his large contributions to its development. He was a well-travelled artist and through these journeys that he was able to introduce Italian Mannerism in Northern Europe.
Giovanni Battista di Jacopo was born on March 8, 1494 in Florence. He had a bright red hair that gave him the nick name “Il Rosso” by his family and colleagues. His first training as a painter began under the mentorship of Andrea Del Sarto. He was only 17 years old at the time but he only managed to stay in Sarto’s workshop over a short period of time because he seemed to be disinterested in getting associated with the most successful apprentices of his city.
When he left Sarto’s workshop, he had already been collaborating with Jacopo Pontormo, who was just as ambitious as Rosso. Together, they developed a painting technique that would pave the way for the emergence of Mannerism. His innovative ideas and talent earned him a membership to the painter’s guild around 1517.
At the same year, Rosso was asked to decorate the ceiling and wall of Santissima Annunziata with Assumption of the Virgin as the theme and subject. It was one of his earliest successful works as an independent artist and later on, he would have painted some more masterpieces for the Cappella della Groce di Giorno. For this chapel in San Francesco in Volterra, he painted the Deposition from the Cross in 1521. This masterpiece has now been moved to Pinacoteca.
The following years had been quite modest for Rosso while he traveled to one city to another throughout Northern Italy. In 1524, he was finally in Rome wherein he had done a number of frescoes for the chapel of Santa Maria della Pace. He stayed in Rome for about three years doing engraving works and drawings of Renaissance-inspired figures and themes.
In 1527, when Rome fell into the hands of its invaders, Rosso retreated to Perugia. He briefly stayed in Perugia for he had received little commissions so decided to move to Borgo San Sepolcro in Tuscany. However it was in Umbria where an opportunity for work knocked in. He was called upon by the Cathedral of Citta di Castello to paint a Risen Christ for them, which he completed by 1530.
After completing the Risen Christ commission, Rosso then fled to Venice to study some art works there. But not long after settling at Venice, his works were taken notice by King Francois I of France so he left Venice for Paris in 1530’s.
In 1532, he would have been working for King Francis successfully as he had a steady flow of income. His painting techniques improved while under the patronage of the monarch. He perfected his stucco technique and thus became capable of painting wall and ceiling decorations in the Fontainebleau Palace at Paris. This royal opportunity definitely made him affluent, influential and popular.
While working as a court artist in France, Rosso also served as a master at the School of Fontainebleau. He spent most of his middle and advanced years in the school, but his most significant work is the Volterra.
In 1521, Rosso Fiorentino painted the Deposition from the Cross for Volterra in Tuscany. It is an allegorical painting of the dead Christ being brought down by some people. This kind of subject had already been painted by Filippino Lippi although it was unfinished and had to be completed by Perugino after Lippi’s death in 1504.
What differentiates Rosso’s painting of the Deposition from Lippi and Perugino was the way he arranged the figures as experts would put it “calligraphically”. Meaning to say, the characters were drawn and arranged on the surface to maximize the space available. Rosso did not want his painting to be looking too spacious but he maximized it with expressive and emotive gestures of his characters combined with quite bold and dramatic colors.
The characters in the upper section of the painting were caught in a moment of frenzy while they carry the dead body of Christ down from his cross. Meanwhile, the characters in the lower section looked lost and confused suggesting that they feel anguish over Christ’s death. And because of the strait background, it elicited great focus on the scene from the onlookers and thus affecting them grief and sorrow by just looking at the Deposition.
From 1524 to 1527, Rosso Fiorentino had been working on the series of frescoes for the Cesi Chapel. These art creations were meant to rival the Genesis fresco of Michelangelo for the Sistine Chapel. However, unfortunately, Rosso could only do so much that Michelangelo’s fresco was more popular and highly influential.
Art historians do believe though that the way Cesi Chapel frescoes were painted was Michelangelo-esque. They appear to be some kind of prototypes than original paintings of Rosso particularly on the depiction of Creation of Eve painting.
This masterpiece was Rosso’s last major commission in Italy before he left for France in 1530. The Risen Christ had a personal allegorical meaning to his life; it was the time when he finally decided to free himself from the influence of Michelangelo.
The Risen Christ was also a culmination of feelings and experiences of Rosso’s life when in Rome, particularly during the Sack of Rome in 1527. Therefore, this work contains a high level of intensity through complex composition and an added enigma in coloring.
Rosso Fiorentino found his golden age in France under the patronage of King Francois I. He became the leading artist of the said school of arts, specializing in French Mannerism. He dedicated the remaining years of his life doing murals for the Fontainebleau palace.
One of his most notable works there was the decorations he made in the Gallery of Francis I, where he executed mythological paintings like Ovid’s Metamorphoses. These were supposed to be the allegorical paintings of the monarch’s life thus they were properly restored in the palace.
The successful career of Rosso in Fontainebleau set the propagation of Mannerism in France and Italy. His works and professional life served as sources of inspiration for his contemporaries, students and emerging artists.
Autobiographer Giorgio Vasari told in his book that Rosso took his life in his last few days at Fontainebleau. But this claim by Vasari provided poor evidence that it has been questioned since. The only fact about Rosso’s death was he died on November 14, 1540 in France, leaving his legacy behind his colleagues and students at the school.