In 2017 it will be the 500 years since the Italian painter Fra Bartolommeo died at the age of forty-four. He was famed for his drawings and paintings, characterised by monumental figures, bright colours and a tranquil lyricism. From 15 October 2016, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen is staging a spectacular tribute to this great artist with the exhibition Fra Bartolommeo – The Divine Renaissance.
Fra Bartolommeo (1473-1517) was one of the leading artists of the Italian High Renaissance. A Dominican friar, he trained in the workshop of the Florentine painter Cosimo Rosselli and was a highly skilled perfectionist. His use of perspective and geometry was carefully considered and he made numerous preparatory sketches for the depiction of the voluminous drapery of his figures’ clothing. The results are extremely imposing, harmonious paintings that exude a rarefied piety.
Religion played an important role in Fra Bartolommeo’s work. Under the influence of the puritan Dominican preacher Fra Girolamo Savonarola (1452-1498), who organised bonfires of songbooks, musical instruments, images of naked bodies and other ‘vanities’, Fra Bartolommeo destroyed his nude study drawings in 1498. Fra Bartolommeo’s famous posthumous portrait of Savonarola became the icon of the Dominican order.
Light, atmosphere and colour
Fra Bartolommeo entered the Dominican order in 1500 and briefly stopped painting. From 1504 he headed the painting studio in the convent of San Marco. In the years 1504-05 Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and the young Raphael – the three other great masters of the High Renaissance ¬– were active in Florence and became acquainted with each other’s work. In 1508 Fra Bartolommeo took a short trip to Venice, where his exposure to the Venetian masters increased his appreciation of light, atmosphere and colour. Between 1509 and 1517 Fra Bartolommeo was at the height of his fame, creating a furore with ambitious altarpieces, two of which are four metres high. The museum has succeeded in bringing several of them to Rotterdam, indeed more than was initially envisioned. None of these paintings have been shown in the Netherlands before and several of them have never even left Tuscany.
From drawing to painting
Fra Bartolommeo – The Divine Renaissance shows how Fra Bartolommeo planned his paintings in great detail with preparatory drawings. No other 16th-century artist’s working process can be reconstructed in such detail: there are no fewer than sixty surviving preparatory drawings for his famous fresco The Last Judgement (1499-1501), half of which are featured in the exhibition.
The exhibition brings together 11 paintings, ranging from small, early works to large, late works; each accompanied by their preparatory drawings. 120 of these drawings come from the collection of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen and twenty have been loaned by prestigious foreign museums.
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen has the world’s largest collection of drawings by Fra Bartolommeo. In 1729, the Florentine collector Francesco Maria Niccolò Gabburri (1676-1742) assembled five hundred drawings on four hundred sheets into two magnificent albums. The albums changed hands several times following Gabburri’s death. In 1940 they were given to the museum by harbour baron D.G. van Beuningen as part of the former Koenigs Collection.