Fra Bartolommeo

1472 - 1517

Italian Renaissance Painter

Artistically Influenced by the Following Painters - Magenta,   Raphael, Fra Angelico,  Leonardo da Vinci,  Masaccio and Mariotto Albertinelli

Education - apprenticed in the studio of Cosimo Rosselli and a pupil on Magenta

Cause of Death - The Friar became paralyzed  when he fell out of a window while working on a painting. He later contracted severe food poisoning after eating a great quantity of figs.  He developed a violent fever and died in several days later. He was just of forty-eight years of age.


 Fra Bartolommeo was a spiritual man as well as a gifted artist. One  the most innovative and accomplished painters of the Italian Renaissance, he created dazzling, instantly recognizable narratives. His art-works are brimming with spiritualism and heartfelt piety. They are truly masterpieces created with both craft and compassion.

A Tuscan born painter and a member of the Dominican Order, he strove to walk in the light of Jesus and was said to pray as much as he painted. Bartolommeo fervently believed that talent should only be used to glorify Gods Holy Word and play a intentional role in uplifting people from their spiritual blindness. He thought that the true artist was a believer who would present images which would educate and transform mans sinful nature. According to Renaissance scholar John C. Van Dyke "He was a religionist, a follower of Savonarola, and a man of soul who thought to do work of a religious character and feeling; but he was also a fine painter, excelling in composition, drawing, drapery, color. The painter's element in his work, its material and earthly beauty, rather detracted from its spiritual significance. He opposed the sensuous and the nude, and yet about the only nude he ever painted—a St. Sebastian for San Marco—had so much of the earthly about it that people forgot the suffering saint in admiring the fine body, and the picture had to be removed from the convent. In such ways religion in art was gradually undermined, not alone by naturalism and classicism but by art itself. Painting brought into life by religion no sooner reached maturity than it led people away from religion by pointing out sensuous beauties in the type rather than religious beauties in the symbol."

In the years when Fra Bartolommeo fell under the spell of the radical self-proclaimed prophet, Savonarola, his works were especially pious while retaining their enchantment and warmth. 

Who was Savonarola?

Savonarola,  1452-1498, like  Fra Bartolommeo, was a Dominican Friar who sermonized before huge crowds with a fiery fanatical zeal. His radical sermons quickly earned him enormous influence over not only the common peasant but artists, writers and members of the aristocracy. Many of his followers declared him a prophet whose words came directly from God. Savonarola despised the eroticized Virgin Marys and the leering nude cherubs of Raphael. He was anti-humanistic and detested poetry, literature, perfume, non religious art or anything that was vaguely fun. Savonarola declared "They have built up a new Church after their own patter. Go to Rome and see! In the mansions of the great prelates there is no concern save for poetry and the oratorical art. Go thither and see!"  He encouraged painters and patrons alike to burn all artworks that did not conform to his strict code of morality. Thousands of the greatest masterpieces ever created by some of the giants of renaissance art were tossed into his notorious Bonfire of the Vanities.

The Effect of the Bonfire of the Vanities on Fra Bartolommeo

According to distinguished art historian, Sarah Tytler, "Fra Bartolommeo, called also Baccio della Porta, or Bartholomew of the gate, from the situation of his lodgings when a young man, but scarcely known in Italy by any other name than that of Il Frate, or the Friar, was born near Florence, and trained from his boyhood to be a painter. In his youth, however, a terrible public event convulsed Florence, and revolutionized Baccio della Porta's life. He had been employed to paint in that notable Dominican convent of St Mark, where Savonarola, its devoted friar, was denouncing the sins of the times, including the profligate luxury of the nobles and the degradation of the representatives of the Church. Carried away by the fervour and sincerity of the speaker, Baccio joined the enthusiasts who cast into a burning pile the instruments of pride, vanity, and godless intellect denounced by the preacher. Baccio's sacrifice to the flaming heap of splendid furniture and dress, and worldly books, was all his designs from profane subjects and studies of the undraped figure. A little later Savonarola was excommunicated by the Pope and perished as a martyr; and Baccio, timid from his natural temper, distracted by doubt, and altogether horror-stricken, took a monk's vows, and entered the same convent of St Mark, where for four years he never touched a pencil."

Upon the death of his arch enemies Pope Innocent VIII  and Lorenzo de Medici a political power vacuum developed  and Savonarola became ruler of the city of Florence. With the help of his fanatical supporters he ruled with an iron hand, installing a Taliban style regime that criminalized gambling, decadent clothing and sentenced homosexuals and adulterers to death. He stated that the syphilis epidemic was Gods punishment upon backsliders and transgressors and enforced a strict code of moral conduct. Followers of the radical Friar went on frequent destructive rampages destroying anything that did not conform to Savonarola's militant conception of theology and Christian morality. After a time the people of Florence had had enough of his madness and puritanical laws. In 1498 Sandoval was charged with sedition, uttering false prophesies and various religious transgressions. He was charged, jailed and horrifically tortured for several days but never recanted his words. A trial of sorts was held and he was declared guilty.  Sandoval and two of his loyal Dominican disciples were hanged from a huge cross and burned until nothing but ashes remained. During the burning his supporters chanted "Charity is extinct, Love of God is no more. All are lukewarm; And without living faith. . . .Alas! the Saint is dead! Alas! O Lord! Alas! Thou hast taken our Prophet And drawn him to thyself." After Savonarola's death the artists and art of Florence continued to evolve and thrive.


Key Descriptive Words  and Phrases associated with the Renaissance Movement rebirth, rediscovery of the classical world,  publication of Della Pittura, a book about the laws of mathematical perspective for artists,  sfumato, chiaroscuro, spiritually significant,  illuminated manuscript,  idealized biblical themes, scriptorium, illuminator, plague, Age of Discovery, curiosity about the natural world,  realistic use of colours and  light, Old Testament stories, ethereal and foggy backgrounds, Gospel parables, romanticized landscapes,  Christian symbolism.

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