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Home / Great Artists / C / Pietro Berettini da Cortona / Biography
Biography Pietro Berettini da Cortona

Pietro Berettini da Cortona Biography


1596-1669


Italian Baroque Painter and Architect


Pietro da Cortona, byname of Pietro Berettini (November 1, 1596- May 16, 1669) was a prolific artist and architect of High Baroque Rome. In painting, Cortona is best known for his frescoes, where he competed with Andrea Sacchi and others, but also as an architect, contemporary with Bernini and Borromini.
Early years
Pietro Berrettini was born in Cortona in Tuscany, then part of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.
After a trip in Parma, where he encountered Correggio's art, he moved to Rome around 1614, where he started to produce copy of Raphael and Caravaggio works.
His first works were painted for the Sacchetti family and are now in the Capitoline Gallery, Rome, along with other works of his, but he was soon taken up by the powerful Barberini family - the family of Urban VIII - for whom he painted frescoes in the ancient church of Santa Bibiana, Rome (1624-1626).
Grand Salon of Palazzo Barberini
Fresco cycles were numerous in Cortona's Rome; most represented framed episodes imitating canvases such as found in the Sistine Chapel ceiling or in Carraccis' The Loves of the Gods in the Farnese gallery (completed 1601). In 1633, Pietro da Cortona began the fresco painting of ceiling of the Palazzo Barberini (now the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome), commissioned Pope Urban VIII (Maffeo Barberini). Completed six years later, the huge fresco represents a Allegory of Divine Providence and Barberini Power. A sketch for it is now exhibited with it, but its authenticity is open to doubt. The fresco is an illusion with the central field apparently open to the sky and scores of figures seen 'al di Sotto in Su' apparently coming into the room itself or floating above it.
Cortona's panegyric trompe l'oeil extavaganzas have lost favor in minimalist sardonic times; they are precursors of sunny and cherubim infested rococo excesses. They stand in stark contrast with darker renegade naturalism prominent in Caravaggisti, and reminds us that the Baroque was not a monolithic style. Cortona, like Bernini in sculpture, appears reactionary, patronizing; yet if excellence in art is measured by the ability to match style to intent within the limitations of the medium, then Cortona is triumphant. He was among the first of the fresco painters that sought to dispense with the architectural roof by painting it away with integral architecture and a broad, non-framed vista. While rising heavenward, these works, like the Barberini Allegory are meant to stagger and humble the visitor as if he (she) stood over, and not below, a looming abyss of mythic power, which threatens to overwhelm the observer.
Palazzo Pitti and others
Pietro also went in 1641 to Florence and began a series of frescoes for the Sala della Stufa (Palatine Gallery) in the Palazzo Pitti. These were based on the "ages" of silver and gold. Grand duke Ferdinando II de' Medici commissioned the Bronze Age and Iron Age. Intended to represent the four ages of man, this decorative program also refers to the Medici lineage. The next fresco decorations were a series of ceilings for the grand-ducal apartments, depicting astrological deities such as Jupiter, Mars, and Venus framed with one exception by elaborate stuccowork. Pietro left Florence in 1647. His pupil, Ciro Ferri, completed the cycle in the 1660s.
He also painted the ceiling frescoes in the Oratorian Chiesa Nuova (Santa Maria in Vallicella), in Rome, which was not finished until 1665. Other frescoes are in Palazzo Pamphilj.
Towards the end of his life he devoted much of his time to architecture, but he published a treatise on painting in 1652 under a pseudonym and in collaboration. He refused invitations to both France and Spain. Cortona and Andrea Sacchi were involved in theoretical controversies.
Architectural projects
Among Pietro's more important architectural projects are Santi Luca e Martina in the Roman Forum (completed in 1664) at the Forum Romanum, the noteworthy exterior renewal of the ancient Santa Maria della Pace (1656-1667), and the façade (with an unusual loggia) of Santa Maria in Via Lata (appr. 1660). Other works were influential in their time, but are no longer extant, such as the Casino al Pigneto del Marchese Sacchetti and the highly decorated Villa Pigneto Sacchetti near Ostia. The convex facade and elaborate staircases of the casino is a stunning baroque creation.
Anatomical plates
Prior to becoming famous as an architect, Pietro drew anatomical plates that would not be engraved and published until a hundred years after his death. The plates in Tabulae anatomicae are now thought to have been started around 1618. The dramatic and highly studied poses effected by the figures are in keeping with the style of other Renaissance Baroque anatomical artists, although nowhere does such an approach find any fuller expression than in these plates.