The luminous colors of the fresco – almost enamel-like – are brilliantly alive now thanks to recent cleaning and restoration, liberating the fresco from past over-painting.
Signorelli also frescoed the other two sections of the same vault quadrant with depictions of the Doctors of the Church ….
..and the Patriarchs:
Do note the stylistic differences between the frescoes of Beato Angelico and those of Luca Signorelli. For the Dominican friar, Beato Angelico, his art was above all an offering to the Lord, his ideal observer of his work, done with painstaking care. Signorelli was focussed on his human spectator who would observe his art from a distance and although working with care, his work was hastier.
After Beato Angelico had abandoned Orvieto for other other commissions, attempts were made to employ other painters, among them Perugino, Renaissance master working in Perugia. His monetary request was too high – and finally in 1499, the work was contracted with Luca Signorelli chosen thanks to his fame for expert yet swift work – and for his reasonable fee.
Starting the work on the vaults in springtime, 1499, he completed the work a year later when also consigning his drawings for the splendid frescoes destined for chapel walls.
Astoundingly, in only three years – 1499 to 1502 – the fresco decoration was executed, with a rapidity quite unique in the history of Italian art.
Although the basic fresco themes would have been decided by the Cathedral’s administrators, clergy and and consulted theologians, Signorelli’s sharp imagination and quirky humor comes through in the seven large scenes on the side walls:
Vasari affirms that Signorelli’s works “were highly praised by Michelangelo” who even lent the elderly painter from Cortona a sizeable sum of money.
Tormenting devils, preachers advised by Satan, muscular young resurrected bodies in monumental compositions full of overlapping and interlinking figures all underscored that interior discomfort and spiritual crisis of the 15th century: a profound influence on the artists of the following century such as Michelangelo.
He especially admired the elderly Signorelli’s extraordinary capacity to depict nude bodies, portrayed in every imaginable position in the Orvieto frescoes. Nude bodies are flung from the sky in stupendous backward foreshortening in the fresco of the Dannati all’Inferno (“The Damned to Hell”)….
…..and tortured and terrified by groping devils:
His skill at the depiction of nudes is evident, too, in the fresco “Resurrection of the Flesh” as resurrected bodies seem to admire their new forms while others push themselves up out of the ground. Signorelli’s sense of humor is there, too: in one fresco, skeletons seem to smile and laugh in delight as flesh is restored to their bony form.
From Beato Angelico’s majesty to Luca Signorelli’s skill, inventiveness – and humor – the Cappella di San Brizio frescoes take pride of place among all Orvieto’s many treasures.
Click here to more about fresco splendor in Orvieto
Read about the Orvieto Duomo‘s treasured Holy Corporal linked to a 13th-c miracle
Read about – and see! – the splendid Signorelli fresco of “The Preaching of the Antichrist”
Click here to read about Etruscan Orvieto
Read about a talented young artisan of Orvieto, Federico Badia
Click here to read about the Assisi UNTO festival where I first met Federico and his wife Hannah
Read here more about Federico Badia – and see his work!
Click here to read about Orvieto’s Winter Jazz Festival
Read about a jazz lunch at the Ristorante San Francesco
Read about another memorable Umbria Jazz Winter concert
Read more about Umbria Jazz Winter
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Click here for more on why Umbria Jazz Winter entices