Pietro De La Cortona Biography: The Talent of the Italian Baroque Period


The Frenchman Pietro Berrettini, known as Pietro da Cortona, was an Italian architect, painter, decorator, and the most prominent Baroque representative. Together with his rivals and contemporaries Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Francesco Borromini, he was one of the leading figures in shaping Roman Baroque architecture. He was also an indispensable architect of interiors. Only a small number of his architectural projects were built, but nevertheless, they are as original and inventive as those of his competitors. Pietro also painted a lot of pictures.

Pietro De La Cortona Biography

The Lifepath of the Talented Pietro De La Cortona

The future legend of Baroque art was born in Cortona on 1 November 1596. It was there that he studied. Pietro da Cortona then moved to Florence and Rome.

Information about significant events in his personal life Pietro was not and is not available, but the entire biography of his formation as an artist is rich with the facts of his work.

It is known that the first art education Pietro Berrettini received in his native city. He had an outstanding talent for drawing and quickly mastered the basic techniques of painting. Already at sixteen a young man left home and moved to Rome. Since then, instead of “Pietro Berrettini” he became known as “Pietro da Cortona”, which literally means “Pietro from Cortona”. By the time he moved here, the artist had already mastered the technique of painting and was engaged in monumental fresco painting.

During his studies, Pietro took his example from the small Florentine artists Andrea Commodi and Baccio Chiarpi. His work was influenced by ancient sculpture and the works of Raphael. Pietro da Cortona always worked simultaneously on architectural and decorative projects.

The most important of his early paintings were the three frescoes in Santa Bibiana in Rome.

In the first of these, the huge triumph of the Barberini in 1639, Pietro combines illusionism, color, and movement, stunning the audience. His dignified but festive combination of color and stucco became the official European decorative style for aristocratic houses.

In the 1620s he designed the Villa del Pigneto near Rome and possibly another villa at Castel Fusano for the Saccetti family.

Villa del Pigneto near Rome

His best work is the Cathedral of St Martin and Luca, typical of High Baroque in its interplay of light and shadow through convex and concave forms.

The Blossom of His Talent

The allegorical painting was a real revelation and materialization of the talent. This is the ceiling with the triumph of Divine Providence of the Great Hall, which now houses the National Gallery.

Divine Providence of the Great Hall

The architect reached the height of Mount Olympus in the 1630s when he designed the church of Santo Luca e Martina in Rome (1635-1650) and the same fresco “Allegory of Divine Providence” in Palazzo Barberini. Santo Luca e Martina design is borrowed more from Florentine than Roman sources.

It was conceived as a pictorial glorification of the Papacy of Urban VIII.

Art historians, despite Pietro’s talent as a painter, pay great attention to his personality as an architect and muralist. His architectural works are distinguished by their meticulous attention to detail and unity of composition.

Papacy of Urban VIII

In 1637 Pietro visited Florence, where he began painting frescoes depicting the four ages of man for the Grand Duke Ferdinand II of Tuscany in the Pitti Palace. A cheerful world full of baroque illusionism and vivid colorfulness opens above the heads of spectators and in the more modestly sized plafonds of the staterooms of the Pitti Palace. The halls of Venus, Jupiter, Mars, and Apollo, surrounded by opulent gilded ornaments, display the apotheosis of the gods, allegorically glorifying the activities of Duke Cosimo I de Medici of Tuscany.

facades of Santa Maria della Pace

In 1640 he returned to finish them and paint the ceilings of the apartments in the palace. He treated the whole surface as a unified spatial whole, adding many real stucco decorations to the carvings, partly gilded. In 1647 the artist and architect returned to Rome, where he frescoed the vault of Santa Maria in Vallicella and the ceiling of the long gallery of the Pamphili Palace in Piazza Navona for Pope Innocent X. His principal architectural works of this period were the facades of Santa Maria della Pace (1656-1657) and Santa Maria in Via Lata in Rome (1658-1662).

east façade of the Louvre in Paris (1664)

He also designed the modernization of the Pitti Palace and the east façade of the Louvre in Paris (1664).

Further Creative Path of the Artist

Throughout his life, Pietro painted religious and mystical easel paintings. From 1634 to 1638 he was head of the Accademia di San Luca in Rome. Although there is a match of feeling between his architecture and painting, there is little physical connection between the two, and he never decorated any of his own churches.

In his architectural and pictorial works, he strove for spatial unity of the elements, using perspective, carefully developing the décor, and placing accents through the play of light and shadow.

The mixing of stylistic features of Classicism and Baroque was inevitable for the artist, who worked in Rome, where both styles were born and developed. But the decorative talent of Pietro da Cortona inwardly was closer to the Baroque language, and in the history of art he went down as a major master of Baroque art of RoPietro da Cortona is a brilliant artist of the Baroque era, the creator of magnificent theatrical fresco scenes in the palaces of Rome and, the creator of solemn Baroque apotheoses.

At the age of forty-five, Pietro da Cortona had the honor of heading the Bologna painting school and passing on his skills to a younger generation. At a mature age, the artist’s painting began to take on an ascetic character and lose its former theatricality. Now Pietro – the teacher allowed his students to speculate on his work and write with him.

His death Pietro da Cortona met in the spring – the sixteenth day of May 1669 in Rome.

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