Pietro da Cortona

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Pietro da Cortona
Ajaccio Da Cortona Autoportrait.JPG
Pietro Berrettini

(1596-11-01)1 November 1596
Died16 May 1669(1669-05-16) (aged 72)
Rome, Italy
Known forPainting and architecture
Movement Baroque

Pietro da Cortona (1 November 1596/7 [1]  16 May 1669) was an Italian Baroque painter and architect. Along with his contemporaries and rivals Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Francesco Borromini, he was one of the key figures in the emergence of Roman Baroque architecture. He was also an important designer of interior decorations.

Baroque cultural movement, starting around 1600

The Baroque is a highly ornate and often extravagant style of architecture, music, dance, painting, sculpture and other arts that flourished in Europe from the early 17th until the mid-18th century. It followed the Renaissance style and preceded the Rococo and Neoclassical styles. It was encouraged by the Catholic Church as a means to counter the simplicity and austerity of Protestant architecture, art and music, though Lutheran Baroque art developed in parts of Europe as well. The Baroque style used contrast, movement, exuberant detail, deep colour, grandeur and surprise to achieve a sense of awe. The style began at the start of the 17th century in Rome, then spread rapidly to France, northern Italy, Spain and Portugal, then to Austria and southern Germany. By the 1730s, it had evolved into an even more flamboyant style, called rocaille or Rococo, which appeared in France and central Europe until the mid to late 18th century.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini Italian artist

Gian Lorenzo Bernini was an Italian sculptor and architect. While a major figure in the world of architecture, he was, also and even more prominently, the leading sculptor of his age, credited with creating the Baroque style of sculpture. As one scholar has commented, "What Shakespeare is to drama, Bernini may be to sculpture: the first pan-European sculptor whose name is instantaneously identifiable with a particular manner and vision, and whose influence was inordinately powerful...." In addition, he was a painter and a man of the theater: he wrote, directed and acted in plays, for which he designed stage sets and theatrical machinery. He produced designs as well for a wide variety of decorative art objects including lamps, tables, mirrors, and even coaches.

Francesco Borromini architect from Ticino and leading figure in Roman Baroque architecture

Francesco Borromini, byname of Francesco Castelli, was an Italian architect born in today's Ticino who, with his contemporaries Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Pietro da Cortona, was a leading figure in the emergence of Roman Baroque architecture.


He was born Pietro Berrettini, but is primarily known by the name of his native town of Cortona in Tuscany. [2] He worked mainly in Rome and Florence. He is best known for his frescoed ceilings such as the vault of the salone or main salon of the Palazzo Barberini in Rome and carried out extensive painting and decorative schemes for the Medici family in Florence and for the Oratorian fathers at the church of Santa Maria in Vallicella in Rome. He also painted numerous canvases. Only a limited number of his architectural projects were built but nonetheless they are as distinctive and as inventive as those of his rivals.

Cortona Comune in Tuscany, Italy

Cortona is a town and comune in the province of Arezzo, in Tuscany, Italy. It is the main cultural and artistic center of the Val di Chiana after Arezzo.

Florence Comune in Tuscany, Italy

Florence is the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany. It is the most populous city in Tuscany, with 383,084 inhabitants in 2013, and over 1,520,000 in its metropolitan area.

Palazzo Barberini Palace in Rome, houses part of Galleria Nazionale dArte Antica

The Palazzo Barberini is a 17th-century palace in Rome, facing the Piazza Barberini in Rione Trevi. Today it houses the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, the main national collection of older paintings in Rome.


Early career

Berrettini was born into a family of artisans and masons, [3] in Cortona, then a town in the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. He trained in painting in Florence under Andrea Commodi, but soon he departed for Rome at around 1612/3, where he joined the studio of Baccio Ciarpi. He was involved in fresco decorations at the Palazzo Mattei in 1622-3 under the direction of Agostino Ciampelli and Cardinal Orsini had commissioned from him an Adoration of the Shepherds (c. 1626) for San Salvatore in Lauro.

Grand Duchy of Tuscany former Italian state (1599–1831; 1803–1859)

The Grand Duchy of Tuscany was a central Italian monarchy that existed, with interruptions, from 1569 to 1859, replacing the Duchy of Florence. The grand duchy's capital was Florence. Tuscany was nominally a state of the Holy Roman Empire until the Treaty of Campo Formio in 1797.

Andrea Commodi (1560–1638) was an Italian painter of the early-Baroque period. Born in Florence, but mostly active in Rome, he was a pupil of the painter Cigoli. He painted frescoes in the sacristy of San Carlo ai Catinari and a Fall of the Angels now in the Accademia gallery in Florence. One of his pupils was a juvenile Pietro da Cortona who moved to Rome and became one of the towering figures of the Italian Baroque. Another pupil was Giovanni Battista Stefaneschi (1582–1659).

Baccio Ciarpi (1574–1654) was an Italian painter of the late-Mannerism and early-Baroque style. Born in Barga in Tuscany, he was active in Rome and Florence. He is best known for having mentored briefly Pietro da Cortona. He painted a number of canvases, including a Madonna del Rosario and Crucifixion with Saints, for the Pieve di Santa Maria in Barga. In Rome, there are paintings by him in Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini, San Silvestro in Capite and Santa Lucia in Selci.

Rape of the Sabines, 1630-31 Pietro da Cortona - Rape of the Sabines - Google Art Project.jpg
Rape of the Sabines, 1630-31

In Rome, he had encouragement from many prominent patrons. According to Cortona's biographers [4] his gifted copy of Raphael's Galatea fresco [5] brought him to the attention of Marcello Sacchetti  [ sv ], papal treasurer during the Barberini papacy. Such contacts helped him gain an early major commission in Rome (1624–1626), a fresco decoration in the church of Santa Bibiana that was being renovated under the direction of Bernini. In 1626, the Sacchetti family engaged Cortona to paint three large canvases of The Sacrifice of Polyxena, The Triumph of Bacchus, and The Rape of the Sabines (the latter, c. 1629), [6] and to paint a series of frescoes in the Villa Sacchetti at Castelfusano, near Ostia, using a team that included the young Andrea Sacchi. In the Sacchetti orbit, he met Pope Urban VIII and Cardinal Francesco Barberini, the papal nephew, and their patronage of Cortona provided him with ample scope to demonstrate his abilities as a painter of frescoes and canvases.

Raphael 16th-century Italian painter and architect

Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, known as Raphael, was an Italian painter and architect of the High Renaissance. His work is admired for its clarity of form, ease of composition, and visual achievement of the Neoplatonic ideal of human grandeur. Together with Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, he forms the traditional trinity of great masters of that period.

Santa Bibiana church in Rome

Santa Bibiana is a small Baroque style, Roman Catholic church in Rome devoted to Saint Bibiana. The church façade was designed and built by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who also produced a sculpture of the saint holding the palm leaf of martyrs. Santa Viviana

The Villa Sacchetti is a historical building at Castelfusano, near Ostia Antica, Rome, Italy. It was built in 1624-1628 for the Sacchetti family, close associates of Pope Urban VIII, and was the first architectural work of Pietro da Cortona. The villa is now known as Villa Chigi since its acquisition by the Chigi family in the 18th century.

Grand Salon of Palazzo Barberini

Triumph of Divine Providence Ceiling of Palazzo Barberini.jpg
Triumph of Divine Providence

Fresco cycles were numerous in Cortona's Rome; many represented "quadri riportati" or painted framed episodes imitating canvases as found in the Sistine Chapel ceiling or in Carracci's The Loves of the Gods in the Farnese gallery (completed 1601). In 1633, Pope Urban VIII (Maffeo Barberini) commissioned from Cortona a large fresco painting for the main salon ceiling of the Barberini family palace; the Palazzo Barberini. [7] It was completed six years later, following Cortona's influential visit to northern Italy where he would have seen at first hand perspectival works by Paolo Veronese and the colour palette of Titian.

Sistine Chapel official residence of the pope in Vatican City, known for its painted ceiling

The Sistine Chapel is a chapel in the Apostolic Palace, the official residence of the pope, in Vatican City. Originally known as the Cappella Magna, the chapel takes its name from Pope Sixtus IV, who restored it between 1477 and 1480. Since that time, the chapel has served as a place of both religious and functionary papal activity. Today, it is the site of the papal conclave, the process by which a new pope is selected. The fame of the Sistine Chapel lies mainly in the frescos that decorate the interior, most particularly the Sistine Chapel ceiling and The Last Judgment by Michelangelo.

Annibale Carracci Bolognese painter of the Baroque

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Palazzo Farnese palazzo in Rome, Italy

Palazzo Farnese or Farnese Palace is one of the most important High Renaissance palaces in Rome. Owned by the Italian Republic, it was given to the French government in 1936 for a period of 99 years, and currently serves as the French embassy in Italy.

Cortona's huge Allegory of Divine Providence and Barberini Power marks a watershed in Baroque painting. Following the architecture of the room, he created the painted illusion of an open airy architectural framework against which figures are situated, usually seen 'al di sotto in su' apparently coming into the room itself or floating far above it. The ornamented architectural framework essentially forms five compartments. The central and most significant part celebrates the glorification of the reign of Urban VIII in a light filled scene populated with allegorical figures and Barberini family emblems.

<i>Allegory of Divine Providence and Barberini Power</i> (Cortona) fresco by Pietro da Cortona

The Allegory of Divine Providence and Barberini Power is a fresco by Italian painter Pietro da Cortona, filling the large ceiling of the grand salon of the Palazzo Barberini in Rome, Italy. Begun in 1633, it was nearly finished in three years; upon Cortona's return from Venice, it was extensively reworked to completion in 1639. The Palazzo, since the 1620s, had been the palatial home of the Barberini family headed by Maffeo Barberini, by then Urban VIII, who had launched an extensive program of refurbishment of the city with art and architecture.

Illusion distortion of the senses

An illusion is a distortion of the senses, which can reveal how the human brain normally organizes and interprets sensory stimulation. Though illusions distort our perception of reality, they are generally shared by most people.

The illusion of spatial extension through paint, the grandiose theme and the skill of execution could only astonish and impress the visitor. However, Cortona's panegyric trompe-l'œil extravaganzas may be less popular in a world familiar with minimalism and such like, yet they are precursors of the sunny figures and cherubim infested with rococo excesses. They contrast markedly with the darker naturalism prominent in Caravaggisti works and with the classicising compositions by painters such as Domenichino and Andrea Sacchi, and remind us that Baroque painting could be grand in an epic manner and exuberant in spirit.

The Golden Age by Pietro da Cortona. The Golden Age (fresco by Pietro da Cortona).jpg
The Golden Age by Pietro da Cortona.

Frescoes in Palazzo Pitti

Cortona had been patronized by the Tuscan community in Rome, hence it was not surprising when he was passing through Florence in 1637, that he should be asked by Grand Duke Ferdinando II de' Medici to paint a series of frescoes intended to represent Ovid's Four Ages of Man in the small Sala della Stufa, a room in the Palazzo Pitti. The first two frescoes represented the "ages" of gold and silver. [8] In 1641, he was recalled to paint the 'Bronze Age' and 'Iron Age' frescoes. It is said he was guided in the formulation of the allegorical designs by Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger. [9]

He thus began work on the decoration of the grand-ducal reception rooms on the first floor of the Palazzo Pitti, now part of the Palatine Gallery. In these five Planetary Rooms, the hierarchical sequence of the deities is based on Ptolomeic cosmology; Venus, Apollo, Mars, Jupiter (the Medici Throne room) and Saturn, but minus Mercury and the Moon which should have come before Venus. [10] These highly ornate ceilings with frescoes and elaborate stucco work essentially celebrate the Medici lineage and the bestowal of virtuous leadership. [11] Pietro left Florence in 1647 to return to Rome, and his pupil and collaborator, Ciro Ferri, was left to complete the cycle by the 1660s. [12]

Late works

Romulus & Remus Sheltered by Faustulus, c. 1643 Cortona Romulus and Remus Given Shelter by Faustulus 01.jpg
Romulus & Remus Sheltered by Faustulus, c. 1643

For a number of years, Cortona was involved for decades in the decoration of the ceiling frescoes in the Oratorian Chiesa Nuova (Santa Maria in Vallicella) in Rome, a work not finished until 1665. [13] Other frescoes are in Palazzo Pamphilj in Piazza Navona (1651–4).

In 1660, he executed The Stoning of Saint Stephen for the church of San Ambrogio della Massima in Rome. The work currently hangs in the Hermitage. [14]

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.

Debate with Andrea Sacchi

He was elected as director of the Academy of St Luke the painter's guild in Rome, in 1634. It was at the Academy in 1636 that Cortona and Andrea Sacchi were involved in theoretical controversies regarding the number of figures that were appropriate in a painted work. [15]

Sacchi argued for few figures, since he felt it was not possible to grant meaningful individuality, a distinct role, to more than a few figures per scene. Cortona, on the other hand, lobbied for an art that could accommodate many subplots to a central concept. In addition, he also likely viewed the possibility of using many human figures in decorative detail or to represent a general concept. Sacchi's position would be reinforced in future years by Nicolas Poussin. Others have seen in this dichotomy, the long-standing debate whether visual art is about theoretical principles and meant to narrate a full story, or a painterly decorative endeavor, meant to delight the senses. Cortona was a director of the Accademia from 1634–1638.

Cortona also contributed to a treatise in Florence along with the theologian and Jesuit Giandomenico Ottonelli titled: Trattato della pittura e scultura, uso et abuso loro: composto da un theologo ed da un pittore [16] (Stamperia, Giovanni Antonio Bonardi, Florence, 1652). Authorship in subsequent editions is attributed to Cortona.


Cortona employed or trained many prominent artists, who then disseminated his grand manner style. Apart from Ciro Ferri, others that worked in his studio included:

Carlo Ascenzi 17th centuryRome, GennazanoOther
Lazzaro Baldi 1623–1703Pistoia, moved to Rome(H)(W)
Marcantonio Bellavia 17th century [17]
Francesco Bonifazio (H)(W)
Lorenzo Berrettini (Cortona's nephew)Florence(W)
Giovanni Ventura Borghesi 1640–1708Rome(H)(W)
Giovanni Maria Bottala 1613-Naples(H)
Andrea Camassei 1602–1649Bevagna, moved to Rome(W)
Salvi Castellucci 1608–1672Florence(H)(W)
Carlo Cesio 1626–1686(H)(W)
Giovanni Coli ?-1681(H)(W)
Guglielmo Cortese (Il Borgognone)(H)(W)
Vincenzo Dandini 1607-Florence(W)(W)
Nicholas Duval 1644-The Hague(H)
Onofrio Gabrielli 1616–1706Messina(H)
Camillo Gabrielli (W)
Giacinto Gimignani 1611–1681Pistoia, moved to Rome(H)(W)
Filippo Gherardi 1643–1701(H)(W)
Paolo Gismondi 1612–1685Perugia(H)(W)
Luca Giordano 1632Naples(H)
Giovanni Battista Langetti 1635–1676Genoa(H)
Pietro Lucatelli (W)
Giovanni Marracci 1637–1704Lucca(H)(W)
Livio Mehus (Lieven Mehus)1630–1691(Active Florence)(H)(W)
Giovanni Battista Natali 1630–1700(H)
Adriano Palladino 1610–1680Cortona(MB)
Bartolomeo Palommo 1612-Rome(H)
Pio Paolino ? -1681Udine(H)
Rodomonte di Pasquino Pieri Active circa 1680 Vellano [18]
Giovanni Quagliata 1603–1673Messina [19] [20]
Giovanni Francesco Romanelli 1617–1662(H)(W)
Pietro Paolo Baldini (13)(H)(W)
Raffaello Vanni (W)
Adriano Zabarelli (W)

Romanelli and Camassei also trained under Domenichino. Giovanni Maria Bottala was one of his assistants on the Barberini Ceiling. Sources for (W); [21] while sources for (H). [22] [23] Source for MB is Dictionary of Painters and Engravers, Biographical and Critical (Volume II L-Z). [24]

Architectural projects

Among Cortona's more important architectural projects are the church of Santi Luca e Martina (completed in 1664, the church of the Accademia di San Luca, located in the Roman Forum. While Cortona was principe or director of the Accademia from 1634–38, he obtained permission to dig in the crypt of the church, which led the likely mistaken finding of remains attributed to the first century Roman martyr and Saint Martina. This discovery led to further patronage for construction of the church. The layout is almost a Greek cross, with four nearly identical wings extending from the striking central dome. Much of the ground structure is undecorated, above intricately decorated. The overwhelmingly vertical decoration of the facade is granted liveliness by horizontal convexity. In his will, this bachelor called this church his beloved daughter.

He also renovated the 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).

Another influential work for its day was the design and decoration of the Villa Pigneto commissioned by the Marchese Sacchetti. [25] This garden palace or casino gathered a variety of features in a novel fashion, including a garden facade with convex arms, and highly decorated niches, and elaborate tiered staircases surrounding a fountain.

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.


  1. His traditional year of birth is 1596 but as he was baptised on 27 November 1597, some more recent books on Cortona give his year of birth as 1597 as for example Pietro da Cortona 1597–1669, Lo Bianco A. (ed), Electa, 1997
  2. Connors 1982, p. 455.
  3. The latter group included his uncle Filippo Berrettini
  4. For example, Giovanni Baglione Vite de' Pittore Scultori ed Architetti deall'anno 1641 sino all'anno 1673, Hess J. Leipzig and Vienna 1934
  5. The fresco of Galatea by Raphael is in the Villa Farnesina, Rome
  6. These three canvases are now in the Capitoline Museum
  7. Palazzo Barberini is now the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome.
  8. Archived December 14, 2004, at the Wayback Machine
  9. Biblioteca enciclopedica italiana, Volume 14, by Nicolo Bettoni; Milan (1831); page 130.
  10. Campbell, Malcolm, Pietro da Cortona at the Pitti Palace. A Study of the Planetary Rooms and Related Projects, Princeton University Press, 1977, p. 78
  11. Campbell, M. 1972, p. 146-154
  12. Pietro Berrettini -Catholic Encyclopedia article
  13. seen here
  14. http://www.4enoch.org/wiki2/index.php?title=Stoning_of_St._Stephen_%281660_Pietro_da_Cortona%29,_art%5B%5D
  15. Wittkower, R. Art & Architecture in Italy 1600–1750, Pelican, 263-5
  16. Trattato della pittura e scultura, uso et abuso loro – Giulio Ottonelli, Pietro da Cortona – Google Books. Books.google.com. Retrieved 2014-07-17.
  17. Ticozzi, Stefano (1830). Dizionario degli architetti, scultori, pittori, intagliatori in rame ed in pietra, coniatori di medaglie, musaicisti, niellatori, intarsiatori d’ogni etá e d’ogni nazione' (Volume 1). Gaetano Schiepatti; Digitized by Googlebooks, Jan 24, 2007. p. 135.
  18. Storia della Val di Nievole dall'origine di Pescia fino all'anno 1818, (1846) page 389.
  19. Susinno, Francesco (1960). Felice Le Monnier. ed. Le vite dei pittori messinesi; text, introduction and bibliographic notes by Valentino Martinelli. Italy (originally published 1724 in Italy): Firenze.
  20. Quagliata, Iana (2006). Giambattista Quagliata, Pittore E Architetto Del '600. Monza, Italy: Stampato da Quick Printing.
  21. Wittkower R. p 543 and p 550.
  22. J. R. Hobbes, p. 58.
  23. Bryan, Michael (1889). Walter Armstrong & Robert Edmund Graves, ed. Dictionary of Painters and Engravers, Biographical and Critical (Volume II L-Z). York St. #4, Covent Garden, London; Original from Fogg Library, Digitized May 18, 2007: George Bell and Sons.
  24. Roberto. "Casino al Pigneto del Marchese Sacchetti". Romeartlover.it. Retrieved 2014-07-17.

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