Contextual studies of Fra Bartolomeo: painting, devotion, and politics

Nabi, Elizabeth McMahon, Department of Art, University of Virginia
Fiorani, Francesca, Department of Art, University of Virginia
Barolsky, Paul, Department of Art, University of Virginia
Summers, David, Department of Art, University of Virginia

This dissertation reexamines the art and life of Fra Bartolomeo (1473-1517), a Florentine artist praised by Giorgio Vasari in his Lives of the Artists, but marginalized by contemporary scholars. Although it is often assumed that a biographical study’s sole project is to glorify the creativity of the individual, my dissertation, which considers Fra Bartolomeo’s art in its contexts (artistic, religious, social and political), grounds Fra Bartolomeo’s innovations in his artistic and theological educations and illustrates the complexity of the world of the early sixteenth-century Florentine artist. This study contributes to a more nuanced understanding of Florence’s artistic climate, patronage networks, and devotional practices, crucial to future studies about its social fabric.

Chapter 1 challenges the scholarly disregard for Cosimo Rosselli’s workshop in Bartolomeo’s artistic formation. I argue that the workshop was a dynamic center of learning and a font of future patronage. Chapter 2 is a comprehensive contextual study of the Last Judgment at Santa Maria Nuova. Abandoned as Bartolomeo was spiritually called to the Dominican order, I contend that art and life converged in its making. In addition, I refuse an easy reading of the work as Savonarolan in content as well as in tenor. Chapter 3 considers Fra Bartolomeo as a Dominican artist and demonstrates how the Dominican mode of contemplation surfaced in the Vision of St. Bernard, as he employed the newest art of contrapposto to depict the visionary movements of the mind. Chapter four argues that Fra Bartolomeo’s ―Pala della Signoria,” made on behalf of the convent of San Marco and in service of the Florentine Republic, was intimately linked to the re-envisioning of the Republic and the convent’s place within it. The dissertation concludes with an account of Fra Bartolomeo’s artistic culmination, as I consider how the ―Pala della Signori” was more than just a vehicle of Republican iconography, and how it actually revealed Fra Bartolomeo’s artistic ambitions.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Bartolomeo -- fra -- 1472-1517
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