From 15 October 2016 to 15 January 2017, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen showed the masterpieces of Fra Bartolommeo (1473-1517), an artist-monk from Florence. Together with Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael, Fra Bartolommeo was one of the four most important artists of the Italian High Renaissance. This is the first time that paintings by Fra Bartolommeo were to be seen in the Netherlands. In this exhibition, which could only be seen in Rotterdam, eleven of his paintings reunited with 140 preparatory drawings after a gap of 500 years.
Fra Bartolommeo painted mostly religious subjects. After joining the Dominican order, he worked in the famous convent of San Marco in Florence. His paintings are characterised by their clear and harmonious compositions. Fra Bartolommeo is best known for more than a thousand drawings he made as studies for his paintings. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen owns the world’s largest and finest collection of his drawings. Discover the extraordinary talent of this relatively unknown painter. Be amazed by his masterful studies and eleven of the glorious paintings that resulted from them, varying from a small devotional panel to imposing 4-metre-tall altarpieces. This exhibition showed exclusively in Rotterdam. Around Fra Bartolommeo was on show in the Printing Room until 22 January 2017.
Who was Fra Bartolommeo?
Fra Bartolommeo was born in 1473 as Bartolommeo Domenico del Fattorino. He lived next to the Porta Romana and was therefore nicknamed Baccio della Porta. He began his studies with the painter Cosimo Rosselli. In 1500 he joined the Dominican order and took the religious name Fra (frate = brother) Bartolommeo. He resumed painting in 1504, the year that the young painter Raphael moved to Florence. Fra Bartolommeo and Raphael became good friends and influenced each other’s work. Fra Bartolommeo lived through one of the most turbulent periods in Florence’s history. When the city was threatened with invasion by the French king, the people rallied around the charismatic preacher and abbot of San Marco, Fra Girolamo Savonarola, an opponent of the corrupt pope and champion of civic liberty. In 1508 Michelangelo and Raphael left for Rome and Leonardo da Vinci had already moved to Milan in 1506. Fra Bartolommeo was the only one of the four great masters to remain in Florence, where he was the city’s most important painter until his death in 1517.Read the full biography
Art treasures in the collection of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen
A large proportion of Fra Bartolommeo’s drawings are contained in two albums in the collection of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. The drawings have an interesting provenance. Following the artist’s death in 1517, the drawings, together with the inventory of his workshop, came into the possession of his successor, Fra Paolino da Pistoia. They then passed to Suor Plautilla Nelli, a painter-nun and prioress of the convent of Santa Caterina da Siena, opposite the convent of San Marco. Following her death, the drawings were stored in the convent and forgotten. A century and a half later, the collector Niccolò Gabburri discovered that the drawings were there and bought the lot. He compiled the drawings into two large albums. Following Gabburri’s death in 1742, the albums were sold. Over the centuries, they passed through many collections, including that of King William II. In 1923 they were purchased by the Haarlem-based collector Franz Koenigs. In 1935 they were given on long-term loan to Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen as part of the Koenigs Collection. In 1940 the shipping magnate Daniël George van Beuningen acquired the Koenigs Collection and donated it to the museum.
The artist’s studio then and now
In preparation for his paintings, Fra Bartolommeo made studies of figures in various poses, paying particular attention to the drapery of their robes. He also drew detailed studies of limbs and heads, including several portraits. For his figure studies, Fra Bartolommeo made use of a life-size mannequin: a wooden doll with removable parts and movable joints. We know this because two mannequins are mentioned in the inventory of Fra Bartolommeo’s workshop, made in 1517. He also employed wax and clay models of children (for the Christ child or cherubs) and individual limbs. He draped fabric over the mannequins to study as closely as possible the play of light on the drapery.
In this studio the Rotterdam-based artist Iwan Smit (b. 1989) worked on a large- scale painting in conjunction with the public. The project is based on Fra Bartolommeo’s renowned ‘Pala del Gran Consiglio’, an altarpiece he produced in 1510-1513 for a commission from the city government. In the same way Fra Bartolommeo’s painting was intended as a tribute to Florence as a free and democratic republic, Iwan Smit’s painting is meant to glorify the multicultural port city of Rotterdam.
Fra Bartolommeo worked on large-scale commissions in his workshop with a team of apprentices and assistants. In this modern-day artist’s studio, visitors were invited to contribute to the painting, imitating Fra Bartolommeo’s working methods. All the steps in the process were included: from composition and figure studies to transfer to the panel and the final overpainting in colour. The end result is displayed here, together with a selection of the best drawings.
Artist's studio now
Iwan Smit made a study on paper in which Portunus (the god of harbors and rivers) is drawn with acryl and crayon. The drawing serves as preparation for the development of a painting that will commence near the end of November. You may watch the time-lapse, containing 3,5 hours of his work in 0,44 seconds.More information
Around Fra Bartolommeo
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen owns a world-class collection of drawings from the Italian Renaissance. Highlights include rare fifteenth- and sixteenth-century drawings by Donatello, Fra Angelico, Giovanni and Gentile Bellini, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and Michelangelo. The core of the collection is from the first quarter of the sixteenth century and features the world’s only surviving drawing by Giorgione, the only drawing by Leonardo da Vinci in the Netherlands and the world’s largest collection of drawings by Fra Bartolommeo.
To coincide with the exhibition The Divine Renaissance – Fra Bartolommeo, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen’s Print Room is showing a selection of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century prints and drawings by Fra Bartolommeo’s predecessors and contemporaries and works related to the main exhibition, including Fra Bartolommeo’s two portraits of Michelangelo.
The exhibition is accompanied by a richly illustrated catalogue in Dutch and English editions, including all the exhibited works, divided across the five phases of the artist’s development. It charts his creative process from his preparatory drawings to his paintings. Four introductory essays discuss Fra Bartolommeo’s life and work, his workshop practice, the iconography of his paintings and the provenance of the unique collection of drawings that are now in the collection of Museum Boijmans.