Vincenzo Foppa (Bagnolo Mella, 1427 – 1515) was an Italian painter from the Renaissance period, one of the main animators of the Lombard Renaissance before the arrival of Leonardo da Vinci in Milan. While few of his works survive, he was an esteemed and influential painter during his time and is considered the preeminent leader of the Early Lombard School. He spent his career working for the Sforza family, Dukes of Milan, in Pavia, as well as various other patrons throughout Lombardy and Liguria. He lived and worked in his native Brescia during his later years.
Foppa’s style was heavily influenced by Bellini, Pisanello, and Mantegna. His human figures are typically shown with a silvery-gray skin tone, a feature that has become the identifying quality of the Lombard school. This coloration gives the subjects an almost morbid appearance. Foppa was celebrated for his use of perspective, light and coloration. While contemporary documents label Foppa as an architect as well as painter, there are no known buildings or structures that he designed. The vast majority of Foppa’s known works are religious in subject, with a particular focus on paintings of the Virgin with Child. He did not venture far into other subject matters, although due to his dependence on commissions this may not have been a personal choice.
The formation of Vincenzo Foppa had to be essentially tied to the polite world, well-lived in the first half of the fifteenth century throughout Lombardy. He was able to admire the frescoes carried out by Gentile da Fabriano between 1414 and 1419 in Broletto di Brescia, commissioned by Pandolfo Malatesta, unfortunately subsequently almost entirely destroyed, and saw in his homeland the sumptuous Annunciation woven by gold by Jacopo Bellini And Antonio Vivarini’s flamboyant paintings painted a few years before Foppa showed that he had adhered to local trends in the most ancient work he recognizes. This is the Madonna with Child and angels, in which relations with the Gothic world are depleted in graphic and linear conveniences, borrowed from Bonifacio Bembo, who was probably his master: space has traces of a more logical norm, In it there are more bold volumes and drama that already reveal the natural poetics that will be peculiar to the works of maturity.
The influences on the first works, as in the case of other Lombard painters, were also numerous, from the Tuscan (Donatello, Paolo Uccello, Filippo Lippi) filtered through the mediation of the artistic scene of Padua, in particular from Mantegna, to the Venetian, Provencal culture And Flemish, as well as, of course, the fairy-tale world of the Gothic International which in Milan and Lombardy was one of the most significant centers in Italy.
The first well-known works of Foppa are a San Bernardino and the Crucifixion, realized in the wake of Gentile da Fabriano and Jacopo Bellini; The second in particular, first signed and dated work (1456), shows a classical architecture of Padua’s origin, with a triumphal arch adorned with ancient medallions, where the three figures are depicted prospectively and the landscape is still linked to international taste . Already in these early works, the overtaking of the rigid geometric perspective of the Tuscan matrix takes place in favor of greater attention to the rendering of light, with the lightening of sudden luminescents touching the architectures and the rocks. So luminescent the soil at the foot of Golgotha, the mountain, and the bodies painted with extraordinary pictorial freedom.
Between 1455 and 1456, after perhaps being passed to Mantua, Foppa settled with the family in Pavia, in the Duchy of Milan, then subjected to the Sforza Sovereignty. At this time, the panels come from a polyticist whose only remains are Sauro and Paul (1415), denouncing the knowledge of the work of Donatello and Andrea Mantegna.
The penitent Saint of the Accademia Carrara of Bergamo, a little later than the Crucifixion, seems to respond to an immediate need for dramatic representation, which the master resolved with remarkable boldness illuminating the scene in an accident from the left. To the suggestion of Padua and Donatellesca are added strong accents of naturalistic investigation and pathetic Luministic flamingos.
The fresco, now almost unreadable, of the Madonna of the oratory of San Giacomo della Cerreta presents a contrast between the authentic light, which invests from the right the image with the real shadow projected to the left, and the volumes pre-set, still blocked by a ‘Conventional lighting.
In the first works there is a preference for shapes molded with high strength, which progressively attenuated on the basis of new influences. Two masterpieces of this stage are the Madonna embracing the child and the Madonna del Libro, both in the Pinacoteca del Castello Sforzesco in Milan. With the innovative use of a traditional material such as the gold of late-age miners, Foppa built, with very high technical skill, light rays that polish and clean the shapes through calibrated shadows and planks.
The sumptuous color range of glazed enamels and molded dryness induces the two Santi Teodoro and Agostino to be placed at this time in the Castle Museum, San Cristoforo dell’Art Museum of Denver, and the two Saints Baptist and Domenico, now a collection Private in Bergamo.
In 1461 Foppa went to Genoa where he painted the Priory of St. John in the Cathedral, and also made a polyptych in San Domenico (lost works). In the Ligurian city, perhaps through the example of Donato de ‘Bardi, came closer to Flemish painting, as is evident from the Madonna and Child for the church of Carmen of Pavia, signed and dated 1463.
Also in 1463 Foppa was called by Francesco Sforza in Milan, who commissioned him the pictorial decoration of the portico of the Hospital Major, now lost, with the laying ceremony of the first stone, which took place on April 12, 1457. In 1465 Foppa was documented in one Of the largest shipyards of Lombardy in Sforza, the Certosa of Pavia, where he received a payment for painting prophets […] and certis altris figuris in the great cloister, lost works.
In the Filarete Architectural Treaty, the scenes of Roman history were painted in the loggia of the garden of the Milan office of the Banco Mediceo by the master of Brescia, among which was “Trajan very well done and with other horning figures”. Of that cycle remains the unmistakable fresco of the Child who read Cicero, illustrating the Lombard interpretation of the Florentine Renaissance: to the explicit search for compositional solemnity and formal simplification, is linked a fresh and serene naturalism, especially in the dark sky near the Trees and in the soft sweetness of the infant figure.
Nevertheless, the most significant work of his period in Milan is without doubt the decoration of the Portinari Chapel (1464-1468) in the basilica of Sant’Eustorgio, in which Foppa frescoed four rounds with Church doctors in the plumes, eight Busti of saints in Oculi at the base of the dome, the lunettes of the side walls scenes of the Life of St. Peter Martyr, the triumphal arch with the Annunciation and counter-faced with the Assumption.
The images of each wall are constructed of a single point of escape that falls out of the composition, in order to unify the episodes in the lunettes. Foppa, however, stands out from the classic “Tuscan” perspective for its original atmospheric sensitivity, which dampens contours and rigidity of geometry: in fact, it is the light to render the scene human and realistic, and to measure volumes and distances, thus providing an example Eloquent of what will be termed “Lombard perspective”. In general, a taste for the simple but effective and comprehensible tale is set in realistic locations with characters recalling everyday types, in line with the preferences for the didactic narrative of the Dominicans: there are faces in the stories of the life of the saint, which are Among the most true of the northern fourteenth century.
The still alive memories of Padua’s plasticism, with some Ferrara suggestions, find a way to express themselves resolutely in smaller-scale works, such as the small Madonna with the Child of the State Museums of Berlin, with intense physiognomic characterization.
The twenty years following the completion of Portinari frescos (1470-1490) is an intense commemoration of commissions. The paintings painted between 1470 and 1485 mark the artist’s full maturity, now dominated by an indisputable masterpiece (until at least Leonardo’s arrival), the landscape of not only Lombarda but also Ligurian and Piedmontese painting. Of 1478 is the Adoration of the Child of Detroit, today in poor condition after a restoration too aggressive.
In Pavia, the city of which he acquired his citizenship in 1468, he collaborated with Zanetto Bugatto and Bonifacio Bembo at the decoration of the great Ancelle of the Relics for the Castle, commissioned by the new Duke Galeazzo Maria Sforza, which was then destroyed.
In Brescia, in the vault of the Averoldi chapel of the Carmine church, he painted mighty Evangelists with silver-faced faces in almonds of clouds and cherubim, shaped by the saturated color of chiaroscuro, of a rare plastic effect. Attributed to his hand is also the great fresco on canvas with the crucified Christ serving as a shrine altar.
Next is the Polyptych of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Bergamo (today at the Pinacoteca di Brera) which, although traditionally referred to around 1476, is an archaic taste dating back to the 1500’s.
In these altar paintings, love for the goldsmiths of the Lombardy and Ligurian schools found remarkable exaltation, also linked to an heraldic parade of isolated images in golden-framed niches, or, conversely, against landscapes of astonishing pictorial immediacy.
After the little Madonna of the Contini-Bonacossi Collection in Florence, due to the polygon Bergamo, Foppa was engaged in the search for a more rigorous spatiality and a subtle chiaroscuro vibration at the ducal court. Based on Bramante’s spatial order, the compositions took on a more rationally monumental breath, in which the fundamental assumptions of Foppa, color and light, are nevertheless protagonists of the graduations of the distances: the accents are placed on the human representation of the various types And the refraction of light on the various materials, in the pursuit of the search for optical truth, devoid of intellectualism.
The proximity to Bramante is evident in frescoes from the Church of Santa Maria in Brera, today at the Pinacoteca di Brera, with the Madonna del Tappeto and San Sebastiano (circa 1468). He followed a visit to Savona where he painted two polyptychs: the first one for Manfredo Fornari in 1489, and the other, the famous ancona of Our Lady of Castello, for Giuliano della Rovere, the future pope Julius II, in collaboration with Ludwig Ludwig Brea and other maestrances, among others, the Renaissance frame.
Tied in these years to the most advanced Ducato environments, Foppa undertook an unusual work, the so-called Pala Bottigella (1480-1484) of Pinacoteca Malaspina of Pavia, commissioned by Giovanni Matteo Bottigella. In this work the space is saturated with figures, so that perspective loses primacy in the light of the light, used here to investigate the details. Closer to the compositional scheme Giovanni Bellini’s sacred conversations, the exquisite paintings and other small home-devotional devotions, such as the Madonna and Child, are very happy specimens of the “Venetianism” of Foppesco.
The works of these years are characterized by a solemn amplitude, with a strengthening of the Lombard values: from the Annunciation (Isola Bella, Borromeo collection), where the vibrating chiaroscuro, the Adoration of the Magi of the National Gallery of London revives (Of which the date and the original destination are unknown), a solemn summary of the motifs of the poetics of Foppa, Santi Bartolomeo and Gregorio, to the Pala dei Mercanti.
In the last few years, the artist returned to Brescia, perhaps to escape from boastfulness and dominant leonardism, and here he remained secluded until death, painting, teaching, and laying the groundwork for the development of a lush local school. Available in 1492 is a polyptych for the collegiate of Santi Nazaro and Celso in Brescia: the work will be replaced about thirty years later by the Polystyrian Averoldi of Titian, which will lead to the dismantling of the panels. The Nativity of Jesus, originally the central table, is today in the church of Santa Maria Assunta of Chiesanuova, west of Brescia, while the only two surviving panels, depicting Santa Apollonia and St. John the Baptist, are kept in the Tosio Martinengo Pinacoteca.
This proud closure to the novelties was well visible in his latest opera in Milan, Deposition (1498) painted for the church of San Pietro in Gessate by commission of Renato Trivulzio, later transferred to Berlin and destroyed during the Second War world.
Placed at the end of the fifteenth century is also the Pala of Merchandise for the Church of San Faustino in Riposo, today at Tosio Martinengo, conceived in a strong linear and luminous absoluteness, devoid of any redundant element.
It was in 1501 that the commission of the polyptych of the Blessed Sacrament for the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament of the Basilica of San Pietro de Dom in Brescia, later transferred to a prestigious position on the main altar, and finally dismembered in 1604 to demolish the basilica for the construction of the New cathedral. Given for lost, two lateral boards were recognized in 1939 later purchased by Banca San Paolo in 1998, then confiscated in 2007 in the Ubi Banca collection.
In his austere austerity, Foppa probably did not notice the historical reach of his message which certainly constituted the most vital knot of Lombard art for more than a century.