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Luca Signorelli

Luca d'Egidio di Ventura

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Luca Signorelli (c. 1450—16 October 1523) was an Italian Renaissance painter who was noted in particular for his ability as a draftsman and his use of foreshortening. His massive frescoes of the Last Judgment (1499–1503) in Orvieto Cathedral are considered his masterpiece.

He was born Luca d'Egidio di Ventura in Cortona, Tuscany (some sources call him Luca da Cortona). The precise date of his birth is uncertain, but birth dates between 1441 and 1445 have been proposed. He died in 1523 in his native Cortona, where he is buried. He was likely between seventy-eight and eighty-two years old. He is considered to be part of the Tuscan school, although he also worked extensively in Umbria and Rome.

His first impressions of art seem to originate in Perugia — including the styles of artists such as Benedetto Bonfigli, Fiorenzo di Lorenzo and Pinturicchio. Lazzaro Vasari, the great-grandfather of art historian Giorgio Vasari, was Luca's maternal uncle. According to Giorgio Vasari, Lazzaro had Luca apprenticed to Piero della Francesca. In 1472 the young artist was painting at Arezzo, and in 1474 at Città di Castello. He presented to Lorenzo de' Medici a work which is likely School of Pan. Janet Ross and her husband Henry discovered the painting in Florence circa 1870 and subsequently sold it to the Kaiser Frederick Museum in Berlin, though it was destroyed by allied bombs in WWII. The painting's subject is almost the same as that which he also painted on the wall of the Petrucci palace in Siena—the principal figures being Pan himself, Olympus, Echo, a man reclining on the ground, and two listening shepherds.

Additionally, Signorelli executed various sacred pictures, displaying a study of Botticelli and Lippo Lippi. Pope Sixtus IV commissioned Signorelli to paint some frescoes, now mostly very dim, in the shrine of Loreto—Angels, Doctors of the Church, Evangelists, Apostles, the Incredulity of Thomas and the Conversion of St Paul. He also executed a single fresco in the Sistine Chapel in Rome, the Testament and Death of Moses, although most of it has been attributed to Bartolomeo della Gatta; another, the Moses Leaving to Egypt, once ascribed to Signorelli, is now recognized as the work of Perugino and other assistants.

Signorelli worked in Rome from 1478 to 1484. In 1484 he returned to his native Cortona, which remained his home until his death. In the Monastery of Monte Oliveto Maggiore in Siena he painted eight frescoes, forming part of a vast series depicting the life of St. Benedict; they are at present much injured. In the palace of Pandolfo Petrucci he worked upon various classic or mythological subjects, including the aforementioned School of Pan. Signorelli remained healthy until his death, continuing to paint and accept commissions into his final year, including the altarpiece of the Church at Foiano.

From the Monastery of Monte Oliveto Maggiore near Siena, Signorelli went to Orvieto and produced his masterpiece, the frescoes in the chapel of S. Brizio (then called the Cappella Nuova), in the cathedral.

The Cappella Nuova already contained two groups of images in the vaulting over the altar, the Judging Christ and the Prophets, murals initially begun by Fra Angelico fifty years prior. The works of Signorelli in the vaults and on the upper walls represent the events surrounding the Apocalypse and the Last Judgment. The events of the Apocalypse fill the space which surrounds the entrance into the large chapel.

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