The Eclectic Sketches of Amico Aspertini

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Amico Aspertini (born 1474 or 75-1552) was an Italian Renaissance painter and sculptor who anticipated Mannerism with his convoluted, quirky, and eclectic style.

At the beginning of the sixteenth century, Bologna was a very culturally active city. Artists’ obsession with the ancient, interpreted innovatively utilizing iconography borrowed from erudite literary sources, mirrored the city’s vibrant center for humanities, due in part to its university (the “Studium”).

Amico studied under masters such as Lorenzo Costa and Francesco Francia. He painted frescoes, facade decorations, and altarpieces. He has produced some works considered bizarre by many of his contemporaneous fellow painters. The artist and art historian Giorgio Vasari described Aspertini as a person with an eccentric personality. He was ambidextrous, according to Vasari, and worked so quickly with both hands that he could divide chiaroscuro between them, painting chiaro with one hand and scuro with the other. Aspertini’s originality caused the criticisms of scholars of classicistic heritage, too loyal to fixed canons of external beauty, proportions, and compositional balance.

Related articles: The Most Unsettling Paintings in Italian Art History

Transportation of Holy Face by Amico Aspertini, Basilica of Saint Frediano, fresco, Lucca, Tuscany, Italy
Transportation of Holy Face by Amico Aspertini, Basilica of Saint Frediano, fresco, Lucca, Tuscany, Italy

In 1496, he traveled to Rome with his father, and he is briefly documented there again between 1500 and 1503, before returning to Bologna and painting in the manner of Pinturicchio and Filippino Lippi. In Bologna in 1504, he collaborated with Francia and Costa on murals for Giovanni II Bentivoglio’s Oratory of Santa Cecilia near to San Giacomo Maggiore.

Martyrdom of Valerian and Tiburtius by Aspertini
Martyrdom of Valerian and Tiburtius by Aspertini

The ancient culture exerted a strong influence on him and spurred him to visit the Roman ruins. This interest in archeology is proved by at least two collections of sketches: the Wolfegg Codex and one of Aspertini’s notebooks the, “Parma Notebook” (Taccuino di Parma), preserved in the British Museum, in which he reveals his admiration for antiquity.

Aspertini created the magnificent murals in the Chapel of the Cross in the Basilica di San Frediano in Lucca while in exile from Bologna following the collapse of the Bentivoglio dynasty in 1508-1509. In 1529, Aspertini was one of two painters chosen to create a triumphal arch for Pope Clement VII and Emperor Charles V’s arrival into Bologna. He created sculptures for the doors of Bologna’s San Petronio Basilica.

He died in Bologna in 1552.

Aspertini sketch-book (so-called London I)
Aspertini sketch-book (so-called London I)
Aspertini sketch-book (so-called London I)
Aspertini sketch-book (so-called London I)
Aspertini sketchbook (so-called London I). Seated figure, five deeds of Hercules (upper part of opening). Dead Niobid (lower left); and nude figure of an old man reclining (lower right) c. 1535
Aspertini sketchbook (so-called London I). Men on horseback hunting bulls followed by ox cart (upper part of opening) and fighting centaurs (lower part of opening) c. 1535
Aspertini sketch-book (so-called London I). The suovetaurilia, Roman sacrifice of a pig (sus in Latin), a ram (ovis) and a bull (taurus) to the god Mars to bless and purify land (upper part of opening); the head of a bearded man and the emperor Trajan receiving barbarian captives (lower part of opening) c. 1535
Aspertini sketch-book (so-called London I). Amazonomachy frieze, battle between Greeks and the legendary female warriors the Amazons (upper part of opening); group of naked men and women, one on horseback (lower part of opening) c. 1535
Aspertini sketch-book (so-called London I)
Aspertini sketch-book (so-called London I)
Aspertini sketch-book (so-called London I)
Aspertini sketchbook (so-called London I). The scene is from a roman relief that Aspertini studied when it was in the collection of Giovanni Ciampolini in Rome, drawing it first in the lower tier of f. 32v-33 of his Codex Wolfegg and then in the present drawing.
Aspertini sketchbook (so-called London I). According to Bober the upper tier is loosely based upon the decoration of the pedestal of Trajan’s column and embellished with three figures. Although the correspondence between drawing and relief is not overwhelming, the connection is established by a similar drawing in Aspertini’s earlier Wolfegg Codex (f. 18v-19), inscribed “in lo basamento de la colona”.
Amico Aspertini – Military Triumph, Pen and ink, paper
Amico-Aspertini
Black and red chalk, charcoal, with inscriptions and outline later added in pen and ink, paper
Male Nudes Around a Man, Also Naked, Sitting on the Throne
Male Nudes Around a Man, Also Naked, Sitting on the Throne
Pen and ink with wash, traces of black chalk, paper
Pen and ink with wash, traces of black chalk, paper
Temptation of St. Anthony. Black chalk, heightened with white, brown coloured paper
Temptation of St. Anthony. Black chalk heightened with white, brown-colored paper
Eurydice Killed by the Snake in the Presence of Aristaeus, Black chalk, wash, paper
Eurydice Killed by the Snake in the Presence of Aristaeus, Black chalk, wash, paper
Battle of Centaurs, Pen and ink with wash, heightened with white, greenish coloured paper
Battle of Centaurs, Pen, and ink with wash, heightened with white, greenish colored paper
Nereids, Tritons and Winged Putti on Dolphins, Pen and ink with wash, heightened with white, brown colored paper
Nereids, Tritons and Winged Putti on Dolphins, Pen and ink with wash, heightened with white, brown coloured paper

Sources: Wikipedia, Treccani, Uffizi

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