Italian condottiere (mercenary soldier) Bartolomeo Colleoni died on 2 November 1475 near Bergamo. Perhaps best known through his magnificent equestrian portrait by Andrea del Verrocchio, Colleoni had an esteemed military career, serving Naples, Florence, Milan, and Venice in the 1430s and 1440s. In 1455 he was named General Captain for Venice, and it was here that his bronze portrait was erected in accordance with his testament. Colleoni wanted his statue to stand in Piazza San Marco, but it was placed instead in the Campo di Santi Giovanni e Paolo. Created by Verrocchio in the style of ancient imperial monuments, particularly the famed statue of Marcus Aurelius, which stood at the time in the piazza of St. John Lateran in Rome. (It was moved to the Capitoline in the middle of the sixteenth century as the focal point of Michelantelo’s Piazza del Campidoglio.)

While equestrian portraits were reserved for emperors and rulers in the ancient world and Middle Ages, by the Renaissance the motif was used to celebrate military captains and soldiers. Verrocchio imbued his statue with great energy, as Colleoni’s horse strides forward and turns into space. The rider himself looks alert and strong, his watchful gaze protecting the citizens of Venice who passed underneath his feet.

Colleoni’s military exploits allowed him to amass great wealth, which he used to commission numerous artistic projects.  In addition to leaving a bequest for a commemorative statue in Venice, Colleoni erected a splendid burial chapel in his hometown of Bergamo.

Bertrand Jestaz. “Colleoni, Bartolomeo.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press. .

Andrea del Verrocchio, Equestrian Portrait of Bartolomeo Colleoni, 1483-94. Bronze. Venice, Campo di SS. Giovanni e Paolo.

Sisto and Siry of Nuremburg, Equestrian Portrait of Bartolomeo Colleoni, 1501. Bergamo, Colleoni Chapel

Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius, 176-80 CE. Gilded bronze. Rome, Capitoline Museum

Giovanni Antonio Amadeo, Colleoni Chapel, 1470-6. Bergamo

Colleoni Coat of Arms, marble. Bergamo, Colleoni Chapel

Tomb of Bartolomeo Colleoni, after 1476. Bergamo, Colleoni Chapel

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