By: Amy Fredrickson
Florentine painter Francesco di Stefano, known as Pesellino, died on 29 July 1457. While his oeuvre is small, he made an indelible impact on the iconography, which was popular in fifteenth-century Florence. Scholars believe his name is a derivative of his grandfather’s name, Giuliano d’Arrigo, who was called “Pesello.” Pesellino most likely began his training in his grandfather’s workshop, before his association with Fra Filippo Lippi (1406-1469).
Even in 1447, it is evident in archival records that Pesellino was still working in his grandfather’s shop. In 1448, Pesellino was on the registry of the confraternity, called Compagnia di San Luca. In 1453, Piero di Lorenzo di Pratese and Zanobi di Migliore joined Pesellino and established their workshop on Corso degli Adimari. In 1455, Pesellino’s workshop was commissioned to execute an altarpiece dedicated to the Holy Trinity for the church of Compagnia dei Preti in Pistoia. Before Pesellino’s death in 1457, the altarpiece was almost finished. Domenico Veneziano and Fra Filippo Lippi were both consulted on the altarpiece; however, Lippi finished the commission. During the seventeenth-century the painting was dismantled; however, the National Gallery in London has since reunited its pieces.
Vasari describes another altarpiece in the Medici Chapel in the Florentine church of Santa Croce. Fra Flippo Lippi executed this altarpiece, yet Vasari claims that Pesellino also worked on this commission. Both the Uffizi Gallery and the Louvre hold predella panels of this separated altarpiece. According to Vasari, the painting was commissioned around 1445, which provides further evidence of the date Pesellino started working with Fra Fillipo Lippi. Vasari also noted that Pesellino sought inspiration in the works of Fra Angelico. The panels show that Pesellino was emulating the style of the Fra Angelico’s most recent Florentine paintings. This altarpiece and the panels in the National Gallery of London were painted a decade a part, and show the progression of Pesellino’s short career.
While his altarpieces are the only proper attributions, his workshop is known for its production of Madonna and Child paintings. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, in Boston, holds a Virgin and Child with a Swallow, that dates to the mid-1450s. Pesellino’s workshop was highly productive, in the fact that artists copied paintings for private devotional use in Florentine homes. The Madonna and Child iconography became common due to the workshops production methods. From the 1450s to the end if the fifteenth-century, a studio near both Pesellino and Lippi reproduced thirty-eight-panel paintings with this iconography. The images were created using a mechanical transfer method. The artists would employ stencil cartoons, and then they rubbed the stencils with charcoal dust. The artists modeled the figures and drapery to provide stylistic differences after the completion of their drawings. However, the underlying structure of the painting’s figures and composition is similar. During the fifteenth century, the half-length imagery of the Virgin and Child was prevalent in Florentine houses. Patrons regarded Pesellino’s work like Luca delle Robbia and Lippi, who also produced artwork depicting half-length Virgin and Child iconography.
Sadly, Pesellino died at the age of thirty-five. Pesellino’s style shows that he absorbed the style of Fra Filippo Lippi, and his work was a precursor to the styles of antonio del Pollaiuolo and Verrocchio who had highly productive careers in Florence.
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Boskovits, Miklós, and David Alan Brown, et al. Italian Paintings of the Fifteenth Century. (Washington: National Gallery of Art, 2003)
Basking, Cristelle, “‘Rare and Wonderful’ Marriage Pictures,” in Eye of the Beholder, ed., Alan Chong et al. (Boston: ISGM and Beacon Press, 2003): pp. 64-67.
Holmes, Megan, “Virgin and Child with a Swallow,” in Eye of the Beholder, ed., Alan Chong et al. (Boston: ISGM and Beacon Press, 2003), p. 49.
“Pesellino, Francesco di Stefano detto il nell’Enciclopedia Treccani.” Nell’Enciclopedia Treccani. Accessed July 25, 2017. http://www.treccani.it/enciclopedia/francesco-di-stefano-detto-il-pesellino/.
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Pesellino, Fra Filippo Lippi, and workshop, The Trinity from The Pistoia Santa Trinità Altarpiece, fresco, 1555-60, The National Gallery of London
Pesellino, Fra Filippo Lippi, and workshop, Angel (Right) from from The Pistoia Santa Trinità Altarpiece, fresco, 1555-60, The National Gallery of London
Pesellino, Fra Filippo Lippi, and workshop, Angel (Left) from from The Pistoia Santa Trinità Altarpiece, fresco, 1555-60, The National Gallery of London
Pesellinio Fra Filippo Lippi, and workshop, Saints Zeno and Jerome from The Pistoia Santa Trinità Altarpiece, fresco, 1555-60, The National Gallery of London
Pesellinio, The Story of David and Goliath, tempera on panel, c. 1445-1455, The National Gallery of London
Pesellinio, The Triumph of David , tempera on panel, c. 1445-1455, The National Gallery of London
Virgin and Child with a Swallow, tempera on panel, mid 1450s, The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston
The Triumphs of Love, Chastity, and Death, tempera and gold on panel, c. 1450, The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
The Triumphs of Fame, Time, and Eternity, tempera and gold on panel, c. 1450, The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
The Crucifixion with Saint Jerome and Saint Francis, tempera on panel, c.1445-1450, The National Gallery of Washington
Madonna and Child with Six Saints, tempera and gold on panel, c 1440s, The Metropolitan Museum of Art