By Anne Leader
Painter-architect Pietro Berretini, known as Pietro da Cortona, was baptized on 27 November 1597 in the Tuscan town from which he takes his name. Typical of artists working abroad, Pietro was known by his birthplace rather than his father’s name. Son of the stonemason Giovanni Berrettini (d. 1621), the young Pietro worked with his father and uncle Francesco (d. 1608) in the building trade but also studied painting.
Alongside Gianlorenzo Bernini and Francesco Borromini, Pietro is recognized as one of the leading figures of the Roman Baroque. He excelled as both pained and architect in his native Cortona as well as in Florence and, above all, Rome, where he was working by 1612. By the 1620s, Pietro was working for important Romans, including members of the Sacchetti and Barberini families, the latter of which claimed Pope Urban VIII as a favorite son. Pietro worked on papal and private commissions, like the dramatic Rape of the Sabine Women for the wedding of Giovanni Francesco Sacchetti and Beatrice Tassoni Estense (1631) or the stupendous ceiling fresco for the Barberini palace that celebrates the blessings of Divine Providence on the family and its rise to power and fame (1632-9).
Through his works, Pietro developed the naturalism initiated by the Carracci reform, infusing it with drama and power akin to that seen in the sculpture of Bernini to create a magnificence unrivaled until the eighteenth century with the arrival of Giambattista Tiepolo. His architecture drew inspiration from classical models and Michelangelo, and he is known for his facades that create theatrical effects even in small spaces, as at Santa Maria della Pace in Rome (1656-7).
Further reading: Jörg Martin Merz. “Cortona, Pietro da.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press.
Allegory of Divine Providence, ceiling fresco, 1632–9, Gran Salone, Palazzo Barberini, Rome; photo credit: Alinari/Art Resource, NY
The Rape of the Sabine Women, canvas, 1631, Pinacoteca Capitolina, Musei Capitolini, Rome; image credit: Erich Lessing/Art Resource, NY
St. Cecilia Distributing Alms to the Poor, 1635-40, pen and brown ink over black chalk, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 96.GB.328
The Battle of Alexander against King Darius, canvas, 1643, Pinacoteca Capitolina, Rome; image credit: Erich Lessing/Art Resource, NY
Ceiling fresco with Medici coat-of-arms, fresco, 1643-44, Galleria Palatina (Palazzo Pitti), Florence
Landing of the Trojans at the Mouth of Tiberis, detail, ceiling fresco, 1651-54, Palazzo Pamphilj, Rome
Self-portrait, Palais Fesch Musée des Beaux-Arts, Ajaccio, Corsica
Facade, Santa Maria della Pace, 1656-7, Rome