By Maria Alambritis

Today, 2 August, is the anniversary of the death of Bernardo Strozzi (1581/2-1644). Nicknamed ‘il prete Genovese’ (the Genovese priest) for the twelve years he spent as a Capuchin monk, Strozzi was one of the most influential Italian painters of the early seventeenth-century. His influence was especially important on the development of the Genoese and Venetian Baroque schools of painting.

Born in Genoa, he began training as a painter from a young age, but in 1598 after he is said to have experienced a vision, he entered the monastery of St Barnaba in Genoa and became a member of the Capuchin Friars Minor. During this time, he painted small devotional pictures of the Franciscan saints for the monks. Around 1608-9, he left the monastery to fully embark on a career as a painter, in order to support his widowed mother and unmarried sister. His works from this early period, such as the St Catherine of Alexandria (c. 1610) combine the Mannerist elements of elongated figure and broken, bravura brushwork with his individual treatment.

During the 1620s, the arrival into Genoa of numerous Northern and Italian painters exposed Strozzi to a range of influences, which informed his own development. In particular, the works of Caravaggio (1571-1610) and his followers were especially important, as shown in the Calling of St. Matthew (c. 1617), while the Adoration of the Shepherds (c. 1618) contrasts Caravaggesque dramatic lighting with aspects of still-life and a naturalism drawn from Northern European examples.

After the death of his mother in 1630, Strozzi was expected to return to the monastery. Instead, he requested to be allowed to continue his life as a painter freely. Arousing the suspicion of members of the Church, he was tried in the Archbishop’s Tribunal for illicitly practicing painting and escaped to Venice to avoid scrutiny.

It was in Venice that his art became infused with a vibrant colour palette, drama and exuberance, influenced by his exposure to the Venetian masters, notably Paolo Veronese (1528-1588). He painted numerous portraits of Venetian noblemen, such as Cardinal Federico Cornaro (1633-35), while the Three Musicians (c. 1630) is an example of his genre scenes. Strozzi also executed two major religious commissions for Venetian churches: S. Sebastian Tended by Irene for San Benedetto and St. Lawrence Distributing Alms for San Nicolò da Tolentino (1639-40).


Chiara Krawietz. “Strozzi, Bernardo.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online.

Mortari, Luisa. Bernardo Strozzi. Roma: Edizioni De Luca, 1995.


St. Catherine of Alexandria, c. 1610, oil on canvas, 175.5 x 123.2 cm, Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford.

Calling of St. Matthew, c. 1620, oil on canvas, 139.1 × 187 cm, Worcester Art Museum, Massachusetts.

Adoration of the Shepherds, c. 1618, oil on canvas, 97.8 x 139.4 cm, Baltimore, The Walters Art Gallery.

Doubting Thomas, c. 1622, oil on canvas, 101 x 97.5 cm, Galleria di Palazzo Rosso, Genoa.

Three Musicians, c. 1630, oil on canvas, 109 x 155 cm, Detroit Institute of Fine Arts.

Portrait of Federico Baldissera Bartolomeo Cornaro, 1633-35, oil on canvas, 118 x 98 cm, Museo del Settecento Veneziano, Ca’ Rezzonico, Venice.

St. Lawrence Distributing Alms, 1639-40, oil on canvas, 206 x 162 cm, San Nicolò da Tolentino, Venice.

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