Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Il Sodoma

The Holy Family with Saint Elizabeth and the Infant Saint John the Baptist

The painting above hangs in the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. It is a tondo from about 1525 of the Holy Family, as imagined by Il Sodoma (the working name of Giovanni Antonio Bazzi, 1477-1549). When I came across this picture, and became enamored of it, I realized that I had only a vague impression of Sodoma as a late Renaissance/early Mannerist painter. Curious, I searched out a few additional pictures from his hand to see what they looked like.

Ecce Homo

Road to Calvary

Descent from the Cross

Close-up below reveals the odd, compact still-life of discarded helmet and gauntlet near the base of the lofty altarpiece above. Sodoma chose to represent them on the ground between the legs of the notionally Roman soldier (in the act of removing his second gauntlet – with Christ dead, his guard-duty has ended).

Descent from the Cross (detail)

The Women of Darius Beseeching Alexander the Great, fresco

Wedding of Alexander the Great and Roxane, fresco

Sodoma produced most of his work in and around Siena. Above are two examples from one of his rare Roman projects, a cycle of frescoes with episodes from the life of Alexander the Great. The rich and powerful Agostino Chigi, a fellow Sienese, commissioned these for one of the rooms in his new-built Villa Chigi in Rome (later and more famously called the Villa Farnesina, as it is still known today).

Saint George and the Dragon

Saint Jerome in Penitence


Even to an amateur like me it is obvious that Leonardo's manner remained always a forceful influence on this painter, but still only one influence among many. Sodoma seems to have absorbed influences with unusual ease, judging by the variety of different styles he assumed. Yet sincerity is everywhere apparent. Never contrivance. It is a mystery.