DOMENICO VENEZIANO
(b. ca. 1410, Venezia ?, d. 1461, Firenze ?)

Biography

Early Italian Renaissance painter (full name: Domenico di Bartolomeo da Venezia), one of the founders of the 15th-century Florentine school of painting.

We know very little about the life and work of this painter; and even Vasari knew very little, so that he filled his biography of Domenico with complicated theories and colourful anecdotes. Vasari not only recounts the invented story of Domenico being murdered by Andrea del Castagno (actually Andrea died before Domenico), but also praises Veneziano as the artist who first introduced oil painting to Tuscany. Historically wrong and not justified by any of Domenico's works, this statement is used by Vasari in order to back up his description of the artist as the master of the typically Venetian use of colour, as opposed to Andrea del Castagno, the master of the Florentine art of disegno.

Domenico was probably first trained in the International Gothic manner in Venice, where it is likely he saw paintings by northern European artists. He settled in Florence about 1439 and, except for brief periods, worked there until his death.

Two signed works by Domenico survive. The first, a much-damaged fresco of the Virgin and Child enthroned and two damaged heads of saints (National Gallery, London), formed part of the Carnesecchi Tabernacle and may have been the first work Domenico executed in Florence. Its accurate perspective and the sculptural quality of the figures suggest he was influenced by Masaccio.

The first document concerning Domenico Veneziano we have is the letter that he himself wrote in April 1438 from Perugia (where he was working for the Baglioni family, as Vasari tells us) to Piero de' Medici, asking him for help in obtaining the commission for a painting from Cosimo the Elder, Piero's father. In 1439 Domenico returned to Florence from Perugia in 1439 and he is documented as working on the frescoes of stories from the life of the Virgin in the church of Sant'Egidio inside the Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova. On this project he was working in collaboration with Piero della Francesca. After he had painted the scenes of the Meeting at the Golden Gate and the Birth of the Virgin, in 1445 Domenico suddenly stopped working; we do not know what caused this interruption, but he left the fresco of the Wedding of the Virgin unfinished (it was completed later, in 1461, by Alesso Baldovinetti). The rest of the stories were painted by Andrea del Castagno between 1451 and 1453. The entire cycle was destroyed in the 18th century.

Between 1445 and 1447 Domenico painted his second surviving signed work: an altarpiece for the Church of Santa Lucia dei Magnoli, usually called the Magnoli, or St Lucy, altarpiece. The central panel, the Virgin and Child with four saints (Uffizi, Florence), is one of the outstanding paintings produced in Florence in the middle of the 15th century. The five panels of the predella are now dispersed, they are now in the museums of Washington, Cambridge and Berlin.

A tondo of the Adoration of the Magi (Staatliche Museen, Berlin) is of uncertain date. It combines gay colour with careful realism and has an expansive and accurately drawn landscape background.

As we learn from Vasari, as soon as he had finished the Magnoli Altarpiece Domenico went to the Marches, in 1447, to fresco the ceiling of the church of Santa Maria in Loreto. Once again he was working together with Piero della Francesca. The cycle was never completed because an epidemic of plague broke out in the Marches and Domenico returned to Florence. The parts that had been painted were later destroyed.

The fresco representing Saints John the Baptist and Francis is the artist's last known painting. Originally in the Cavalcanti Chapel, next to the choir in the church of Santa Croce, the fresco was removed from the wall in 1566, when the choir was torn down as part of the modernization project directed by Vasari.

After he had finished the frescoes in Santa Croce, as we learn from a document dated 1454, Domenico was called to Perugia; together with Angelico and Lippi, his opinion was asked on the frescoes that Bonfigli had painted in the Chapel of the Priors. Domenico is also mentioned in the expenditure ledger of the church of Santa Trinitŕ in Pistoia, who paid him for a consultancy concerning the altarpiece of the Trinity by Pesellino and Filippo Lippi in 1457 (today the altarpiece is in the National Gallery, London). If in 1457 Domenico was still so widely respected as to be called upon to judge such an important work, we can suppose that he remained active until the year of his death, 1461, even though no works dating from the decade preceding his death survive.