ROSSO FIORENTINO
(b. 1494, Firenze, d. 1540, Paris)

Madonna Enthroned with Four Saints

1518
Oil on wood, 172 x 141 cm
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

A neurotic, even deformed stylisation that at times verges on the grotesque is the most immediate characteristic of Rosso Fiorentino's paintings, and can be glimpsed in this painting (the Ognissanti Altarpiece), executed for the Hospital of S. Maria Nuova in Florence. Most notably, the restlessness of the whole work contradicts a High Renaissance ideal: that of serene majesty. This accentuates the expressive dynamism of his compositions, whose colours and tones seem burnt or lividly overstated. The almost infernal aspect of some of his characters has given rise to a number of sometimes wild hypotheses about the painter's far-from-happy psychology. (He committed suicide.)

The altarpiece portrays the Virgin and Child between St John the Baptist, St Antony Abbot, St Stephen and St Jerome. The faces of saints, darkened by heavy shading, are utterly devoid of that serenity which characterizes the figures in traditional altarpieces. In the figure of St Jerome, the sunken abdomen, the prominent sternum, ribs and collar-bone of the chest area, and the skeletal thinness of the neck, arms and fingers, reveal unquestionable links with the studies of decomposing or flayed bodies that began to interest a great number of Tuscan artists from the 15th century.