Melozzo da Forli
Renaissance Painter Noted for Quadratura Painting.

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Pope Sixtus IV appoints Bartolomeo
Platina prefect of the Vatican Library
(1477) Pinacoteca Vaticana.
By Melozzo da Forli.

Melozzo da Forli (1438-94)


Early Life and Work
Mature Career as a Painter
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Apostle (1480-84) Fragment of the
Ascension of Christ fresco mural.
Pinacoteca, Vatican.
By quadraturista Melozzo da Forli.

For top creative practitioners, see:
Best Artists of All Time.


One of the Old Masters whose reputation has suffered for want of extant works, the painter and architect Melozzo da Forli was active in Rome, Urbino and Loreto during the mature phase of Early Renaissance painting (1460-90). Influenced by the Umbrian artist Piero della Francesca (1420-92), his main contribution to the Italian Renaissance was his mastery of linear perspective and the type of illusionistic techniques of foreshortening and its sub-type known as di sotto in su ("seen from below"). Along with Andrea Mantegna (1430-1506) - himself renowned for works such as the Camera degli Sposi frescoes (1465-74, Ducal Palace, Mantua) - Melozzo da Forli was highly regarded by his contemporaries, in particular for works like his Ascension of Christ fresco (1478-80) for the dome of the church of the Holy Apostles, in Rome. Sadly, little of his spectacular quadratura has survived. Those items that have survived include fragments of the Ascension mural, now in the Vatican and the Quirinal Palace in Rome, and an early work - Sixtus IV Appointing Platina as Librarian of the Vatican Library (1477) - now in the Pinacoteca Vaticana.

For details of the pigments
used by Melozzo da Forli
in his colour painting,
see: Renaissance Colour Palette.


Early Life

Born in Forli, Romagna, in the north-east of Italy, we know almost nothing of his training as an artist or his early style of painting. Between 1465 and 1475 he is believed to have worked in Urbino, to the south, in the Marche region of Italy. (There are also suggestions that he worked in Rome around this time, on frescoes at the Basilica di San Marco.) Here he came into contact with Piero della Francesca, one of the great masters of Renaissance art, from whom he acquired his mastery of perspective and architectonic sense of form. In addition, he encountered the Flemish painters, like Justus of Ghent (1410-80), and Spanish artists, like Pedro Berruguete (1450-1504), - in the service of Federico da Montefeltro - with whom he may have collaborated to create the decorations of the studiolo of the Ducal Palace at Urbino. In addition, he studied Renaissance architecture under Donato Bramante (c.1444-1514).

Mature Career as a Painter

About 1475 Melozzo moved to Rome, where he completed his first major work Pope Sixtus IV appoints Bartolomeo Platina Prefect of the Vatican Library (1477, Pinacoteca Vaticana). This fresco painting (now transferred to canvas) depicts the investiture of Bartolomeo Sacchi (Platina) as papal librarian. It reveals Melozzo's acute grasp of perspective, showing six figures in the forefront of a deep interior space. Several aspects of this picture, including its low angle of perspective and its placement of figures, are reminiscent of Mantegna's famous portrait of the Gonzaga family in the Camera degli Sposi in the Ducal Palace at Mantua. In addition, Melozzo also completed a number of murals in the Vatican Library, as well as several designs for the Palazzo Altemps in Rome, built by Girolamo Riario (1443-88), Lord of Imola. In 1478, he became one of the original members of the Academy of St. Luke (later the Academy of Art, Rome) founded by Pope Sixtus IV.

See also: Renaissance in Rome under the Popes and see our guide to the Florentine Renaissance (1400-1500).

Around 1480 Melozzo was commissioned by Cardinal Pietro Riario (1445-74), nephew of Pope Sixtus IV, to decorate the vault of the apse in the Basilica of SS Apostoli in Rome, with a fresco depicting The Ascension of Christ. (The mural was removed in 1711, although a few fragments have been preserved in the Vatican, the Quirinal Palace and the sacristy of St Peter's.) The work demonstrated his mastery of architectonic painting and depiction of space, further adding to his reputation as a master of perspective and foreshortening.

After the death of Pope Sixtus IV in 1484, Melozzo moved to Loreto, in the Marche region. It was here that he was commissioned by Cardinal Girolamo Basso della Rovere (1434-1507) to decorate the cupola of the sacristy of San Marco in the Basilica della Santa Casa. It is one of the first occasions that a domed vault was painted with architectures and figures. In 1489 Melozzo moved back to Rome, where he executed several designs for mosaic art in the St. Helen chapel of the basilica of Santa Croce.

In 1493, he is known to have frescoed ceilings (now lost) in the Palazzo Comunale at Ancona, and later in the year returned to Forli, where he painted the dome of the Capuchin church at Forli (destroyed in 1651). In addition, assisted by his pupil Marco Palmezzano (1460-1539), he painted the Feo Chapel in the church of San Biagio (destroyed in 1944).

As well as the works cited above, a number of other mural paintings in Rome and Urbino have been attributed to Melozzo, as well as a number of portrait paintings of famous men (including Plato and Dante), examples of which can be seen in the Barberini Palace in Rome (home of the National Gallery of Antiquities) and the Campana collection in the Paris Louvre.

Melozzo passed away in Forli in November 1494.


Firmly grounded in the principles and laws of perspective, Melozzo da Forli spent much of his career as an artist developing a reputation as one of the great quadraturisti of Early Renaissance art (1400-90). His wide expertise in trompe l'oeil painting and foreshortening, matched only by Mantegna, was a strong influence on the work of Raphael and also Michelangelo, notably his designs for the Genesis fresco (1508-12) on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

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For other great quadraturisti, please see the following articles.

Correggio (1489-1534)
Noted for his Assumption of the Virgin (Parma Cathedral) (1526-30).

Paolo Veronese (1528-88)
Noted for the Villa Barbaro frescoes at Treviso.

Giovanni Lanfranco (1582-1647)
Famous for the Assumption of the Virgin for the church of S. Andrea della Valle.

Pietro da Cortona (1596-1669)
Completed the Allegory of the Pontificate of Urban VIII, the largest fresco in Rome.

Andrea Pozzo (1642-1709)
Created The Apotheosis of St Ignatius of Loyola for the Jesuit church in Rome.


• For more biographies of Early Italian Renaissance painters, see: Homepage.
• For analysis of important canvases, see: Famous Paintings Analyzed.

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