Baccio Bandinelli
Biography of High Renaissance and Mannerist Sculptor in Florence.

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Hercules and Cacus (detail)
(1534) Piazza della Signoria, Florence.

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Adriaen de Vries (1560-1626)

Baccio Bandinelli (1493-1560)

Bartolommeo Bandinelli (also known as Bartolommeo Brandini and called Baccio) was a High Renaissance Italian sculptor, painter and draughtsman. Although skilled in smaller-scale sculpture, and popular with the Florentine Medici family, he is seen as one of the more controversial Renaissance sculptors, being remembered more for his unpleasant character and for the antipathy of his cinquecento contemporaries, than the quality of his works.

In particular, he was obsessed with comparing himself to Michelangelo, often undertaking large scale monumental sculptures in an attempt to compete for recognition. His best known statue is Hercules and Cacus (1525-34, Piazza della Signoria, Florence).

Early Life

Born in in Florence, Bandinelli apprenticed in goldsmithing under his father. He then went on to study under the sculptor Giovanni Francesco Rustici, a friend of Leonardo da Vinci. One of Bandinelli’s earliest works of Italian Renaissance sculpture was a figure of Saint Jerome, carved in wax and commissioned by Giuliano de Medici. From early on his career, Bandinelli seems to have developed a deep jealousy of Michelangelo. According to Giorgio Vasari the Italian Renaissance historian and biographer - who was also a student in Bandinelli's workshop - Bandinelli once tore up a drawing by Michelangelo out of sheer hatred for the Florentine genius.

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Early Sculpture

Bandinelli was an excellent draughtsman and small scale sculptor. Some of his terracotta statuettes are stunning. However, it was his morbid fascination with large scale monuments, accentuated by his desire to imitate Michelangelo that became his driving force.

Contemporaries claimed that Bandinelli was not skilled enough for grand scale works, and he was to live within hearing distance of their jeers. In 1525 he began work on a colossal Hercules and Cacus for the Piazza della Signoria, Florence. The commission was originally destined for Michelangelo, but he was busy working on the Medici Chapel at the time. Michelangelo's statue of Victory already stood on the Piazza. In comparison, Bandinelli's figures of Hercules and Cacus look rigid and their facial grimaces are deeply etched caricatures. In the same year, 1525, Bandinelli began work on a replica of the famous marble statue Laocoon and His Sons (c.42-20 BCE) (then in the Vatican Museums), representing the Trojan priest and his two sons being crushed to death by snakes as a penalty for warning the Trojans against the wooden horse of the Greeks. Bandinelli was commissioned to copy the famous 1st/2nd century Greek sculpture (attributed by the Roman author Pliny the Elder to three Hellenistic sculptors from the island of Rhodes: Agesander, Athenodoros and Polydorus) - a task he executed beautifully, making some of his own modifications and additions.


Mature Sculpture

In 1554, Bandinelli started work on his Pieta (1554-59, SS. Annunziata, Florence). Vasari relates that when Bandinelli heard Michelangelo was carving a Pieta for his tomb, he immediately began to plan his own. He finished the work just before his death six years later. Like Michelangelo's version, Bandinelli's Pieta includes an idealised self-portrait of Christ being supported by Joseph of Arimathea or Nicodemus. Many however considered Bandinelli's Christ too muscular and strangely portioned. The amount of marble carved out of the block is astounding yet this 'anti-Michelangelesque' practice would become an artistic trend in future years.

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To learn how to judge plastic artists like the High Renaissance sculptor Baccio Bandinelli, see: How to Appreciate Sculpture. For later works, please see: How to Appreciate Modern Sculpture.

Florentine Mannerists

Bandinelli became leader of a group of Florentine Mannerists who were united by their interest of reviving the style and principles of Donatello. In 1529 Bandinelli unveiled his relief Deposition to Charles V at Genoa to some acclaim. Although the relief is now lost, a bronze copy, by the sculptor Antonio Susini (1600, Louvre Museum, Paris), displays the decisive intensity of Donatello.

Bandinelli died in Florence in 1560. History has not been kind to him, destined to be compared (unfavourably) to Michelangelo in his own time as today. Even the biographer Vasari was to write disparagingly 'He did nothing but make bozzetti and finished little'. However, some of Bandinelli’s surviving works prove him to have been a more distinguished sculptor than his contemporaries may have allowed. Bandinelli was survived by his two sons, Clemente and Michelangelo Bandinelli, both successful sculptors in their own right.

Other Selected Works

Neptune (1528-29, Piazza del Duomo, Carrara).
Andrea Doria, commander of the imperial navy, sculpted as Neptune. This was the first Renaissance portrayal of a contemporary ruler as a nude Roman God. The classical sculpture is alert and vigilant, a bearded counterpart to Michelangelo's Florentine David, whose stance and bearing Bandinelli clearly copied.

Self-Portrait Painting (c.1530, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston).
The artist is seated in an impressive classical architectural setting, pointing to a drawing of two male nudes. It has been suggested the nudes represent Hercules and Cacus, the subject of Bandinelli's most famous sculpture. See also Male Nudes in Art History.

Tombs of the Medici Popes Leo X and Clement VII
(1536-41, Santa Maria sopra Minerva).
Bust of Cosimo I de' Medici
(c.1539-40, Metropolitan Museum of Art).
Monument to Giovanni delle Bande Nere
(1540-54, Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, Florence)
Adam and Eve
(1551, Bargello, Florence). Originally created for the Duomo Florence.

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