A painter from the Sienese School, Giovanni Antonio Bazzi, called Il Sodoma, embodied the stylistic transition from the High Renaissance to Mannerism. His works in frescos, altarpieces and panels made him the leading painter from Siena in his day. Before settling in Siena he studied with the early Renaissance painter Giovanni Martino Spanzotti (1455 – 1528), in Lombardy.
His first notable works were executed in the Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore in Tuscany. The frescos in the cloister were started by the artist Luca Signorelli (1445 – 1523) and completed by Bazzi. Finished in 1502, it consisted of seventeen pieces depicting the life of Saint Benedict. The artist was then commissioned by Pope Julius II (1443 – 1513) in Rome for work in his Study, The Stanza della Segnatura, part of the Vatican Palace’s famous Raphael (1483 – 1520) rooms. It is said that Raphael painted Bazzi’s portrait into his masterful piece also in the Stanza della Segnatura.
The artist then began to work in Siena, in the Palazzo Chigi, but before long was called back to Rome, to paint his famous pieces for Alexander the Great, in the Villa Chigi. Both were commissioned by the wealth Sienese banker, Agostino Chigi (1465 – 1520), who had also brought him to Pope Julius II. It is here that Bazzi also worked with another Sienese artist, Baldassare Peruzzi (1481 – 1537). Before returning to Siena, he also painted in Pisa, where he completed his Sacrifice of Abraham for the Cathedral there. Some of his greatest work in Siena was done in the chapel of Saint Catherine in the church of San Domenic and The Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple, painted for the Oratory of San Bernardino.
Bazzi’s alternate name, Sodoma, is said to mean the sodomite, which the Renaissance biographer, Giorgio Vasari (1511 – 1574) ascribed to him in a supposed dislike of the artist’s character. This may be due to the rumor that Bazzi had scoffed at Vasari’s influential book, The Lives of the Artists. Vasari had also called him Il Mattaccio, meaning the maniac, from alleged accounts of his unwieldy life from the Monte Oliveto Monks, who Bazzi had painted the Saint Benedict frescos for.
Nonetheless, Bazzi is regarded as an important artist in bringing the graceful exaggerations of the new Mannerist style into the more naturalistic styles of the Renaissance. A superb example of this can be seen in his work depicting Saint Sebastian from 1525. His works were sometimes misattributed, or confused with that of Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519).
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