Lorenzo Monaco
Biography/Paintings of Florentine International Gothic Painter.

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Abraham (1408-10) Tempera on panel,
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

For a guide, see: Religious Art.

Lorenzo Monaco (1370-1425)

One of the great Old Masters of the Gothic tradition, and an important figure in Pre-Renaissance Painting (c.1300-1400), Lorenzo Monaco (Laurence the Monk) was born in Siena but all his professional life was spent in Florence. He must have been living there well before 1390, the year in which his presence is recorded at the Camaldolese monastery of S. Maria degli Angeli where he made his vows the following year. The activity of his early years during the trecento has been reconstructed by means of stylistic analogies with his later works. Research has revealed an artist who, following the stimulating, innovatory example of Spinello Aretino, sought to deepen and reinforce the rather antiquated tradition of Giotto and linear fantasy which characterized Florentine Proto-Renaissance art at the end of the 14th century. Tormented yet inspired by religious feelings, Lorenzo at first hesitated over his choice of figurative sources; Agnolo Gaddi's elegance of colour and line may be seen in the Nobili Predella (1387-8, Louvre) and in the Altarpiece of S. Gaggio (Florence, Accademia), and the severe monumentality of Andrea Orcagna in The Agony in the Garden (Florence, Accademia).

For an idea of the pigments
used by Lorenzo Monaco
in his colour painting,
see: Renaissance Colour Palette.

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Lorenzo Monaco's controlled draughtsmanship, the perfect vehicle for his troubled sensibility, acquired new rhythmic vitality from his contact with the Camaldolese school of miniaturists, as appears in his decoration of three manuscripts dated 1394, 1395 and 1396 (Corali, 5, 8 and 1, Florence, Laurenziana Library). The works that followed, including his only two documented paintings, the Monte Oliveto Altarpiece (finished in 1410, Uilizi) and The Coronation of the Virgin (1414, Uilizi), show a swift evolution, partly in reaction against the early works of Lorenzo Ghiberti and partly under the influence of the International Gothic style. The contorted line and the fantastic freedom of invention of the new figurative mode were cautiously incorporated into the altarpiece (1404) for Empoli Cathedral and were later fully assimilated in two panel paintings now in the Louvre, Agony in the Garden and The Three Marys at the Sepulchre, as well as in the Florence Annunciation (Accadernia), completed in 1410.



The increasingly dramatic content of his painting led to a sort of heightened formality which reaches a climax in the Coronation of the Virgin mentioned above, and in the Crucifixion of the same year (Florence, Church of S. Giovannnino dei Cavalieri). There is an intensely spiritual significance in the gentle, arched outlines of the elongated figures, the vividly contrasting colours, and the arbitrary interplay of light on the sinuous folds of fabrics. Added to this there is an attempt at psychological depth in the accentuated facial expressions. Gradually, religious meditation becomes reverie until, in compositions like the Scenes from the Life of St Onophrius and St Nicholas of Bari (Florence, Accademia) or the Journey of the Three Kings (drawing, Berlin-Dahlem), it is transformed into fairy-tale.

Final Works

During the last phase of Lorenzo's activity his style gradually became calmer, while, at the same time, he began to experiment with plastic and spatial values. From The Adoration of the Magi (1420-2, Uffizi), in which he seeks to integrate a mass of figures into a sad, mysterious landscape, he moved on to the slightly forced monumentality of the fresco painting of the Bartolini Chapel (Florence, Church of S. Trinid), and finally, in the panel of the Annunciation in the same building, to a quite unexpected delight in nature that reveals affinities with Gentile da Fabriano (who was in Florence in 1423). Lorenzo influenced, either directly or indirectly, all those minor painters who, unaware of Masaccio's revolutionary innovations, kept the tradition of Gothic Art alive in Florence. None of them, however, inherited Lorenzo Monaco's intimate power of mystical sincerity.

Note: Other important painters associated with the Late Gothic style, were: Ugolino di Nerio (active 1317-27), Simone Martini (1285-1344) Jean Pucelle (c.1290-1334), Gentile da Fabriano (1370-1427), Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455), Robert Campin/Master of Flemalle (1378-1444); Melchior Broederlam (fl.1381-1409), Masolino (1383-1440), Jacquemart de Hesdin (1355-1414), Sassetta (c.1395-1450), Antonio Pisanello (1394-1455), the Limbourg Brothers (d.1416), Stefan Lochner (1400-51) and Jean Fouquet (1425-80).

Paintings by Lorenzo Monaco can be seen in several of the best art museums in the world.

• For more about trecento painting, see: History of Art.
• For more biographical details of early Renaissance artists, see: Homepage.

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