Bartolomeo Neroni, dit Il Riccio (vers 1505 Sienne - 1571 Sienne)
1530 - 1535
Gouache on vellum ; 13.3 x 10 cm
London, Christie's, 12th June 2013.
Bartolomeo Neroni, known as Il Riccio (not to be confused with Andrea Briosco, a Paduan sculptor with the same nickname) was, if not the greatest because this title belongs to Beccafumi, at least the most important artist of the late Renaissance in Siena. Vasari said he was a "very skilled painter" and the author of "beautiful and good paintings that can be found in Siena and elsewhere". Pupil and son-in-law of Sodoma, his art is more classical and poetic than Beccafumi's, more Mannerist and lyrical, and this is what impresses at first in this miniature where the spirit of Perugino and Pinturicchio still seems to blow.
In the purest tradition of the Renaissance, he was an architect, sculptor and engineer. But the century transformed him. Beginner when Charles the Fifth's army had sacked Rome and occupied Siena, he was 25 years later the engineer of the fortifications of the last siege that the city had to endure, before its capitulation in 1555 and its annexation by Florence in 1559.
It was in the sylvan calm of the Benedictine abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore, in south of Siena, that he did his first documented work (in 1531-1532), the illumination of antiphonaries destined for another Benedictine abbey, Finalpia, on the Ligurian coast. One of these antiphonaries (Genoa, Biblioteca Civica Berio) contains an almost identical scene in the middle of an initial, with slight differences in the background. This scene is very much inspired by Sodoma's masterpiece in Siena, the Adoration of the Magi in the Piccolomini Chapel in the church of Sant'Agostino, a spectacular altarpiece over three metres high.
The delicacy of the brushwork, the subtlety of the coloring, and the style close to a pen-and-ink drawing by the same Riccio, Augustus and the Sibyl, in the Metropolitan Museum, leave few doubts as to the attribution. We can assume that he made this replica, no for the common liturgy but for private devotion, for himself or one of the monks of Monte Oliveto Maggiore. In 1534 he was still painting a fresco in the cloister of the cycle of the life of St. Benedict, in which Signorelli or Sodoma had succeeded each other : St. Benedict sent Maur to France and Placid to Sicily. We find there between the characters, and even the horses, the same play of glances which contribute to the charm of the one and the other scenes.