• NameCecco Bravo
  • Activity/Titlepainter
  • Sexmale
  • Variant namesalternativt namn: Francesco Montelatici
  • Nationality/DatesItalian, born 1601-11-15, dead 1661-12-11
  • PlacesPlace of birth: Florens, Italien
    Place of death: Innsbruck, Österrike
BiographyItalian painter and draughtsman. Late 20th-century scholarship has nominated him the most original and exploratory Florentine painter of the 17th century. He learnt the fundamentals of his drawing technique from Giovanni Bilivert and was also close to Sigismondo Coccapani. In the early 1620s he took part in the vast collective projects carried out under the direction of Matteo Rosselli and by 1629 was the head of a workshop. His first recorded works, the fresco of the Virgin, St John and Angels (c. 1628/9; Florence, S Marco) and Charity (Florence, Santissima Annunziata), show his close study of the Florentine tradition from Andrea del Sarto to Pontormo. In 1633 he painted six lunettes with scenes from the Life of the Blessed Bonaventura Bonaccorsi (Pistoia, Santissima Annunziata), continuing a series begun in 1601 by Bernardino Poccetti but with a livelier rhythm. The vein of caricature in these paintings appears more strongly in the frieze depicting Children’s Games (c. 1631; Impruneta, Villa Mezzamonte). His depiction of illustrious Tuscans (1636; Florence, Casa Buonarroti), later completed by Domenico Pugliani and Rosselli, shows a particular sensitivity to landscape, built up with rapid brushstrokes in an almost Impressionistic manner.

Thus began a brief period of success for Cecco Bravo as a fresco painter, with a consequent increase in prestigious commissions. He suddenly abandoned the grotesque vein in Lorenzo de’ Medici Welcomes Apollo and the Muses and Lorenzo the Peacemaker (1638–9; Florence, Pitti), under the influence of the Classically idealized formal solutions of Francesco Furini, who was also involved in the project. These are compositions of great imaginative freedom, in which the colouring becomes more fluid and transparent, with whimsical details and, in the background, figures that retain the élan of Cecco Bravo’s early works.

No dated or signed easel paintings by Cecco Bravo have come to light; hence his works have often been attributed to Francesco Furini, Simone Pignoni, Sebastiano Mazzoni or Bernardo Strozzi. In Semiramis (c. 1630; priv. col., see 1970 exh. cat., pl. 585) the influence of Cesare Dandini can be seen. In the 1630s Cecco Bravo’s work showed signs of the new trends introduced by Furini, a soft and sensual style of painting that exploits the potential ambiguity of shadings like those of Leonardo da Vinci. Works such as Sampson and Delilah (London, Heim Gal.) and Achilles and the Daughters of Lycomedes (priv. col., see Masetti, 1962, nos 59–60) give a more intimate and disquieting expression to these tendencies, through which Cecco Bravo broke up the chromatic unity of the picture and intensified the sense of emotional stress.

Cecco Bravo gradually worked out a characteristic compositional scheme: within a narrow proscenium the main figures (usually two), expressing themselves in anxious or excited gestures, are placed against a background full of incident but lacking real depth; flashes of light emphasize the dreamlike atmosphere, as in the Meeting of Isaac and Rebecca (Chicago, IL, A. Inst.), Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife (Florence, Uffizi) and David and Abigail (priv. col., see Gregori, 1974, fig.). Cecco Bravo’s last paintings show an increased use of elements traceable to the milieu of Emilia and the Veneto, in which he may have travelled. The soft, fuzzy brushwork of the Allegory of the Temptation (priv. col., see Gregori, 1974, fig.) and [not available online]Judith (Florence, Mus. Bardini) indicates contact with Strozzi, while Apollo and Daphne (Ravenna, Pin. Com; see fig.) recalls Titian’s late style. In 1660 Cecco Bravo went to Innsbruck to work for the Archduke Ferdinand Charles of Austria (1628–62). Only two paintings of certain attribution remain in Austria as evidence of his last work: Aurora (Vienna, Ksthist. Mus.) and the enormous Archduke Ferdinand Charles on Horseback (Innsbruck, Schloss Ambras).

Cecco Bravo’s drawings (e.g. Florence, Uffizi; Florence, Bib. Marucelliana; Paris, Louvre; Edinburgh, NG) are particularly noteworthy, both for their number and for their quality. Held mainly in the Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe at the Uffizi and the Biblioteca Marucelliana in Florence but also in the Louvre, Paris, the Edinburgh National Gallery and in other public and private collections, they are almost all in red (sanguine) and black chalk on white paper, often touched up with white lead. The most frequent subject is the male nude, sketched in rapid broken lines, with a vibrant chiaroscuro that tends either to break up the surface in a geometric contrast of light and shade or to soften it with atmospheric effects. There are also large drawings of indefinable subjects with a strong visionary element. [Oxford Art online]
Study for two angels